By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — Western’s boys squad and Eastern’s girls team look like the favorites in today’s Logansport Cross Country Sectional.
Western’s boys are shooting for their second straight sectional title and third in four years. Eastern’s girls are gunning for their fifth straight sectional crown.
The sectional brings together 12 schools. The boys race is at 5 p.m. at the Berry Patch with the girls race to follow at 5:45. In both races, the top five teams and the top 10 individuals from non-qualifying teams will move on to Saturday’s Culver Academies Regional.
Western’s boys are coming off a dominant victory in the Mid-Indiana Conference meet last week. The Panthers put seven runners in the top 11 and posted a score of 27 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Hamilton Heights (67). It was the Panthers’ fourth straight MIC title.
“I don’t know if we’re the [sectional] favorite or not. Kokomo is running really well right now,” Western coach Gary Jewell said, noting the Wildkats’ runner-up finish in the North Central Conference meet last week caught his attention. “We have a pretty decent shot at winning. We need to run a better race than what we’ve been doing. We had a nice performance at conference. It’s hard to compare times on [different] courses, but at this time of year, it’s all about position, all about putting guys ahead of Kokomo’s guys.”
Jewell noted Kokomo has a gap in time after its top three runners. He wants to put several Western runners in between Kokomo’s Nos. 3 and 4 runners.
Western is led by Matt Grider, who returned from an injury last week and posted a runner-up finish in the MIC meet. Teammates Riley Carter and Caleb Maddox were fourth and fifth.
“The best thing for us is we have Matt Grider running again. That’s uplifting to the entire team,” Jewell said.
Kokomo coach Ricke Stucker sees Western as a clear favorite.
“I don’t think anyone is going to beat Western,” he said. “Grider may not be 100 percent, but he is in good enough shape to lead his team so I don’t think Western will have much of a problem. The fight probably will be for second place between us and Logansport and maybe Winamac.”
Kokomo is led by Jeremy Breedlove, who won the NCC meet last week. Teammates Jordan Fivecoate and Ethan Sharp were third and fourth.
“We’ve improved an awful lot,” Stucker said. “Jeremy Breedlove is running really well right now. Jordan Fivecoate is passing all of our expectations and sophomore Ethan Sharp is running really well, too.”
Eastern’s boys were third in the MIC meet last week. The Comets are led by Lewis Duke, who repeated as the MIC individual champion. He is the defending sectional champion.
Eastern coach Brandon Mink hopes his squad can challenge for fifth place, which is the final regional ticket.
“We’d have to be running up to our potential. We have no room for error. But it’s definitely possible,” Mink said. “It’s nice to be in the mix — in the beginning of the year, we weren’t even complete [with the necessary five runners].”
Individually, the boys race is loaded with Duke, Breedlove and Grider. All three are seniors.
“Any of those three guys are capable of winning it. They’ve all run good times and good races throughout the season,” Mink said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Their styles of running are kind of different, how they race in general is a little different, too. It will be interesting to watch.”
Eastern roared to its fourth straight sectional title last year. The Comets swept the top five spots for a perfect score of 15. The Comets had to replace the top three runners from that power-packed lineup, but they have continued to set the pace this year.
In last week’s MIC meet, Eastern runners took four of the top 10 spots, helping the Comets post a winning score of 43. Western (60) was runner-up.
Carly Jones and Avery Ewing finished 2-3 in the MIC meet for the Comets and Jessie Sprinkles was sixth. They are holdovers from last year’s squad.
“I think after the conference win, we’re excited moving into the sectional,” Mink said. “We know it’s not going to be last year’s situation where we got the top five, but we feel good about last week and how we’re running. We have more work to do and it’s not going to be a cakewalk. We have to come with our A game and be ready because it won’t be handed to us.”
Mink pointed to Western as a possible challenger.
“They did beat us once this year when we were without a girl, but I know they’ve had some injuries. They could have everyone back for sectional. They can be a dangerous team,” he said.
Northwestern’s Taryn Thor is a strong contender for the top individual spot. She won the MIC meet last week. She has Howard County’s top time this year — 18:33 in a race at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Logansport Sectional: • WHEN: 5 p.m. (boys race) and 5:45 p.m. (girls race) today. • THE FIELD: Carroll, Cass, Eastern, Kokomo, Logansport, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Pioneer, Taylor, Western, Winamac.