By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Eastern’s girls cross country squad’s hopes of a return trip to the state finals have been dealt a fatal blow.
Freshman Kaylie Forgrave was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her foot following the Comets’ runner-up finish in last Saturday’s Culver Academies Regional. Eastern will enter today’s New Prairie Semistate having to compete as an incomplete team.
“We’re disappointed, but at the same time we’re just excited to still have four girls going on, and with no one graduating from this team, it’ll be an especially great experience at the semistate,” Eastern coach Brandon Mink. “No matter what happens, it’s been an awesome season and I like to focus on what it’s been and not the what-ifs.”
Eastern still has a strong chance of being represented at next weekend’s state finals in Terre Haute. Its top three runners, Carly Jones (19:30), Avery Ewing (19:40) and Jessie Sprinkles (19:54) finished 3-4-6 in the regional. With the new format of the top six teams plus the top 10 individuals on non-advancing teams moving on to the state finals, Mink likes his trio’s chances of moving forward.
“Our top three all have a shot of making it on to state, and it’s not a far stretch. They’re right there,” he said. “But, it’s difficult under the new format to know exactly where they need to be to advance. Placing in the top 20 is a fairly safe bet, and our top three are certainly capable of doing that.”
If regional times hold up, Jones, Ewing and Sprinkles, all have a chance to finish in the mid-teens. West Lafayette’s Lauren Johnson has the top seed time at 18:24. The Red Devils were ranked No. 3 in the final IATCCC poll.
Northwestern’s Taryn Thor finished second in the regional in 19:02 after winning the Logansport Sectional with a time in 18:15. A similar performance to the one she put forth in the regional would appear to put Thor in the top 10 today.
“I think Taryn is right where she wanted be this time of year,” Northwestern coach Dave Stevens said. “Everything has gone well according to what she has planned, and she’s ready for her best race of the season. She’s looking forward to going up there and doing well and advancing to state. Practices went well for her this week, so she’s ready to go.”
Western will be the only area school competing with a full team on the girls side after taking fourth in the regional. Nicole Hampshire led the Panthers in the regional with a 12th-place finish in 20:20, while teammate Erin Knepley was 19th at 20:48.
Taylor’s Cami Hansen will also compete at New Prairie after a 17th-place finish (20:39) in the regional.
On the boys side, Western and Kokomo will send full teams to New Prairie after taking second and third in the Culver Academies Regional. A team berth in the state finals will be a tall task with the likes of No. 4 West Lafayette, No. 9 Warsaw, No. 10 Valparaiso, No. 17 Munster, No. 20 Crown Point and No. 24 Lake Central looming in the field.
“I have us about 11th, but if we run like we did at the sectional, that could put us in the top eight,” Western coach Gary Jewell said. “Everyone has to run better and then we have to hope for a little luck. If someone has an off day we can move up a little more. In the semistate, almost anything can happen. Those teams in that area know what to expect, but for a team that’s never been there before, it can be a rather daunting task. We’ve been there before so we know what to expect.”
Individually, Eastern’s Lewis Duke and Western’s Matt Grider appear to have the best chances of moving on to state as individuals. Duke finished second in the regional at 16:22 but ran under 16 minutes on his way to a sectional title.
“Lewis is in a great position where if he runs like he’s capable, he’s right there,” Mink said. “If he runs what he’s capable, he should be able to punch his ticket to the next round. He’s ranked in the top 10 in every poll I’ve seen for the semistate. He’s in the best shape of his life physically, and mentally he’s a strong, smart runner. We’re expecting big things from him.”
Grider finished third in the regional at 16:27, but is continuing to get stronger every week as he works his way back from an injury.
“Matt has a really good shot of being somewhere in the top five to eight,” Jewell said. “He had a really nice workout Tuesday, and that’s a pretty good indicator of where he is now. A top-five finish would be good for him, and great for the team when you start counting up points.”
Kokomo’s Jeremy Breedlove finished eighth in the regional at 16:51, and would appear to be in the hunt to earn a trip to state, as well. LaPorte’s Anthony Didion enters with the top seed time of 15:50.
Northwestern’s Zach Duranto will compete as an individual after placing 23rd in the regional at 17:29.