Although Eastern’s girls cross country squad lost three NCAA Division I athletes to graduation from last season’s regional championship team, the cupboard was left far from bare.
The Comets showed as much in Tuesday’s Logansport Sectional, placing four in the top 10 — including a 2-3-4 finish — on their way to claiming a fifth straight sectional crown.
That trio — sophomore Carly Jones, junior Avery Ewing and sophomore Jessie Sprinkles — played an integral part in Eastern’s run to the state finals a season ago, giving the team a comfort factor in the form of experience heading into today’s Culver Academies Regional.
“Having been there, we know what to expect as far as the competition level, and will be able to be comfortable with the course and the atmosphere,” coach Brandon Mink said. “It’s a big advantage having done that. We have three girls who were up there before, and we have some new ones that it’s still a little new to them. They’ve been coming along nicely with the other girls who are bringing them along, so I think we should feel very comfortable as far as the atmosphere.”
Awaiting the Comets is Culver Sectional champion Warsaw, a team that, like Eastern, enjoyed a 2-3-4 individual finish in strikingly similar times. One thing the Tigers did that the Comets did not do at the sectional level was place its top five runners in the top 12.
“Warsaw is definitely the team to beat, for sure,” Mink said. “It’s challenging to make out head-to-head matchups on paper because you don’t know what their strategy was in the sectional as far as whether they were saving some up for the regional or not. What it will take for us to beat them is to run our best race of the year. They have Nos. 4 and 5 runners who are slightly ahead of ours right now, but if they falter a little we have to be ready for any opportunity that may fall in our lap. There’s certainly the possibility for us to be there to nip them if things go our way. We’re the underdogs for sure, but we’re certainly in the mix.”
Northwestern’s Taryn Thor enters Saturday with the top seed time. The 18:15 she ran to win at Logansport Thursday is well ahead of the Culver Sectional champion, Rochester’s Anna Bearss, who won in a time of 18:56.
On the boys side, Logansport Sectional champion Western is in a similar boat. The Panthers will be chasing a Warsaw squad that took five of the top six spots to win the Culver Sectional convincingly.
“There are three really good teams in our semistate in West Lafayette, Valparaiso and Warsaw,” Western coach Gary Jewell explained. “To quote the coach from Rochester when he saw that Warsaw was moved into [the Culver] Regional, ‘I guess we’re not going to win in the sectional anymore.’ It’s kind of that way, and it is what it is, but you can still go in and have a good race. We’re looking to do as well as we can. The goal is next week and improving as much as we can for the semistate, but we have a shot to be in the top two or three if we run like we did in the sectional. The kids have worked really hard to be in this position.”
The top three runners from the Logansport Sectional, champion Lewis Duke of Eastern (15:58), runner-up Jeremy Breedlove of Kokomo (16:09) and third-place finisher Matt Grider of Western (16:23), all have faster seed times than that of the Culver Sectional champion, Warsaw’s Ellis Coon, who ran a 16:28 Tuesday. Coon has run in the 15:30s this season, however.
Kokomo placed three in the top seven in the sectional meet, with Ethan Sharp placing fifth (16:45) and Jordan Fivecoate seventh (16:56), and appears to have a strong chance to advance to the semistate round as a team after finishing as the sectional runner-up.
“We want to get our team through if we can, and if we can’t, we have three pretty good individuals who can make it out,” Kokomo coach Ricke Stucker said. “We can do better [as a team] than we did in the sectional, and will try to do that [today].”
The top five teams and top 10 individuals on non-advancing teams from the Culver Regional advance to the New Prairie Semistate on Oct. 26.