Western XC Curnutt

Western’s Brayden Curnutt runs in Northwestern’s combination meet on Aug. 21. Curnutt is one of the Panthers’ top runners.

Western’s boys cross country team is hungry for its first Logansport Sectional championship since 2013.

The Panthers were runners-up in four of the last five sectionals. Last year, Logansport edged Western by eight points. In 2017, the Berries edged the Panthers by six points.

Western coach Gary Jewell said his team is ready to break through and claim the hardware.

“Last year we had a very young team. Our top five runners were three freshmen and two sophomores,” he said. “This year we’re a little older and more mature with three juniors and two sophomores in that top five along with an additional junior and a freshman at [Nos.] 6 and 7.”

The sectional is today. The boys race is at 10:30 a.m. The 12-school field has Carroll, Eastern, Kokomo, Lewis Cass, Logansport, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Pioneer, Taylor and Winamac in addition to Western. The top five teams will advance to the Culver Academies Regional. The 10 top individuals from non-advancing teams also will move on.

Jewell considers Winamac and three-time defending champ Logansport as the Panthers’ primary challengers for the team title and Carroll, Northwestern, Eastern and Cass also in the mix for top-five finishes.

“I guess on paper we’re the team to beat. Both inccstats.com and athletic.net have us as decided favorites but as we’ve seen the last two years, anything can happen,” Jewell said.

“Finishing second a year ago is something that’s weighed heavily on our team for the last 12 months. They feel like they let a great opportunity slip away,” he added. “This is a tightly knit team that has had to deal with a lot of adversity this year and I think it’s made them stronger.”

Individually, Cass’ Bailey Scott is the runner to beat. He is the sectional’s two-time defending champion. Other top runners include Logan’s Christian Dawson, Eastern’s Brayden Richmond, Winamac’s Ryan Huggler, Mac’s Sam Bourne, Carroll’s Alec Smith and the Western duo of Brayden Curnutt and Joseph Packard.

Jewell likes how his team is running. In addition to Curnutt and Packard, he said Pete Bradshaw and Taylor Rathbun are capable of top-10 runs and he liked how his Nos. 5-6-7 runners finished in a nice pack in the Hoosier Conference meet.

“We seem to have gotten past some of our early season issues,” he said. “Even though the times don’t necessarily reflect it, I think we ran our best race so far at conference. The course at Northwestern ran a bit slow last Saturday and the leaders, including Brayden and Joseph, ran off course for 145 meters so that certainly negatively impacted the times. I think we can run much faster.”

GIRLS RACE

Western and Maconaquah look ready to duel for the girls title once again.

Three different times from 2014-18, the Panthers won the sectional and the Braves were runners-up. The other two times during that span? The Braves took the title and the Panthers were second.

Last year, the Panthers posted a winning score of 50 for a comfortable win. They return an experienced lineup for a repeat bid.

“It should be a good day for us although Maconaquah is always lurking ready to take us down. It will likely be us or them winning the sectional,” Western coach Ray Tetrault said.

The girls race is at 11:15 a.m.

Maconaquah has a nice 1-2 punch with defending sectional winner Karli Miller and freshman Zoe Seward.

“The race will come down to how our top three, Olivia and Hannah Lushin and Sarah Manuel, do compared to their top three,” Tetrault said. “There aren’t a lot of teams in the sectional so it makes it tougher for us to win as we are formidable with our pack of runners. The smaller the meet is, the harder it is for us to compete.

“Our pack running is what makes us who we are. We have had nine runners fairly close to each other all season and during practice. Our strength this year is that the team has been running as a pack. I am hoping for a few of them to pull the pack with them by leading.”

Other top runners in the sectional include Carroll’s Chloe Goodrich, Northwestern’s Lauren Longshore and Kokomo’s Julynne Spidell. Goodrich led the Cougars to the Hoosier Heartland Conference title.

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