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Tiger boys and girls, Trojan boys, and 5 individuals advance

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The New Castle High School boys cross country team poses after finishing fifth at Saturday’s Connersville sectional and qualifying for the program’s 35th straight regional appearance. In the front row, left to right, are Ben Hall, Aiden Humbles (Trojan warrior), Xander Bray, and Will Hayes. In the second row, left to right, are Luke Carter, Skyler Dickey, Conner Wiley, Ben Brock, Jaycee Wilburn, and Ben Head. Britton Adkins is in the back row. Not pictured is Quentin Hedges. The boys race at the Rushville regional Saturday.
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Hagerstown boys cross country runners Logan Tuttle (left) and Elijah Halcomb run side-by-side in the New Castle Invitational Sept. 11. At Saturday’s Connerville sectional, Halcomb won the boys individual race in 17:39.7 and Tuttle was fourth in 18:29.6 to help lead the Tigers to a third-place team finish and a spot in Saturday’s Rushville regional.

By KENT GRAY, ANDY CARTER, AND C-T STAFF REPORT

CONNERSVILLE – The Hagerstown, New Castle, Knightstown, and Tri High School cross country teams competed in Saturday’s sectional at Connersville High School and all sent teams or individual representatives on to this Saturday’s regional at Rushville.

High temperatures and high humidity were a challenge for most competitors on Saturday morning with temperatures in the high 70s for the girls race, the low 80s for the boys race, and humidity near 90 percent. The light breeze was not noticed much during the races.

Most times were significantly slower than personal bests due to the weather conditions and a soft course from rain the previous day, plus it was a fairly hilly course with many gradual and some steep uphill stretches. In sectional competition, the top five teams advance to the regional as do the top 10 individuals on non-advancing teams.

On the boys side of the event, Tiger junior Elijah Halcomb was the individual champion of the race, running the course in 17:39.7 to finish eight seconds ahead of Rushville senior Andrew Miller, who came in second with a clocking of 17:47.7. The Lions won the team championship while Hagerstown was third.

Team scores, from first to 11th-place, were Rushville 41, Cambridge City Lincoln 55, Hagerstown 57, Centerville 110, New Castle 149, Franklin County 178, Connersville 202, Union County 212, Northeastern 218, Knightstown 284, and Richmond 285. Tri and Seton Catholic had incomplete squads and no team score.

The Lions, Golden Eagles, Tigers, Bulldogs, and Trojans advanced as complete teams to this Saturday’s regional.

When the gun fired to start the boys race, Halcomb’s strategy was to run away and hide from the field. Stretching a 50-meter lead at the 1K mark to almost 100 meters at the one-mile mark, Halcomb appeared to be effecting his plan, but defending sectional champion Miller of Rushville was not prepared to go down without a brawl.

Miller made a surge on Halcomb at the two-mile mark, and the Lion attained a slight lead with about a half mile to go. Halcomb settled behind Miller, kept his composure, and like a Tiger, waited to pounce. And pounce he did, making his final move over the last 200 meters and besting the exhausted Miller by eight seconds to become only the second boy in HHS history to win an individual sectional cross country title.

Miller, however, was able to walk away with the team hardware as his  Rushville teammates supported him by running a brilliant pack race and putting their next six runners in the top 14.

Hagerstown and Cambridge City Lincoln, both currently ranked in the top five in the small school poll, put in valiant efforts to stave off the Rushville charge with Hagerstown placing five runners in the top 20, including an excellent fourth-place finish by Logan Tuttle (18:29.6), and Lincoln putting four in the same group.

But the Tigers’ string of four consecutive boys sectional titles was broken, and neither Tri-Eastern Conference squad could rise above the Lions.

“We have been back-and-forth with both of these teams all season,” Hagerstown Coach Kent Gray stated. “Halcomb has beaten Miller twice and Miller has taken him once. As a team, we have beaten Rushville twice and Lincoln once, but both of them have really surged of late and gotten the better of us. We get to go at it again next week (this Saturday) at the Rushville regional, and it should be just as fun as it was today. The fans who came out today got to see a great race, and you just can’t be disappointed with the result with all these kids putting in such remarkable efforts.”

Other individual placings and times for the Tigers were Quentin Osborne 15th (19:23), Dylan Napier 17th (19:28.5), Holden Robinson 20th (19:43.1), Alexander McKee 31st (20:09.8), and Blake Creech 32nd (20:14.5).

The New Castle boys knew they would have to step up and run at a higher level than previous weeks in order to have any hopes of advancing as one of the top five teams to compete in the regional. Finishing times do not reflect the effort put forth by the team, as most times were around 40 seconds to one minute off of personal bests for the season.

During the race, the Trojan boys worked well as a team by running in packs and pushing each other to advance through the field. The normal pack of three seniors comprised of Britton Adkins, Jaycee Wilburn, and Ben Brock led the charge.

Fairly early into the race, sophomore Quentin Hedges joined the pack. Hedges had proven himself in recent weeks and appeared to be on mission during this race. Shortly after the one-mile mark, Hedges was leading the pack with the three seniors hot on his heels. Hedges put forth multiple significant surges to pass competitors in commanding fashion with Adkins, Wilburn, and Brock following closely with each pass.

Eventually, Brock was leading the New Castle front pack, pulling his teammates along. Brock had a strong finish, passing competitors to the end and eventually placing 19th in a time of 19:36.6. Adkins was next, looking strong and recovered from struggles of recent weeks, placing 26th in a time of 19:55.6.

Right behind Adkins was Wilburn charging to the finish and placing 29th in 19:59. Hedges was next for NC, fighting for the finish line and clearly showing that he had left all his best efforts out on the course, finishing 34th in 20:24.4.

The next pack of Trojans consisted of junior Ben Head, freshman Skyler Dickey, and junior Luke Carter. All three had put forth notable efforts working together during competition in recent weeks. Eventually, the freshman Dickey was leading the next Trojan pack and moving up through the field.

Dickey placed 42nd in a time of 21:52.1. Dickey has had an impressive freshman season and has proven his ability to push himself as well as his teammates to higher levels. Carter followed in 51st place in a time of 22:24. Head put forth a valiant effort, running with Dickey, but was visibly struggling during the second mile of the race before dropping out of the event after mile two.

At the end of the race, it was difficult to determine if the New Castle boys had achieved their goal, as it was a close race for fourth through seventh place. During the awards ceremony, it was announced that the Trojans placed fifth as a team and would advance to regional. This is the 35th consecutive year that the New Castle boys team has advanced out of the sectional. All in all, it was a passionate and collective team effort on the part of the Trojan boys to advance their team to regional competition.

The Panthers edged the Red Devils by a point to place 10th in the team standings. Knightstown junior Josiah King ran the course in a time of 20:19.4 to finish 33rd overall and qualify for this Saturday’s Rushville regional.

Other individual times and placings for the Panther boys were Evan Nolen 58th (23:25.9), Wade Toth 59th (23:36.3), David Peck 69th (32:00.2), and Will Feebeck 71st (32:09.1).

The Titans’ lone runner in the boys race, junior Trey Williams, ran the course in 21:05.7 to finish 38th overall and also qualified for the Rushville regional.

The girls race was run first Saturday and one local team and three individuals qualified to run at this Saturday’s Rushville regional. Rushville also was team champion in the girls event.

The girls team standings, from first to eighth, were Rushville 37, Franklin County 72, Centerville 100, Connersville 104, Hagerstown 110, Union County 117, Knightstown 159, and Richmond 181. New Castle, Tri, Cambridge City Lincoln, Seton Catholic, and Northeastern fielded incomplete squads and had no team score.

The Lions, Wildcats, Bulldogs, Spartans, and Tigers advanced to the Rushville regional as teams.

Franklin County sophomore Lauren Kelley won the girls race in a time of 21:25.2, which was more than one minute faster than second-place Rushville senior Shannon Dougherty, who was clocked at 22:27.

The Lady Tigers qualified as a team for the regional with their fifth-place finish but weren’t quite as sharp as the previous week when they earned a TEC championship,

Hagerstown’s Jewels Warfel ran in her team’s top spot for the first time this season, continuing a string of good races for the sophomore, and and finished 14th overall in a time of 24:06.6.

Warfel was justly excited after her performance.

“I did it,” Warfel said. “My goal was to finish in the top fifteen, and I made it. I’m really happy with my race.”

Hagerstown’s Teresa Rojas also ran quite well to land in the top 20 at 20th with a time of 25:17, while sophomore Kylee Farmer 30th (26:22.6) and freshman Taylor Pass 33rd (26:51.6) both placed well above their seeds. Other Tiger girl finishes and times were Ella Nicholson 35th (27:11.6) and Maci Matanich 43rd (28:16.4).

The Panther girls beat out the Red Devils for seventh place in the team standings. Knightstown senior Elizabeth Moore had the best finish of any local girl Saturday, 13th overall in a time of 23:53.5, and junior Emma-Kate Moore was 22nd with a time of 25:25.9. Both qualified as individuals for Saturday’s regional.

Other finishes and times for the Panther girls were Laredo Martin 38th (27:17.2), LiLi Wallace 57th (31:24.3), Jessica Mercer 60th (36:51.4), and Maina Stock 63rd (38:29).

The Titans had only two girl runners in the field. Tri senior Molly West ran the course in 25:25.1 to finish 21st overall and advance to this Saturday’s regional. Freshman Maleah Hewitt was 41st (27:28.7).

With only three Trojan girls competing, New Castle was not in contention to advance as a team as five runners are required to score as a team. As such, each of the three Trojan girls were competing as individuals in hoping to advance.

Going into the meet, the NC coaches estimated that it would take placing in the top 30 in order to advance to the regional, and that proved to be the case. All three Trojan girls battled hard during the race and unfortunately none will run at Rushville Saturday.

Freshman Lily Saunders, who has shown great promise throughout this season, led the team by placing 42nd in a time of 28:06.6 Following her were two seniors competing in their last high school cross country race.

Four-year cross country veteran senior Grace Lewis placed 48th in a time of 29:17.5. After the race both Saunders and Lewis stated they experienced severe pains in their shins during the race, which made it difficult for them to compete at the level they had hoped to be during this meet.

New Castle senior Cheyanne Lazzell also had a rough race, finishing 61st in a time of 37:06.2.

All qualifiers from Connersville will join those from the New Palestine sectional at Saturday’s Rushville regional. The girls race starts at 10:30 a.m. with the boys race to follow.