High School Sports

Pandemic never stopped local XC runners from reaching season goals

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The nice thing about cross country is there is nothing needed to train except an open piece of road. 

And all spring and summer throughout the early stages of quarantine and the COVID-19 pandemic, area athletes could be seen throughout the county running and training on their own. Knowing that if they didn’t, other runners and teams around the state would pass them once they returned to the competition course this fall. All that hard work has paid off for 29 runners at Crawfordsville, Fountain Central, North Montgomery and Southmont, who will compete at the IHSAA cross country regional on Saturday.

At Brownsburg, Crawfordsville’s girls finished fifth to advance as the last team after being seeded outside the top-5. The drive to succeed was for senior Halle Smith, who placed 27th, just behind teammate Shelby Greene (26th).

“It was knowing that it could possible be Halle’s last race and I wanted to make it count for her,” sophomore Elyse Widmer said.

The work started on their own back in the spring, but the Athenians found ways to stay motivated.

“It was mentally really hard,” Greene said. “Some days I know I didn’t want to do it at all, but just know that there was still people that support us team wise.”

“It was difficult over the summer, but seeing our teammates post workouts it helped motivate me to keep working,” Olivia Fichter added.

With all the uncertainty throughout the spring and summer, local athletes returned to practice in early July, still without knowing if their fall seasons would happen. So when the runners stepped to the starting line at the sectional last Saturday, it was a sigh of relief for many.

“I was super thankful that we even got the chance to make it the sectional,” Olivia Biddle said. “And when we stepped to the line it was a big deal for all of us, because we didn’t know if we were going to make it there this year with everything so uncertain.”

And once they got there, the Athenians weren’t going to let the season slip away.

“I think we all realized how hard and long we had worked to get to this point and we were not just willing to give it up knowing how close we were to making it to the regional,” Smith said. “We all wanted it so bad that we were willing to give anything to work hard enough to get to that point.”

Skylah Strawser and Gabby Warren will join Biddle, Fichter, Greene, Smith, and Widmer on the course Saturday at Ben Davis.

On the boys side, Hunter Hutchison led the Athenians with a 12th-place finish as Crawfordsville held onto the fifth position.

“We all knew where we were suppose to be and what we had to do to accomplish our goal,” freshman Ryan Miller said. “And we all knew we had to show up and fight hard.”

“At this race we all knew the estimated placing would be fifth for our team, and I think that all gave us a lot more drive to do as good as we can,” Nathanial Million said.

Hutchison, a senior was the only top returning runner for Crawfordsville, and add that on top of the pandemic — the Athenians are thrilled to be in the position they are now.

“I think a lot of it was being able to maintain being a team and making sure we were all sticking together and working as a team to get better,” Roman Contreras said. “So trying to go out and run on our own during the spring and summer was a challenge.”

As Crawfordsville made it through quarantine and into a period where they could once again run together in groups, that helped the Athenians kickstart a successful 2020 season.

“It was definitely very hard to keep on track,” Hutchison said. “but we were able to get together a few times and run together, properly with our masks and everything. And I think that kept us in a mentality to keep running and I think we wanted it as much as our teammates did and we thought we needed to do it because of our teammates and it kept us in the mindset to keep running.”

The Athenians have continued to power through the season as the uncertainty remains.

“It’s been a blessing to be able to stay as a group throughout the entire season,” junior Ian Hensley said. “There’s a lot of times where you don’t know who might test positive, who isn’t going to test positive. There’s a lot of uncertainty at this time and at least personally our group being able to stick it out and advance as far as we have, it’s been awesome to see.”

Trio of Mounties to run on Saturday

Mason Cass and Aaron Evans have fed off each other during the 2020 Southmont cross country season.

Cass, just a freshman, had no competition on his team as an eighth-grader last season and Evans was in the same boat in 2019 as a freshman on the varsity squad. Now the duo is headed for the IHSAA cross country regional on Saturday after placing 17th and 32nd respectively at the sectional.

“Compared to last year where I didn’t have any competition,” Evans said. “After I got to where I wanted to be I kind of flatlined, so having competition really helped me speed up compared to last year.”

While Cass and Evans have pushed each other all season long, within the last few weeks Cass has taken his speed to a new level. It started when he broke 18 minutes at the Montgomery County, before ultimately setting another personal best time of 17:47 at the sectional.

And it all starts with confidence sky high for the freshman.

“First place,” he said of his goal for Saturday. “It tells my brain that I’m going to do that, and then that tells the rest of my body that it needs to do that.”

Teammate and sophomore Faith Allen will join Cass and Evans, as she is headed back to the regional for a second straght year hoping to make a return trip to the semistate. 

Allen has peaked at the end of the season, placing second with a time of 19:03 at the sectional.

“At the beginning of the year I just had a plateau where I was running the same times or slower than I was last year,” Allen said. “but toward the end of the year I was able to get over that and drop time.”

Allen is chasing a personal best and the school record, which is 19 minutes flat.

Chargers will compete at Harrison

North Montgomery juniors Claire Bonwell and Elijah McCartney are peaking at the right time.

Bonwell qualified for the regional with a run of 25:49 at the sectional, while McCartney placed sixth with a time of 18:13.

As the veterans of the Charger program, each battled the mental aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine.

“It was pretty hard to not be together,” Bonwell said.

And for McCartney, it took longer to return to top form once the season started.

“I worked a lot more at the beginning of this season to get back into shape,” he said. 

Bonwell has battled an injury this season, but has seen improvements the last few weeks.

“My times have gotten better since when I first got injured,” she said. “It’s been hard, doing the elliptical more than running outside. I tried to push myself as hard as I could go and then I tried to pace off the girls I knew that could advance.”

McCartney will be chasing a semi-state qualification on Saturday along with the school record for a junior, which is helf by Brandon Alenduff with a time of 17:30.

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