Royals gain strength in numbers, set to compete as a team
With fewer than the required five runners to compete and only three athletes scoring in the top 75 at the New Palestine Sectional, the Royals personified the individual aspects of the sport.
This year will be different, Eastern Hancock head coach Rex Putt said.
“It’s encouraging that we have enough for a team this year, and I’m excited abut the enthusiasm of the younger kids,” the 10-year coaching mainstay remarked on the upcoming 2015 season.
Gone are Mitchell Scott and IU East commit Parker West, who both competed from start to finish for the Royals as seniors.
West, an all-Mid-Hoosier Conference runner, led the team at the Hancock County Meet with a 14th-place finish and was 35th at the sectional.
Gabe Blake, however, wasn’t too far behind.
A multi-sport athlete as a wrestler and a distance runner in track, Blake returns to the team as the lone holdover from the big three.
Slowed after suffering a broken leg in wrestling in late 2013, the junior improved gradually last fall until hitting his stride in the postseason.
At sectional, he was 37th overall with a time of 18 minutes, 36.54 seconds. At the regional, he jumped to 33rd and he cut his time by nearly a minute at 17:43.45.
A two-time regional qualifier, Blake ran a 19:01.64 at sectional as a freshman, which was one second faster than West. At regional last season, he placed ahead of West, again, as he rounded back into form.
“Gabe is our premier boys’ runner having been a regional qualifier in his freshman and sophomore years,” Putt said. “He has his eye set on the school record and certainly has the ability to reach it.”
The school mark sits at 16:54, which Blake will look to topple this fall and next season.
Will Huffman, a sophomore newcomer, is projected to be the team’s No. 2 runner. This fall will be his first year running cross-country, but Putt feels his work ethic will help him excel despite his limited experience.
“He has done a lot of running over the summer and I expect to see a good first year from him in competition,” he said.
Freshmen Kyle Moore and Zach Sickle will join the revamped group while senior Kenny Bunnell is back from last year’s team to give the Royals their five necessary runners.
In 2013 when the team had enough depth to compete, they finished fourth at county, third at conference and seventh in the sectional.
Blake was 17th overall in the MHC as a freshman.
Eastern Hancock opens the season at the Triton Central Invitational at Blue River Park in Shelbyville on Monday.