CARMEL — Just getting to the cross-country semistate at Carmel is a big hill to climb. Getting out is an entirely different challenge.
Top-ranked tournament-host Carmel swept the boys and girls races Saturday at Northview Christian Church to become the top qualifier among six teams headed to the state finals in Terre Haute this coming weekend.
In its sixth consecutive appearance at the semistate, the Greenfield-Central boys team didn’t have the kind of day it had hoped for but still finished 14th with a team score of 405. New Palestine was 20th with 500.
The Cougars may have had better fortune were it not for the final 200 meters of the grueling race.
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Senior Zach Bishop, a sectional winner and a runner-up in the regional, tumbled to the ground in the closing moments but valiantly made it to the finish line. However, the fall slowed his course time considerably.
As unfortunate as it was, Cougars coach Aaron Smith praised Bishop for his fortitude and team leadership throughout the year.
“Obviously, we’re a little disappointed. We didn’t run like we wanted to run and with Bishop collapsing,” Smith said. “He was just dehydrated and wobbled across the finish line. We told him to go out fast, and we saw him in the top 10 or top 15.
“If he was able to hold on, he would have made it to state. Team-wise we knew it was going to be tough, knowing that everyone would have to run their very best. Our program is definitely headed in the right direction.”
Carmel senior Ben Veath, the defending semistate champion, crossed the finish line with a first-place time of 14 minutes 58.1 seconds.
Top finisher for the Cougars in 79th place was junior Tyler Morris.
Meanwhile, New Palestine, under the guidance of coach Chuck Myers, said the progress the Dragons have made has been very rewarding.
“We’ve had a lot of kids come out this year, so the program is going quite well,” Myers said. “Obviously, we want to keep things rolling. Our younger kids have made their mark and challenged for positions.
“Hopefully, we can get back here next year and keep the tradition going that we started this year.”
Top finisher for New Palestine on the boys side was junior Chase Crowder in 94th place.
Also representing Hancock County was Eastern Hancock junior Gabe Blake, who finished 112th.
In the girls race, Carmel junior Sarah Leinheiser recorded a winning time of 17 minutes 22.3 seconds to set a new course record. The Greyhounds had five runners in the top 20.
New Palestine had a team score of 426 to place 17th overall. The Dragons top finisher in 46th place was freshman Grace Voelz.
Greenfield-Central’s lone qualifier in the girls race was sophomore Sydney Cook, who placed 69th among the 174 runners.
“This was really her coming-out season,” Cougars coach Scott Burton said. “She really stepped up and proved what she can do. This year she’s really found that desire to be one of the better runners in our area.
“We knew we had to get out strong and try and run out with that front pack to give her a shot. She was good through the first two miles, but the early tempo kind of got to her in the end.”
For Eastern Hancock, freshman Taylor Stine finished 79th.