TERRE HAUTE — The names from the past were on the tops of their minds every step of the way this postseason.
Jeff Wheeler, Mike Mundy: Inspirational moving targets grasping figurative stopwatches for the modern-day Mt. Vernon Marauders to chase down.
“My dad told me all about those guys,” Mt. Vernon senior Christian Noble said before the 70th annual cross-country state finals. “He’d tell me stories about Jeff Wheeler. He (Mike Noble) was on that 1984 team. They were fantastic runners. It’s nice to even be in the same conversation.”
As Noble crossed the finish line fourth overall and front-running partner Aaron Rush placed 19th at Saturday’s state meet in Terre Haute, his Marauders solidified their place among the greats.
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Mt. Vernon placed 18th as a team, falling one spot from last year’s 17th-place finish, but for the first time since 1984, two runners were awarded the distinction of all-state, reserved for the race’s elite top-20 place winners.
“Two all-state runners on a team, a lot of people don’t do that here,” Rush said. “This was an awesome way to finish, and for Christian to take fourth, that was amazing.”
Noble finished in 15 minutes, 24.9 seconds on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course to become Mt. Vernon’s best finisher since Mundy’s fifth-place performance in 1985.
It was his fastest time on the state course. As a sophomore, Noble was 112th in 16:56.4. Last year, he made substantial strides with a 16th-place run at 15:42.1.
His finale marked the third-best individual placement and time ever recorded in program history behind Wheeler’s state championship (14:57.3) in 1983 and runner-up finish (15:08.4) in 1984.
Both of Wheeler’s efforts, however, were on the former host site at the South Grove Golf Course in Indianapolis. Noble’s will stand as the fastest in the event’s modern history for the Marauders, on one of the state’s most grueling venues.
“This is a neutral course for everyone,” Noble noted with his medal draped over his neck. “The deciding factor is who can gut it out. It’s one mile downhill and a two-mile uphill type of race.
“To come back twice as a team meant a lot to us. We matched up well with the ‘84 team. Back then the big schools weren’t as big, like the Carmels and the Fishers, but times have changed. The field they saw is different compared to us, so to be able to come back as a team and compete like we did was really nice.”
In the race’s onset, Noble looked poised to challenge for a top-three spot, battling Carmel’s Ben Veatch, the defending state champion, his semistate nemesis Brayden Law of Homestead and Curt Eckstein of Oldenburg Academy.
The lanky, 6-foot-2 Noble led through the first mile but Veatch pushed the front pack at the midway point, taking the lead en route to a repeat win and an eventual second straight team title at 14:59.8.
Law, who Noble bested at the New Haven Semistate last week with a 15:18.5, was runner-up to Veatch in 15:06.8. Eckstein was third in 15:07.5.
“All three of them are really good runners. I was definitely trying to stay up there with them. I led the first mile and a half and felt really good coming around the two mile, but something hit me that just wasn’t right,” Noble said. “I definitely held my own coming into that last stretch and fought off the guys behind me.”
Noble was one of four semistate champions in the field and placed the second-highest among them. He posted the second-quickest time in the state this postseason with a 14:55.3 to win the Delta Regional, which topped the school record set by Wheeler 32 years ago.
Veatch had the fastest time, though, with a 14:53.6 at the Noblesville Sectional and remained unbeaten until the end.
“I knew he was a strong runner. I knew if I had any chance of winning, I’d have to make it an honest race from the start and maybe try to put distance on him,” said Noble, a Lee University recruit. “But he’s a fantastic runner and definitely played his cards right.”
Rush played his game until the final kick. Improving on his state placement in 2013 by 61 spots as a junior at 55th, his mad dash to the finish line this year secured his all-state medal.
The senior bested last year’s state time by nearly 30 seconds at 15:47.7. He previously set a career mark at 16:15 as a junior.
“Honestly, I never thought I would get here,” said Rush, who didn’t start running until sophomore year. “I never thought cross (country) was my best running area. This year was a huge confidence booster because I went sub-15:30. I was just hoping to pull off the all-state today. It was by the narrowest margin, but I did it.”
The top-20 field all came in under 15:49. Veatch won the title in 2014 with a 15:09, signifying an acceleration in times across the board.
“In this meet, there’s so much talent that they all go out strong,” Mt. Vernon head coach Bruce Kendall said. “The first and the last runner are no more than 15 seconds apart. That’s insane. You have to force yourself, otherwise you could find 180 runners ahead of you.
“And you look at the opponent. Veatch has produced the second fastest time ever for track in the two-mile, and that’s 100 years of track and field, so you’re trying to take down someone very special. You’re not telling your kid not to go out and try to win it, but if you don’t he could go out and kill himself trying to do it and not finish. It’s a balance.”
With Drew Bluethmann (17:22.0), Brandt True (17:28.3), Ashton Jordan (17:38.1), Brendon O’Bryhim (17:52.8) and Brian Bozymski (19:06.3), the Marauders finished fourth-best as a team from their semistate.
Their placement was the fifth highest in program history behind the 2014 team. In 1982, the Marauders were 15th. Led by Wheeler and Mundy, the school’s last all-state duo, the program took eighth in 1983 and was fourth in 1984.
“I think we were trying to make our own legacy today,” Rush said. “The people way down the line are hopefully going to say, ‘Noble and Rush. I want to be like them,’ because I wanted to be like the people before me.”
NOTES: Carmel repeated as the team state champion with 115 points … The Greyhounds completed the sweep as the girls team won with 70 points. Sarah Leinheiser ran to a first-place finish in 17:30.8. It was the first time in the event’s history runners from the same school swept the individual races … Veatch was named the IHSAA mental attitude award winner for the boys. West Lafayette’s Lauren Johnson earned the award for the girls, finishing third at 18:05.0.
IHSAA State Cross Country Finals
at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course
Team Scores: Carmel 115, Fishers 158, Westfield 210, Carroll (FW) 212, West Lafayette 221, Hamilton Southeastern 226, Lake Central 233, Columbus North 241, Valparaiso 252, Lowell 258, Crown Point 283, LaPorte 294, FW Concordia 303, Avon 356, Bloomington North 376, Pendleton Heights 387, Westview 403, Mt. Vernon 440, Brebeuf Jesuit 446, Terre Haute South 450, Bloomington South 483, Northridge 548, Tell City 595, Silver Creek 615.
Individual winner: Ben Veatch, Carmel (14:59.8)
Mt. Vernon: 4th, Christian Noble (15:24.9), 19th, Aaron Rush (15:47.7), 175th, Drew Bluethmann (17:22.0), 181st, Brandt True 17:28.3, 186th, Ashton Jordan 17:38.1, 194th, Brendon O’Bryhim 17:52.8, 207th, Brian Bozymski 19:06.3.
Mt. Vernon’s Top Performers
Team State Final Records
1984;4th;161;South Grove Golf Course
1983;8th;205;South Grove Golf Course
1982;15th;311;South Grove Golf Course
2014;17th;430;ISU LaVern Gibson
2015;18th;440;ISU LaVern Gibson
1984 Team Roster
• Jeff Wheeler, Mike Mundy, David Griffith, Mike Noble, Bret Neylon, Bobby Coffer, Scott Gray.
Top Individual State Performances
Time; Year;Place; Runner
Mt. Vernon All-State Runners (all-time)
1983;1st; Jeff Wheeler