FORTVILLE — Jan Hacker crunched the numbers long before the Hoosier Heritage Conference Girls Track Meet began Tuesday night.
Last week, Greenfield-Central cruised past rival New Palestine 98-62 to win the Hancock County title at home. Hacker said she knew the HHC at Mt. Vernon High School wouldn’t be as easy.
Losing junior county champion Ava Dickmann in both the long jump and high jump due to a knee injury, Hacker needed her team to dig deep if it wanted to defend its crown.
The Cougars responded and overtook New Palestine by four points down the stretch in the final team standings 120-116.
Pendleton Heights finished third at 92. Yorktown was fourth at 83.5 and Mt. Vernon was fifth with 77 points.
“It was a complete team effort. Between county and now, we lost Ava, so we came in a little short on points,” Hacker said.
“These girls knew they had to perform extremely well in order to get to that point of securing the win.”
The Cougars won five events overall, but the Dragons hung close throughout despite not claiming a single event. With eight top-three finishes and points from multiple competitors, the Dragons led after 15 events 112-109.
“It was a battle completely. Conference and county are two completely different animals, and when you score it out and look at everything, New Pal was going to be tough,” Hacker said. “The girls stepped up in unbelievable ways.
“I honestly thought it would come down to one or two points.”
The meet boiled down to a runner-up placement by Emily Jones at 9 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault and a second-place finish in the 4×400-meter relay in 4 minutes, 14.66 seconds.
The foursome of Mackenzie Polster, Amanda Flora, Sydney Cook and Savannah Girolami pushed the relay team across the finish line ahead of New Palestine.
Individually, they each played vital roles, among others, as the meet moved swiftly with minimal recovery time.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere without Hacker. She goes above and beyond,” Girolami said. “She gives us a job, and we have all the respect for her and all the other coaches to get it done. That’s the reason we keep winning.”
Cook pushed herself from the first event, anchoring the HHC champion 3,200-meter relay team’s 10:07.63 run.
Trailing Yorktown by nearly 50 yards, Cook closed the gap quickly and shadowed Madeline Aul before making her final kick down the front straight to secure the race. Yorktown’s time was recorded at 10:07.69.
“It was huge. That right there was the difference between two points. When you have a meet like this, two points can play a big part,” Hacker said. “That was a great race. Katie Helgason got us started by running the fastest time in her career.”
Rebekah Gottwald and Riley Sexton, who wasn’t 100 percent, ran the middle splits for the relay team.
Cook later put together a second-place performance in the 800-meter run at 2:23.97 behind Pendleton Heights’ Alex Buck (2:23.73).
She was part of the Cougars’ runner-up 1,600-meter relay along with Girolami and stepped in at the 4×100 relay.
Girolami won the 400-meter dash in 59.91 and was third in the 200 (28.39). Polster took first in the high jump (4-11.00) while Jennifer Flora (110-03) was first in the discus and shot put (36-01.5).
Mt. Vernon secured three blue ribbons with two going to Alexa Christenson in the 200- and 100-meter dashes. The junior ran 27.84 in the 200 ahead of Girolami, who won county last week with Christenson in second.
Christenson, the county champ in the 100, won the HHC in a time of 13.49. Mt. Vernon’s other title was in the 4×100 relay with the sprinter pushing the team to a 52.06 finish.
Buck set a new conference record in the 1,600-meter run at 4:58.29 and Yorktown’s Hannah Rapp set a new mark in the 300-meter hurdles at 46.30.
“This meet was flying. It was tough and we had some good times,” Hacker said. “These girls were hurting. I’m proud of them and I have the best staff in the world. There is absolutely no way I could have done this without them.”