BLOOMINGTON — Huddled with his three senior distance runners one last time Saturday night, Bruce Kendall had a message to convey.
Elated and emotionally invested in the moment, the veteran boys track coach summed up his welling pride as the group stood attentively along the fence at Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Track Complex in Bloomington.
“You didn’t cross the finish line today, you crossed the starting line,” Kendall remarked to the trio, clinging to every word. “This is the start, not the end. You are all going to move on and do wonders.”
As Kendall walked away, releasing Aaron Rush, Brisco Wood and the Christian Noble to their overjoyed parents, the immensity of their achievement sank in quickly.
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It was the first time in program history a runner for each of the three distance events qualified in the same year for the IHSAA Boys Track and Field State Finals. It was the only time all three earned All-State honors.
“I’m so glad for them to go, and it’s time for them to go. I’m serious because I feel like my job is done,” Kendall said while wiping tears from his eyes. “I’m ready for them to go on and conquer the world.”
In their final high school races of their careers, they individually slayed their own goals — right on schedule.
Christian Noble finished second in the 3,200-meter run, breaking his own school record with a 9:04.71. Aaron Rush took ninth in the 1,600 with a personal best 4:18.31, and Brisco Wood battled the 800 field to earn ninth at 1:57.18.
“All three of us that came here with a mission, and that was to get on that podium,” Noble said.
Rush was the first to secure his spot among the state’s best, posting negative splits as he improved his time at every step of the state tournament.
At sectional, he was runner-up at 4:24.40. The next week at the North Central Regional, he was second with a 4:23.34.
Placing ninth at state as a junior in 4:16.63, the future walk-on at Purdue threw caution to the wind with his health and mentality both running at optimum.
“At the county meet, I almost threw in the towel on my season,” said Rush, who wrestled with respiratory issues all year. “Coach Kendall always knows how to pull anyone out of a slump, and I couldn’t thank him anymore for that, just to get me back here and my mind back.”
Rush’s focus was set on winning and challenging the unbeatable Ben Veatch of Carmel.
On the third lap of the four-circuit event, Rush made his move. He surged ahead of the pack and Veatch for first and ran in front for nearly 200 meters.
“I approached it like it was my last race,” Rush said. “I wanted to do the best I could, and I thought I had enough in me to pull out a win.
“What better than to lead a state champion.”
Veatch and the pack pushed past Rush entering the final lap, but the Marauder held his ground against Southmont’s Brooks Long (4:18.31) to secure a state medal.
“I want him to remember me. I wanted to be remembered for something,” said Rush, who joined former Marauder Brad Untrauer in the history books as a 1,600 state medalist. “Like coach said, it’s not the end of my career, it’s just a launching pad into something else. It’s just confidence that carries the rest of your life.”
Wood was determined to make up for lost opportunities. A regional qualifier both as a sophomore and a junior, he was seeded first at regional a year ago.
Caught in the pack at regional as a junior, he missed his state window. In his first state appearance, he kicked down the door taking eighth in his heat and ninth overall. His final push put him ahead of Fishers’ Peter Werling (1:57.25) for a place on the podium.
“Coach Kendall was telling us not to regret anything and leave it all out there,” Wood said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to give one spot back. I wanted to give it my all.”
Wood was the program’s third state finalist in the 800, along with former standouts Chris Hanson and Andrew Noble. His regional runner-up time of 1:55.79 was third fastest in team history.
“What we did today says something about our program and the coaching,” Wood said. “And the bond we have as runners; we push each other constantly. We’re always looking to make each other better. These are people I will remember forever.”
Noble won’t soon be forgotten.
In cross-country, Noble was a three-time state qualifier. Last fall, he set a school record time of 14:55 and placed fourth at the state finals in Terre Haute.
Hampered by stress fractures his first two years, Noble’s first full season in track was a resounding success, as he was seventh at the state finals in the 3,200 during his junior season.
Noble broke the school record at the state finals last year, running in 9:14.83.
History was rewritten again, at sectional two weeks before Saturday, when he won sectional with a 9:08.67 for a school and event record. His time was the second fastest recorded this season.
Going head-to-head with Veatch, the defending state champion, Noble drafted the Greyhound for four laps before passing him on the last turn of the fifth lap.
“When I got in front of him, I thought, maybe if I could put at least five to ten meters on him, I might be able to stay out of the range of his kick,” Noble said. “I ran the best race of my career, and it came in the last of my high school career.”
Veatch won in 8:58.18, but Noble never lost sight of him, clinching his fourth state medal and All-State distinction in five state appearances, including both cross county and track.
His runner-up finale is the best in program history ahead of legendary Jeff Wheeler’s third-place run more than 30 years ago.
“Veatch is a great competitor, and he’s a really good guy. He earned it,” said Noble, a Lee University signee. “That’s the closest anyone has been to him in the last two or three years besides the mile and 5K.
“People can run in front of him. Both of (Aaron and I) showed that today. It wasn’t just his race to decide.”
3,200: Christian Noble, 2nd (9:04.71)
1,600: Aaron Rush, 9th (4:18.31)
800: Brisco Wood, 9th (1:57.18)
4×800 relay: Corey Spencer, Caleb Eageson, Samuel Voelz, Riley Wilson, 15th (8:06.05)
* Discus: James Smith, Cathedral (New Palestine resident), 11th (156-09)