Sometimes not knowing is for the best.
On Tuesday, the New Palestine Dragons boys cross-country team wasn’t merely kept in the dark, they were oblivious, and it paid off during the Hancock County Cross-Country Championships.
The Dragons ran in clusters, and nearly finished in a pack on their home course, placing seven runners in the top 15 to seize the program’s first team title since 2006.
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New Palestine averaged a 17-minute, 38-second run collectively for 26 points, 17 ahead of runner-up Greenfield-Central at 43.
“I didn’t even know about (the drought),” New Palestine senior Caleb Eagleson remarked after taking second overall in a time of 17:03. “I found out about it today, actually. That’s nice to hear. That’s a big accomplishment for the team.”
The title marked the sixth in program history for the Dragons, but individual honors went to Greenfield-Central’s Jacob “Miguel” Hansen, who knew exactly what was at stake before the starting gun.
“Last night, I had a bunch of spreadsheets out with everyone’s times. I was sitting there with a Sharpie and scratching names out and circling others,” Hansen said. “I mentally ran this race a few times before I actually came to do it with my legs.”
Hansen built an early nine-seconds lead ahead of Eagleson and stretched it farther to win the race in 16:44 at 19 seconds faster than the rest.
While the Dragons snapped a 10-year dry spell, Hansen went one better, becoming the first individual boys champion for the Cougars since Brian Brown won in 2005 at 18:05.
“I didn’t know him in junior high, but he said this was five years in the making,” Greenfield-Central head coach Aaron Smith remarked on Hansen’s feat. “He said Eagleson and Voelz killed him back then, so since his freshman year, he’s been working toward this. It’s the culmination of four years of really hard work, dedication and determination.”
Hansen was joined by junior Cooper Hanson (18:00), Zac Archibald (18:09), and Parker Niemeier (18:11) on the All-County team. The trio finished seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.
“I feel good about getting the win, but I’m also a little disappointed for my team,” said Hansen whose season-best time is 16:20 this fall. “They’ve been working hard and we just had a bad race today. We have to keep our heads ups and that’s the way we have to take the rest of the season.”
Mt. Vernon’s top runner was Drew Bluethmann in fifth overall at 17:39. Fellow junior Tim Broaders was 10th in 18:12.
Eastern Hancock had two earn All-County honors in senior Gabe Blake (12th in 18:28) and sophomore Skyler Schrope (14th in 18:40).
New Palestine, however, dominated at every other spot.
“We felt very confident coming into this meet. This year we have a very good team, and our plan is to hopefully make our run to state this year,” Eagleson said. “We were planning on getting the championship here and hopefully a conference championship at Pendleton on Oct. 1.”
Eagleson, who is running his first high school season in cross country, was a full-time soccer player in the past. After helping the school’s 4×800 relay team take 15th at the track and field state finals in Bloomington this spring, he opted to continue his running career.
Joined by relay teammate Sam Voelz, the senior duo along with classmate Chase Crowder are looking to take the Dragons to new heights.
“During practice we’re all right on each other’s heels. We’re always pushing each other to get better. It’s always great to have other guys all at the same level,” Eagleson said.
Voelz, who has had previous seasons cut short by injuries, placed third behind Eagleson in 17:22. Crowder was close behind at 17:34 for fourth.
The Dragons had four runners in the top 10 with sophomore Kyler Harrison coming in at sixth with a time of 17:50. Sophomore Drew Austin was 11th at 18:21. Seniors Drew Legan (18:34) and Aaron Kirklin (18:40) were 13th and 15th.
“We knew they were going to be up there, and we knew it would be hard. They came ready to run today,” Smith said.
“I’m disappointed, but their No. 5 stepped up for them. Just the difference in the day. They came ready and we didn’t.”
As the favorites, the Dragons entered county with a third-place finish on a wet and soggy course at the Flashrock Invitational in Carmel this past weekend. They also won the Whiteland Invitational this month and were 12th at the Marion Invitational while taking second at the Noblesville Hokum Karem in August.
“They went out and did their job. I’m proud of them,” New Palestine head coach Chuck Myers said. “That’s what we focused on today, the opportunity. I don’t even think they knew about the decade.
“I just told them to go out and do what they were expected to do, which was run and win. They did that and our three amazing seniors set the tone.”
2016 Hancock County Cross Country Championships
Team Scores: New Palestine 26, Greenfield-Central 43, Mt. Vernon 68, Eastern Hancock 100
All-County Team (Top 15)
1. Jacob Hansen, G-C, 16:44
2. Caleb Eagleson, NP, 17:03
3. Samuel Voelz, NP, 17:22
4. Chase Crowder, NP, 17:34
5. Drew Bluethmann, MV, 17:39
6. Kyler Harrison, NP, 17:50
7. Cooper Hanson, G-C, 18:00
8. Zac Archibald, G-C, 18:09
9. Parker Niermeier, G-C, 18:11
10. Tim Broaders, MV, 18:12
11. Drew Austin, NP, 18:21
12. Gabe Blake, EH, 18:28
13. Drew Legan, NP, 18:34
14. Skyler Schrope, EH, 18:40
15. Aaron Kirklin, NP, 18:40