The red and black blobs concerned Greenfield-Central head coach Scott Burton.
Over a mile into Tuesday’s Hancock County girls’ cross-country meet, Burton witnessed a pack of New Palestine and Mt. Vernon runners storming toward the front, where Cougars’ junior Sydney Cook was all alone in first place.
Would Greenfield-Central have enough to overcome the Dragons’ and Marauders’ depth, Burton wondered. For the first time ever, he can answer with a yes.
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The Cougars placed four runners in the top 10 on Tuesday at New Palestine, with Cook repeating as the individual champion, to earn the program’s first-ever county championship.
“It’s the first time we’ve had four girls in the top 10,” Burton said. “Mt. Vernon and New Palestine are sort of those schools we’ve strived to be. Our whole focus for this meet was to not worry about times but to go out and compete.”
Greenfield-Central edged New Palestine by five points, 40-45, and was 13 points ahead of Mt. Vernon, the favorite by times according to Burton, with 53. Eastern Hancock finished in fourth with 92 points.
Cook, who took first last season in 21:03, led the whole race and finished in 21:53. New Palestine sophomore Julie Strange ran a solid race and finished in second while Cougars’ sophomore Sarah Muckerheide came charging to the finish line to overcome Royals’ junior Taylor Stine for third place.
Junior Tatiana Kueffer and classmate Darian Gossett rounded out Greenfield-Central’s scoring in the top 10 with fifth and ninth place finishes, respectively.
Approximately two miles through the race, Cook led comfortably with Stine in second and Strange gunning towards the top in third. Behind the lead trio, the race was on as a large group of 10 to 12 runners filed in line one after another. In the end, 11 runners finished in between 23 and 24 minutes.
“I am so proud of my teammates,” Cook said after the win.
“I wanted to get a lead but the girl from Eastern Hancock came out fast, too. It was cool because it’s better to have a runner with you. My goal was to pick it up the second mile and gain my lead.”
Cook led by approximately 25 seconds at the two-mile mark and extended it to 43 seconds by the end.
New Palestine placed three runners in the top 10 on Tuesday after winning the meet last season.
Strange finished in 15th last year as a freshman (23:46) but trumped that performance on Tuesday in 22:36. She trailed Eastern Hancock’s Taylor Stine, who was fourth overall, for over half the race before adding the finishing touches on a strategically smart run.
Junior Natalie Shanahan finished in seventh for the Dragons while sophomore teammate Grace Labanauskas was right behind her in eighth.
“It was real back and forth and all the teams came out and competed hard,” New Palestine head coach Chuck Myers said. “Mt. Vernon and us were neck and neck the whole time. We could have finished first or third, and I wouldn’t be surprised by either.”
Mt. Vernon placed four runners in the top 15 to finish in a close third. Freshman Rilee Hartman led the team with a sixth place finish in 23:18 while sophomore Addison Cullom and senior Erin Lyday were 10th and 11th, respectively.
Eastern Hancock, which has yet to win a county crown, was paced by junior Annie Floyd’s 19th place finish. Freshman teammate Lainey Effing was on her heels in 20th.
Cook and the rest of the county cross country field will continue its championship race season with conference and sectional meets just around the corner.
“I am feeling just fine,” Cook said, who took time off this summer after a track injury. “I hope I can keep improving my times from here. This is one of the hardest meets of the season.”
1. Greenfield-Central – 40
2. New Palestine – 45
3. Mt. Vernon – 53
4. Eastern Hancock – 92
1. Sydney Cook, GC – 21:53
2. Julie Strange, NP – 22:36
3. Sarah Muckerheide, GC – 23:04
4. Taylor Stine, EH – 23:05
5. Tatiana Kueffer, GC – 23:13
6. Rilee Hartman, MV – 23:18
7. Natalie Shanahan, NP – 23:21
8. Grace Labanauskas, NP – 23:35
9. Darian Gossett, GC – 23:37
10. Addison Cullom, MV – 23:48
11. Erin Lyday, MV – 23:48
12. Andrea Maynard, MV – 23:49
13. Kailyn Turner, NP – 23:59
14. Hannah Watson, MV – 24:07
15. Emma Wiggington, NP – 24:09