NEW PALESTINE — The pieces were there from the beginning and so was the talent, New Palestine boys cross-country coach Chuck Myers said. It was just a matter of putting it all together.
Little did he know, everything would fall into place on its own, one through five — a perfect fit.
“We sort of thought we could do big things this year,” Myers said. “With our top three guys, being seniors and really good leaders, I think they’ve really pushed the team to that level. They’ve been key to our success.”
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With seniors Samuel Voelz and Chase Crowder back this season, the addition of senior Caleb Eagleson, who made the switch from soccer to running, elevated expectations.
The Dragons caught a glimpse of their potential last month as they snapped a 10-year drought to win the Hancock County Championship team title. A runner-up team standing during the Hoosier Heritage Conference Championships on Oct. 1 further bolstered their confidence.
Last weekend, however, the elder trio’s stride-for-stride chemistry carried them to a height not seen in nearly two decades.
Eagleson, Voelz and Crowder finished second, third and fifth, respectively, at the New Palestine Sectional, which catapulted the Dragons to their first team title since 1998 as five runners placed in the top 20.
Eagleson shaved 31 seconds off his county runner-up time of 17:03 posted on the same course with a 16:32. Voelz sliced off 40 seconds to finish at 16:42.
Crowder secured the team’s third top-five run with a 16:49, which crushed his county time of 17:34. A sixth-place finish in 17:50 by sophomore Kyler Harrison and an 18:21 by sophomore Drew Austin for 11th ultimately tilted the scale.
“At the beginning of the year, (sectional) was something that was on our radar,” Myers said. “As the season progressed, I think we really thought it was something we could achieve.”
The seed was initially planted in the spring, however.
During the track and field season, Eagleson and Voelz teamed up on the 4×800 relay team, shattering school records en route to a state finals berth with running mates Spencer Corey and 2016 graduate Riley Wilson.
The quartet placed 15th at state in Bloomington this past June, setting a new school mark at the Franklin Regional the week prior in 8:02.24.
The success he achieved on the track, Myers said, began to sway Eagleson toward running full-time, something he’s never done in his high school career.
“I think it helped him find that he really liked running,” Myers said. “That was a big step in making what happened happen in the fall.”
His family’s distance running tradition was a factor as well, with older brother Seth Eagleson, a junior at Lee University, setting standards for the Dragons until he graduated in 2014.
Seth Eagleson qualified for state in cross country and posted a 16:02 at the Carmel Semistate his senior year for 15th overall. He ran to a top-50 placement in 16:17 at the state meet.
Caleb is trending down a similar path, said Myers, who has been part of the program 10 of the past 11 years, working with both siblings.
But Eagleson isn’t alone. Voelz and Crowder are never far behind.
“Samuel and Caleb work really well together, which has been exciting, and Chase finishing fifth at sectional was a huge run for us,” Myers said. “Chase is consistently there, every time.”
Crowder excelled in the 1,600-meter run during the spring, missing a state invite despite placing sixth at regional with a 4:36.59. Last fall, he put the team on his shoulders as Voelz was sidelined with an injury.
“He’s been sort of the glue. Last year when Samuel got hurt at sectional, as a team I didn’t think we could advance to semistate without him because we lost our No. 1 guy,” Myers said. “Chase stepped up into that role at the regional and got that team to the semistate.”
Crowder ran a 16:56.2 at the Rushville Regional last year, placing 14th overall as the team advanced with a fifth-place finish.
Unable to compete, Voelz faced a long road back, shutting down his training from last November through February following offseason surgery. Over the years, various leg injuries have frustrated Voelz, robbing him of his sophomore cross-country season.
“Him getting back for that 4×800 was a big key for that team and a big key for this team,’ Myers remarked on Voelz’s fortitude. “He’s been healthy this season, so I’m anxious to see what he can do these next couple of weeks.”
Coming up on a year after last season’s setback, Voelz is on pace to peak at the right time. At each major stage this fall, Voelz has improved, dropping to 17:04 during the HHC after running a 17:22 at county before going sub-17 at sectional.
“I don’t think he’s hit it yet,” Myers said. “In the last few weeks, he’s looked very strong. It could be exciting.”
This Saturday at the Rushville Regional, scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., the Dragons are hoping to breakthrough collectively for another potential first.
“For the program, they’ve never won a regional, so it would be monumental,” Myers said. “The icing on the cake would be getting to the state meet, that’s been our goal, but a regional championship would be a good step in that direction. Hopefully, we can meet it.”