RUSHVILLE — Every point matters, and for the New Palestine boys cross-country team, the Rushville Regional proved that point in thrilling fashion.
For the first time in school history, the Dragons won a team regional title, and it came on the strength of their top-three senior finishers with a significant assist from their sixth-place runner.
In cross-country, the first five finishers of each team contribute to the teams score. After the numbers were tallied, there was an unexpected tie between New Palestine and the defending regional champion Greenfield-Central Cougars at 64-all.
The tiebreaker in that scenario came down to the sixth-place runners, and sophomore Caleb Stirm (47th) finished ahead of Cougars freshman Conner Kinnaman (50th) to earn the championship.
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“The scoring system had some issues at first, so Greenfield was actually listed first,” New Palestine coach Chuck Myers said. “But it got fixed and we were excited to take home the title; our top-three runners really came through for us.”
New Palestine seniors Caleb Eagleson, Samuel Voelz and Chase Crowder finished second, third and fifth, respectively, to provide a large scoring cushion as their remaining teammates finished it out.
“I thought Franklin Central would be challenging us,” Voelz said. “But it was fun to see Greenfield pass them and challenge us, but our top-three runners have been pushing each other all year, and that paid off on Saturday.”
The surprising Cougars were led by Jacob Hansen, who added an individual regional championship to his sectional and county titles won this season. He crossed first at regional with a time of 16:23.
He is only the third Cougars runner to ever finish under 16 minutes and is the first individual regional winner for Greenfield since Brandon Plavka in 1997.
“Four years of really hard work is paying off for Jake,” Greenfield-Central coach Aaron Smith said. “He has done every single little thing the coaches have suggested to him in order to get better.”
Cooper Hanson and Parker Niemeier finished 10th and 17th for the Cougars to stay consistent compared to their runs at sectional, but it was junior Zach Archibald who improved from 22nd at sectional to 15th on Saturday to propel the Cougars to a tie for first place.
“It was a surprise to all of us that we were that close to winning the meet,” Smith said. “We were finally able to get some runners in front of New Pal’s fourth- and fifth-place finishers, which allowed us to challenge for the win.”
With the Dragons’ top-three runners staying strong as the season goes on, they look to make the first trip as a team to the state finals in school history.
“We know it’s the toughest semistate location,” Voelz said. “But if we keep training the way we can and put together a great race we think we’ve got a great shot at advancing.”
The semistate is hosted by Shelbyville this coming Saturday, with the sole advancing girls runners from Hancock County being Sydney Cook (20th, 21:35) of Greenfield-Central and Haley Rickey (24th, 21:49) of New Palestine.
The Cougars placed sixth as a team with 147 points. The Dragons were seventh at 182 points.
Eastern Hancock’s Gabe Blake narrowly missed the semistate cut with a 17:41, which was 11th-best among those runners not on an advancing team. The top five teams and 10 best individuals not on those teams qualify for semistate.
The girls semistate race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m., with the New Palestine and Greenfield-Central boys to start at 3:45 p.m.
Rushville Regional Results
Boys Team Scores
(top-five teams advance)
1. New Palestine 64
2. Greenfield-Central 64
3. Franklin Central 77
4. Hagerstown 111
5. Roncalli 114
Race winner: Jacob Hansen, Greenfield-Central (16:23)
Girls Team Scores
(top-five teams advance)
1. Franklin Central 39
2. Rushville 53
3. Roncalli 110
4. Warren Central 134
5. Union County 139
6. Greenfield-Central 147
7. New Palestine 182
Race winner: Jenna Barker, Seton Catholic (19:07)
Local semistate qualifiers (top 10 not on advancing team): Sydney Cook, Greenfield-Central (21:35); Haley Rickey, New Palestine (21:49)