NEW PALESTINE — Kyler Harrison had a plan, and he stuck to it from start to finish Tuesday.
As one of the favorites to win the individual Hancock County boys cross-country championship, the New Palestine junior ran out to an early lead and never relinquished en route to his first career title in 17 minutes, 17.66 seconds.
His time was a season-best on his home course and more than 14 seconds ahead of Dragons’ teammate Drew Austin, a junior, who placed second in 17:31.69.
“My plan was to get out front. I knew I was the favorite coming in, so I worked with that, ran out and knew I could close it,” Harrison said. “I knew my teammates would come up behind me and finish it out.”
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The Dragons sealed their team championship repeat with six runners in the top 15 to complete the sweep. Both Harrison and Austin concluded their runs 15-plus seconds in front of Greenfield-Central’s top-three, which placed third through fifth.
“I was talking with Drew last night, and I told him, ‘hey, we’re going to go 1-2 tomorrow.’ We knew we were tougher and we could pull it out,” Harrison said. “If we went 1-2, then the rest of the team would follow through and see us to the top.”
The Cougars tried to chase down the Dragons, but had to settle for runner-up honors with 58 points. The Dragons won with a 32. Mt. Vernon was third at 61, and Eastern Hancock took fourth with an 80.
Cougars’ Conner Kinnaman, a sophomore, was third overall in 17:46.89. Parker Niemeier, a junior, was fourth in 17:58.71. Cooper Hanson, a senior, placed fifth in 18:01.14.
Mt. Vernon had four runners in the top 15 with sophomore Marco Ramirez finishing sixth in 18:09.11. Eastern Hancock had two All-County competitors in junior Skyler Schrope, a junior, in seventh at 18:16.03 and senior Will Huffman in ninth at 18:17.29.
Harrison and Austin were both key contributors on New Palestine’s sectional and regional championship cross-country teams last season. The duo helped the team reach the semistate in 2016 where they placed eighth as a group.
This year, the two have taken on substantial leadership roles, while applying lessons learned from graduated seniors Caleb Eagelson, Sam Voelz and Chase Crowder.
“They were the leaders last year and the main proponents of our team. So coming in this year, I knew I was kind of the guy to be looked up to. I try to fill that role every day,” Harrison said. “I feel I’ve been doing alright so far.”
Prior to county, Harrison ran a 17:09.30 for eighth at the Arabian Roundup last month. He was seventh at the Rushville Invitational in 16:51 on Aug. 26, and he ran a 17:20 to win the New Palestine Invitational.
He posted his season-best 16:38 at the Marion Invitational earlier this month for fourth-place. Harrison was timed at 16:50.52 during the FlashRock Invitational in Carmel this past weekend.
“It was a little hot today, and I wasn’t too satisfied with the time, but I just wanted to get the win and score for the team,” Harrison said. “It all worked out.”
Dragons’ head coach Chuck Myers believes this could just be the beginning for Harrison with the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet coming up and the postseason fast approaching.
“I knew he was in position, and he’s worked really hard to put himself in that position. He ran with all those guys from last year, and he was a solid No. 4 last year,” Myers said. “He stepped up this year. He’s been a real good leader. I thought he could do it.”
The Dragons placed four runners in the top 10 with junior Josh Collins taking 10th and sophomore Devon Whitaker securing eighth in 28:16.51. Quinn Dobbins, a sophomore, was 11th and Josh Ackerman, a sophomore, was 15th.
“I think a lot of people thought we were going to fall off the table. We did lose three guys that finished in the top five at regional last year, so usually that’s tough to replace,” Myers said. “We’re not really replacing them, guys have just stepped up and have moved up.
“I knew they could do it. It’s good to see they’ve developed into the front runners they need to be.”
Hancock County Cross Country Meet
Team Scores: New Palestine 32, Greenfield-Central 58, Mt. Vernon 61, Eastern Hancock 80
All-County Team (top-15 individuals)
Kyler Harrison, NP 17:17.66
Drew Austin, NP 17:31.69
Conner Kinnaman, GC 17:46.89
Parker Niemeier, GC 17:58.71
Cooper Hanson, GC 18:01.14
Marco Ramirez, MV 18:09.11
Skyler Schrope, EH 18:16.03
Devon Whitaker, NP 18:16.51
Will Huffman, EH 18:17.29
Josh Collins, NP 18:20.91
Quinn Dobbins, NP 18:22.10
Alex Carver, MV 18:28.97
Drew Bluethmann, MV 18:37.99
Jacob Benz, MV 18:42.07
Josh Ackerman, NP 18:47.59