GREENFIELD — Michael Jordan was famously “cut” from his high school basketball team. More specifically, he failed to make the varsity squad as a sophomore. Motivated by the shortcoming, Jordan earned a spot on the varsity roster as a junior, led the team in scoring and … the rest is history.
Sarah Schwartz knows something of Jordan’s plight — and triumph.
Last year as a middle school cross country runner at Doe Creek, Schwartz wasn't even quick enough to make the school’s varsity squad. Fast forward 12 months and not only was Schwartz good enough to run with the New Palestine High School varsity in the Hancock County Meet Tuesday, she won the whole darned race.
Schwartz dominated the field with a time of 19 minutes, 33 seconds, well ahead of Eastern Hancock junior Kiersten Schrope (20:14), who had posted the county’s top time entering the race.
The performance of Schwartz and teammates Marissa Crosby (fourth, 20:49), Natalie Shields (sixth, 21:00), Bailey Wallace (seventh, 21:02) and Kayla Medaris (ninth, 21:11) propelled the Dragons to their seventh-straight county team championship.
Schwartz wasn’t exactly an unknown prior to Tuesday’s event at Brandywine Park; she ran a personal record 19:53 on Saturday, just shy of Schrope’s 19:48 PR, and there was talk pre-race among the crowd that Schwartz might challenge the Royals’ veteran.
The surprising part was how much Schwartz had improved since middle school. As the newly crowned champion herself put it Tuesday, “Oh yeah, you should have seen me last year, I was horrible.”
Schwartz went on to explain, “I got kicked out of varsity. There’s seven people on varsity; I was like eighth.”
High school track and field and cross country coaches are normally up to speed on the talent they’re inheriting from the middle school level. Dragons’ track coach Dave Hauser, who was on hand Tuesday, said he remembered watching Schwartz last year and thinking, “‘She might be a contributor for us.’ But I didn’t think, ‘Oh, wow, she’s a stud.’”
New Palestine cross country coach Daniel Weimer hadn’t heard much, if anything, of Schwartz at the middle school level. But he quickly became witness to Schwartz’ ever-quickening ability this spring.
“Sarah’s only ran cross country for two years, so her running age is 2, if that makes sense,” he said.
Seth Eagleson, a New Palestine junior and the boys’ county champ Tuesday, said of Schwartz bursting onto the scene: “Honestly, it surprised all of us, even the coaches. Who expects that? Now, we just say, ‘Sarah, you’re good, go get it, you’re the next Courtney Edon.’”
Edon was the 2010 county champ for the Dragons and winner of multiple track and cross country county, conference and sectional championships before graduating in 2011.
In Edon’s 2010 county win, she stopped Eastern Hancock’s Breanna Lawyer from winning a fourth-straight title.
Tuesday, it was Schwartz who kept another Royal from starting a streak. Schrope was runner-up to Mandy Bode of Mt. Vernon last season. And Schrope’s 20:14 Tuesday was a dramatic improvement of her second-place 21:46 last season.
Still, it wasn’t enough to keep Schwartz in sight.
“I was with Kiersten and we ran together the first mile, and then she just kind of fell back and that’s when I took the lead,” explained Schwartz, who added that she didn’t employ a particular strategy. “Not really. When I go out there, all I do is run and I just know I’m going to do the best that I can.”
Mt. Vernon’s Elizabeth Cook (20:19) finished behind Schrope in third, followed by Crosby, Greenfield-Central’s Kara Purvis (20:58) in fifth, Shields, Wallace, the Royals’ Shelby Wyatt (21:06) in eighth, Medaris and Mt. Vernon’s Jessica Grubb (21:15) in 10th.
The Marauders were a distant second in the team standings with 59 points. New Palestine’s winning total was 27 points, and G-C (66) and Eastern Hancock (72) rounded out the field.
New Palestine’s victory tied the 1995-2001 Mt. Vernon girls for most consecutive county championships, girls or boys.
With six of their top seven runners from Tuesday set to return next season, an eighth straight county crown is well within the Dragons’ reach.
This group has plenty left to accomplish more immediately, however. The Dragons’ program has made five straight semistate appearances. The top five teams at the sectional, regional and semistate level advance to the next step of the state tourney. Last fall, the Dragons were third, fourth and 19th at the sectional, regional and semistate, respectively.
Shields, the New Palestine junior who finished sixth Tuesday, is confident the Dragons will once again advance deep into the tourney,
“We’re definitely going to semistate, hopefully placing even higher,” she said. “Last year, we were definitely strong, but this year we have more (times) in the 20s. We’ve gotten faster. Our workouts are better. We have more depth this year.”
The postseason will begin Oct. 9 with the sectional on the New Palestine home course. Last year’s winning sectional time at New Palestine was 19:20 by then-Franklin Central senior Kristen Taft.
Could Schwartz continue her surprising freshman campaign with a sectional championship? Schrope, ninth in the sectional last year, will be in contention again, along with a host of top runners from Franklin Central, Warren Central and Roncalli. But, it would be a mistake to count out Schwartz.
Weimer certainly wasn’t surprised by his freshman’s victory Tuesday.
“All due respect to Schrope; she’s a quality, great runner and I love how she competes,” the coach said. “But Sarah is a competitor, as well. And she was going to go out to compete today and that’s what she did. She ran very aggressively and was rewarded with a championship and a really good time.”
Asked to explain her sudden knack for competitive running, Schwartz said, “I guess just something happened in my mind. I really want to be in the Air Force and I want to go to the Air Force Academy and you need to have a sport for that. So, I was just like … why not cross country?”
Notes: The Dragons (13) and Marauders (10) have combined to win every county meet since it began in 1990. … Schwartz put herself in contention to join Mt. Vernon’s Amye Adcock (2002-05) as the only runners to win four straight county titles. … Led by champ Mattie Wagoner (21:37), a freshman, New Palestine won the JV meet. Dragons’ runners took the top four places. … EH’s Lawyer has the county meet record (19:31), set in 2008, for a five kilometer (3.1 mile) course. The girls’ race distance was increased from four kilometers to the standard boys’ 5k distance in 2007.
Hancock County Cross Country Meet
Tuesday at Brandywine Park, Greenfield
5 kilometers/3.1 miles
1. New Palestine 27 (1-4-6-7-9)
2. Mt. Vernon 59 (3-10-12-16-18)
3. Greenfield-Central 66 (5-11-13-15-22)
4. Eastern Hancock 72 (2-8-17-21-24)
Individuals (with grade, school, time)
1. Sarah Schwartz (9) NP, 19:33.53
2. Kiersten Schrope (11) EH, 20:14.78
3. Elizabeth Cook (12) MV, 20:19.64
4. Marissa Crosby (10) NP, 20:49.53
5. Kara Purvis (12) GC, 20:58.81
6. Natalie Shields (11) NP, 21:00.36
7. Bailey Wallace (9) NP, 21:02.78
8. Shelby Wyatt (12) EH, 21:06.53
9. Kayla Medaris (11) NP, 21:11.46
10. Jessica Grubb (10) MV, 21:15.39
11. Nicole Stephenson (9) GC, 21:22.25
12. Morgan Hayse (10) MV, 21:30.36
13. Rebecca Flora (11) GC, 21:34.53
14. Emily Trimpe (12) NP, 21:36.28
15. Emily Dupnik (12) GC, 21:37.00
1. Greenfield-Central 34 (3-4-6-10-11)
2. Mt. Vernon 41 (5-7-8-9-12)
3. New Palestine 53 (1-2-14-17-19)
4. Eastern Hancock, Inc.
Individuals (with grade, school, time)
1. Seth Eagleson (11) NP, 16:23.11*
2. Austin Dodd (12) NP, 16:54.03
3. Syrus Fletcher (10) GC, 17:19.71
4. Garrett Benedict (12) GC, 17:19.89
5. Brandt True (9) MV, 17:24.31
6. Taylor Wright (10) GC, 17:26.43
7. Andrew Thaxton (11) MV, 17:32.61
8. Aaron Rush (9) MV, 17:36.86
9. Taylor Van Winkle (12) MV, 17:46.96
10. Jason LaFord (10) GC, 17:48.96
11. Zach Bishop (9) GC, 17:50.11
12. Andrew Boyle (11) MV, 17:58.03
13. Christopher Tatom (11) GC, 18:05.53
14. Riley Wilson (9) NP, 18:18.03
15. Brendan O’Bryhim (9) MV, 18:22.00
*Hancock County Meet record
Team: GC 16, NP 56, MV 64
1st place: Luke Shambaugh (10) GC, 17:53.91
Team: NP 15
1st place: Mattie Waggoner (9) NP, 21:37.63