New Pal, Mt. Vernon win HHC cross country titles

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SHELBYVILLE — It was a different course than in 2019, but the winners are the same in 2020.

The New Palestine girls and Mt. Vernon boys repeated as Hoosier Heritage Conference cross-country champions Saturday at Shelbyville’s Blue River Memorial Park.

The teams won titles a year ago when the 5K races were staged at Pendleton Heights High School.

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For New Palestine, it was a third straight conference title. Mt. Vernon has won the conference seven times, but this was the first time the Marauders have won back-to-back seasons.

“(Veteran Mt. Vernon coach Bruce Kendall) was really keying on getting these back-to-back since he had never done it before,” Mt. Vernon junior Austin Rush, the runner-up in the boys’ race, said. “I think he’s just super happy right now, hopefully we can come back next year and make it three years in a row.”

“It was a really great day,” New Palestine top runner Brenna Shaw said of the Dragons’ third straight title. “All the girls raced amazing (Saturday). We went in trying to defend our title and we did.”

Shaw, a senior, and Emma Mann, a junior, placed second and third, respectively for the Dragons.

Shaw had won the event each of the last two years, but any disappointment on an individual level was taken away by setting a new school record of 18:27.

“Personally, I had the best race of my life,” Shaw said.

New Palestine won with 43 points. Mt. Vernon was second with 75. Delta was a close third with 87. Greenfield-Central was sixth in the eight-team field with 136.

“We were supposed to place second and we got second,” Mt. Vernon coach Kean Coy said. “You can’t be upset with that. New Pal’s the standard and we want to make sure we’re striving to be chasing them rather than be looking behind us.”

Six county runners placed in the top 10. Mann finished nine seconds behind Shaw in 18:36. Greenfield-Central’s Audrey Brinkruff was fourth in 19:10.

A pair of freshmen, New Palestine’s Courtney Study and Mt. Vernon’s Alexandria Jenson were on each other’s heels, placing eighth and ninth. Study finished in 20:11 and Jenson in 20:13. New Pal senior Kendall Mann was 10th in 20:16.

“This senior class has been really good. Brenna and Kendall and Megan Collins, they’ve ran great for us for four years,” New Palestine coach Chuck Myers said. “After that first year as freshmen, they’ve grown and become a great team. Everybody ran well (Saturday).”

The top 15 are considered all-conference runners and Mt. Vernon added three more to that list with Esther Small (12, 20:35), Lydia Carrell (13, 20:36) and Morgan Tharp (15, 20:41).

Coy said it was the first all-conference runners for the Marauders in three years.

Delta freshman Nicki Southerland won the race with a time of 18:03.

In the boys’ race, Mt. Vernon had four runners in the top 10 and five total earn all-conference honors. Runner-up Greenfield-Central had three in the top 10 and also had five take home all-HHC awards.

The Marauders were first with 27 points, while the Cougars finished with 46, well ahead of third-place Pendleton Heights with 84. New Palestine finished eighth with 228.

“When you win the conference, it’s a good day,” Kendall said. “We’ve won it several times, getting back to back has always been an issue.”

New Castle’s Andrew Fewell, a junior, won the race in 16:29.

Mt. Vernon took the next three spots, led by Rush who finished just seven seconds behind in 16:36.

Rush was glad for the team win, but thinks he should have added an individual title, too.

“I should have thrown a few surges,” he said. “I think I could’ve won it, I got really comfortable around the second mile. Our team did really good today.

“I wouldn’t say I am disappointed. It’s a learning experience. My freshman and sophomore years I wasn’t that good. Last summer I really worked on upper body training. I worked out on my own and pushed my body to the limit, something I had not done before. It changed my whole physique and running style.”

Rush thinks his new and improved version could lead him to better things down the road.

“I finally got my form down,” he said. “I had really bad form. I ran like a pterodactyl. I think I have a solid chance to get to state if I play my cards right.”

Some of Rush’s best competition is coming from his teammates. Frosh Colin Strachman was a solid third on Saturday with a time of 16:45. Reyce Morgan, another junior, placed fourth in 16:57.

Senior Evan Rappe, who won the county meet last week, was seventh in 17:05.

Greenfield-Central had a solid run with Matthew Wickham leading the way with a sixth-place time of 17:00. Senior Austin Nigh was eighth in 17:07, freshman Liam Brinkruff placed ninth in 17:11 and sophomore Griffen Wheeler was 10th in 17:15.

Mt. Vernon’s Sam Wilson (11, 17:17) and Greenfield-Central’s Chris Ross (13, 17:20) also earned all-HHC honors.

“Mt. Vernon is a really strong team. They ran really well,” Greenfield-Central coach Aaron Smith said. “I thought our times weren’t quite where we wanted them, but as a whole team I thought we ran well. We knew we had Mt. Vernon and Pendleton to compete with. Mt. Vernon has beaten us every race we’ve run them. Pendleton, though, it was good to knock them off.”