NEW PALESTINE — Strong seniors are gone, but the expectations for the traditionally-strong New Palestine Dragons girls cross country team are still there.
After winning consecutive Hancock County titles from 2017-20, the Dragons were runners-up to Mt. Vernon in 2021. They were a very close third — one point from second-place Pendleton Heights and 10 from champion Mt. Vernon — in last season’s Hoosier Heritage Conference meet. New Palestine had won three straight championships prior to last year’s race.
Even without their annual titles, the Dragons had a strong season. They advanced to the semistate, placing 19th. Prior to semistate, they were runners-up at the Mt. Vernon Sectional and had a fourth-place team at the Rushville Regional.
Coach Chuck Myers believes, even though the program lost some good seniors — and a No. 1 runner for the second straight year — they’ll be in the mix in the meets that count the most.
“We have pretty good numbers and I think we’ll be competitive,” Myers said. “I think the conference is going to be really competitive on the team side. There will be a lot of teams in the mix and I think we could be in there.”
New Palestine graduated four-year standout Emma Mann, last year’s county champion.
Mann continued a stretch of Dragon individual champions at the four-team race for area bragging rights. Prior to her winning it last year, Brenna Shaw —now running cross country and track at Purdue — won county crowns four straight years.
Along with graduating Mann, the team lost a pair of varsity regulars in Caitlin Urrutia and Emily Adam.
Even with Shaw departing two years ago and Mann last season, the Dragons should still have one of the top runners.
Leading the 2022 Dragons will be junior Courtney Study.
As a freshman and sophomore, she had been running near the lead pack with Mann and Shaw. The upcoming season could be her time to shine.
Study was the team’s No. 2 runner most of last season. She moved to the No. 1 spot when Mann wasn’t able to compete after the sectional race.
The junior finished fourth in the county meet. All three that finished ahead of her, Mann and Mt. Vernon’s Lydia Carrell and Morgan Tharp, have graduated.
She was ninth at conference, fifth at sectional and 10th at regional.
“Courtney has been good for us (since she’s been here),” Myers said. “She’ll be the leader of the group.”
Lexi Baynes, who added cross country to her agenda last year after starring for the track team, is another top 10 finisher from last year’s county race. Baynes is one of only four seniors on a 20-member team.
Another senior Edie Schwarb was part of varsity meets a year ago, including the semistate.
A pair of juniors, Cami Massari and Amelia Stone, also have some varsity experience and are expected to be key contributors.
Of the 20 runners, 13 are juniors and sophomores. The biggest class is the seven-member sophomore unit.
The Dragons have a little more time than others in getting prepared for the regular season. They will open their season on Aug. 20 at the Zionsville Invitational.