GREENFIELD — Carter Crouch could have easily said, ‘I’m done’ and moved on to something else.

He didn’t.

He persevered, became a county and sectional champion, and a state qualifier.

The hard-working, persistent Greenfield-Central senior standout is the Daily Reporter Hancock County Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

Crouch suffered from Osgood-Schlatter disease his entire sophomore season, a condition that causes pain and swelling below the knee joint. It often coincides with growing spurts.

It hampered his conditioning and running for over a year. He began regaining form his junior season and by this year he was able to train and compete with senior teammates and standout runners Chris Ross and Liam Brinkruff. He started the season as the team’s No. 3 runner, but he finished No. 1.

Along with winning the county and sectional meets, he was the county’s top finisher in the regional (sixth) and state meet (29th).

“I felt like I was the underdog the whole season. Being able to perform well and get wins means a lot,” Crouch said. “I think everyone saw other runners winning (county) or other runners doing well in the conference or the sectional.

“Not performing well the past couple years, people didn’t expect for me to have such good growth. We faced a bunch of good teams that have a lot of runners that run at a pretty high level. It felt good to finish ahead of them.”

Crouch ran the fastest 5K race of his high school career at the state meet. A time of 15:43.1 put him in 29th place, just four spots out of all-state honors.

The win at the county meet was his first. Ross had been the team’s No. 1 runner, but he was unable to run in the late August race at Mt. Vernon High School. Crouch took advantage of the opportunity, finished ahead of Brinkruff for the first time and won with a time of 16:18.2. It was eight seconds in front of second-place Brinkruff.

Crouch’s second win came on the same course. With a full squad at the Mt. Vernon Sectional, Crouch and Ross finished 1-2, with Brinkruff not too far behind in fifth.

Crouch won in 15:48, five seconds ahead of Ross. His time wasn’t as fast at the regional, 15:57.7, but it was the best of any county runner and good enough for sixth place.

“I think (winning county) was the start of everything,” Crouch said. “Being able to win it opened my eyes that I can do more than I think I can.”

From watching him run at the junior high level, coach Aaron Smith said he knew Crouch had the potential to be a very good runner. As a freshman, though, Crouch went out for soccer instead of cross country. As a sophomore, he developed Osgood-Schlatter.

The pain of running and the disappointment of race results would often put Crouch in tears.

“I would cry after races because I was so disappointed,” Crouch said.

“I would see him crying and I didn’t know what to say to him other than look, keep working hard and keep doing what you need to be doing,” Smith said. “We had some guys with Osgood-Schlatter before. It’s going to go away. You’re going to see the improvement.

“In the moment, it’s hard to keep a positive mindset, I know he struggled with that. He kept doing what he needed to be doing and did as much as he could in practice.”

Crouch did all of the right things. He worked hard and continued having expectations he’d be the one crossing the finish line first.

“I stayed confident the whole time even when I had Osgood-Schlatter,” Crouch said. “I know some of my teammates and opponents always saw me as a little bit delusional, but I’m glad I kept those high goals.”

By the end of his junior year, the hard work and continuing to do the right things in practice were paying off. During the track and field season in the spring he qualified for the state meet in the 1600-meter run.

“His junior year we started seeing him close the gap on the top guys,” Smith said. “His senior season it wasn’t like he was trying to chase down Chris and Liam, they were all training together. We knew we were going to have a solid Top 3, and I knew he was going to do well, but I didn’t think he’d beat them as much as he did.”

Crouch said he kept with the sport of running with the help of his support group — teammates, coaches and family.

“The people around me, coaches, my teammates, both of my parents were runners, my sister ran, I didn’t want to give up running because of all of them,” he said. “And, I like pushing myself mentally and physically, I like doing that.

“The team that we have, I don’t think we’re a team, we’re a big group of brothers. (They did) so much to keep me going. Them wanting to see me succeed and once I succeeded it wasn’t just for myself. I ran a good time and they were there to back me up. They were there and happy to see me finally succeed.”

Smith thinks with all that Crouch has gone through it has added a little extra to the success.

“I’m blown away with how fast he got,” Smith said. “Throughout the whole time, I know there was some discouragement in there. He kept working and doing what he needed to do and it definitely paid off for him. To me, that almost makes it sweeter. If you want something so bad and you are willing to persist and work through that and have seen the discouragement, seen all that, but to have that success, I’m so thankful he was able to see the success from it.

“From Day 1, I first noticed in the weight room he’d be the last one done because he made sure he did every rep correctly. When we do our warm up stretches he does them all right. Before practice, and even in the winter, he’d be the first one here and doing rope stretches before practice started. He did everything the right way.”

2023 All-Hancock County Boys Cross Country Team

Runner, School;Class

Liam Brinkruff, Greenfield-Central;12

Carter Crouch, Greenfield-Central;12

Cooper Hunziker, Mt. Vernon;10

Xaiden Jenson, Mt. Vernon;11

Preston Markley, Eastern Hancock;11

Chris Ross, Greenfield-Central;12

Colin Strachman, Mt. Vernon;12

Athlete of the Year: Carter Crouch, Greenfield-Central

Coach of the Year: Aaron Smith, Greenfield-Central

Honorable Mention: Eastern Hancock – Brandon Metz. Greenfield-Central – Braylon Mumaugh. Mt. Vernon – Caden Cassada, Brayden Strantz. New Palestine – Jake Cooper.