Retooled boys team caps season of growth

TERRE HAUTE — After watching five runners from last year’s fourth-place state finals team graduate, Columbus North knew it would need a big improvement from a few underclassmen to make a run at another top-10 boys cross-country state finish.

The Bull Dogs got better and better as the year went on, adding sectional, regional and semistate titles to the Conference Indiana crown they won in August. Their season ended Saturday with an eighth-place finish in the state finals at Terre Haute’s LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.

“I just remember a year ago watching all those guys that were seniors,” North coach Rick Weinheimer said. “I’m thrilled for what we call our ‘no-names’ who made a big difference in a year and finished eighth in the state. They’ve all needed to run well.”

Led by two-time individual champion Ben Veatch, top-ranked Carmel scored 115 points to defend its boys title. Fishers finished second with 158, followed by Westfield (210), Fort Wayne Carroll (212), West Lafayette (221), Hamilton Southeastern (226), Lake Central (233) and the Bull Dogs (241).

North’s two returners from last year were its top two runners on Saturday. Senior Ben Rankin finished 49th in 16 minutes, 10.4 seconds for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) and senior Chase McQueen was 64th in 16:18.0.

“It wasn’t as great as we expected it to be,” Rankin said. “Honestly, it was disappointing, but we ran our hardest, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Junior Elijah Brooks finished 66th in 16:18.5, and senior Chandler Stewart took 70th in 16:20.4 for the Bull Dogs. Junior Justin Spoon was 105th in 16:37.2, despite running with only one shoe the final 4,000 meters.

Also for North, senior Braden Hammond finished 111th in 16:42.8, and junior Alec Embry was 122nd in 16:45.8.

A mock state meet performed by Indiana Runner.com last week based on semistate times and course conversions had the Bull Dogs projected to finish only 12th.

“I kind of thought if we could get 12th, that would be great,” Weinheimer said. “So I’m really pleased with how we finished and how close they were to the medal stand.”

Meanwhile, Brown County and Jennings County saw their individual qualifiers finish back to back. Brown County senior Cole Chudy took 106th in 16:37.5, and Jennings County senior Ricky Hendrix was 107th in 16:39.1.

“It was tough,” Hendrix said. “I just didn’t have much that race. I gave it all last week (at semistate) to get here. I’m glad for the opportunity to be here, and I’m hoping my brother (Alex) has better luck than I do.”

Chudy was competing in the state tournament series for the first time after transferring from Bloomington Lighthouse.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Chudy said. “I’m so glad I was able to come here, but I gave it my all, and that’s all you can ask for. At the same time, I’m disappointed with the outcome.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.