Go Time: Area teams look to build on strong summers

The way Danny Fisher saw it, the first official week of cross-country practice at Columbus North was just another week.

That’s because the Bull Dogs have been going hard since the week after the state track meet. Fisher, who has been an assistant for four years, takes over the head coaching role from Rick Weinheimer, who retired after 38 years at North.

“Really, our first practice was June 5,” Fisher said. “The boys knew if they wanted to accomplish what they wanted during the fall, they had to put in the work this summer. The core group was there all summer.”

Back to lead the Bull Dogs is senior Charlie Allen. Allen was North’s top runner for most of last season and was The Republic Boys Cross-Country Runner of the Year.

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This spring, Allen was a state track qualifier in the 3,200 meters. He is an elite youth triathlete and has been competing in triathlons this summer.

“He put in a good summer,” Fisher said. “I know he’s pretty fit. It’s just translating that to the cross-country course.”

North lost its Nos. 2 through 5 runners to graduation, but return several others with varsity experience. Junior John Sluys was the Bull Dogs’ No. 2 runner in the state meet. Juniors Drew Smith and Sam Horak and seniors Evan Porter, Peyton Shelton and Drew Thompson were among the plethora of Nos. 6 and 7 runners last season.

Senior Abel Spalding is coming off a solid track season. Spalding and junior Parker Lee also are in that mix of runners battling for varsity spots.

“We do a lot of group workouts around their fitness,” Fisher said. “One guy is stronger than another one day, and another is stronger the next. They pull each other along.”

Also looking to push for varsity spots are juniors Paxton Rush and Rishi Poludasu and freshmen Gabe Wills and Collin Pruitt.

North won Brown County Sectional and regional titles last season before finishing third in the Brown County Semistate and 13th in the state finals.

“They have pretty high expectations of themselves,” Fisher said. “They’re putting in the work that it takes. It’s all about performing well when the pressure is on.”

Columbus East

The Olympians will try to get back to semistate this year after missing that round the past two seasons. Last year, East finished fourth in the Hoosier Hills Conference, third in the sectional and eighth in regional.

The Olympians lost five of their seven varsity runners to graduation. Senior Michael Zieleniuk and junior Garrett McGaha are the lone full-time returning varsity runners.

“They’re setting themselves up to have a productive season,” East coach Ryan Burke said. “Definitely after losing such a big senior class, we have to have a lot of leadership from the guys who have been there, and that’s what we’re looking for out of those two.”

Sophomore Caleb Wettschurak ran a couple varsity races, and junior Owen Rupp is coming off a productive track season. Freshmen Kaden Wise and Casey Bartholomew figure to battle with them for the Nos. 3 through 6 spots.

Sophomores Colby Hertle and Ryan Sadtler and junior Jalen Pleak are vying for the final varsity spot.

“We’re always going to try to set our goals high,” Burke said. “We want to make it back to semistate and win the conference. Even though we lost an elite runner like Paul (Bean), I do think this group is going to be successful in its own right.”

Hauser

Four runners return for the Jets, who finished fourth in the Mid-Hoosier Conference and 10th in sectional.

Hauser has just six boys on the team. Senior David Seelye was Hauser’s No. 1 runner last season.

Seniors Jordan Johnson and Sam Robinson and junior Noah Benge also are back. Freshmen Ryan Ault and Brock Thalls have been running with that group.

“Our upperclassmen are definitely going to be improving over years’ past, and if our seniors and our freshmen work together, we could do pretty well,” Hauser coach Ben Finke said. “Realistically, we could go up a place or two in our conference and in our sectional.”

Jennings County

The Panthers have lofty ambitions after winning the HHC for the first time in 41 years and qualifying for the state finals for the first time in school history.

The entire top five returns from the team that finished 22nd at state. Junior Alex Hendrix, senior Franklin Sanders, sophomore Carter Leak and seniors Dalton Craig and Ryan Gasper are all back.

Craig, who was Jennings No. 4 runner for most of last season, has been the leader at times this summer. He was a state track qualifier in the 1,600 meters this spring.

“If we stay healthy, we should be a team that stuns the state a little bit,” Jennings coach Bryant Layman said. “We should be top 10. This is the best team Jennings County has ever had.”

Sophomores A.J. Seiner and Jason Gasper are battling with Ryan Gasper for the No. 5 spot.

“We have the front-running,” Layman said. “I think we have best front-runners in the state. It depends what our No. 5 is going to do.”

Brown County

The Eagles received a big shot in the arm when the Dolph brothers moved back from Martinsville.

Brown County finished fourth in the Western Indiana Conference and was a regional qualifier last season. Senior Wyatt Wyman made it to semistate as an individual.

Wyman and junior Jackson McPheeters ran on the Eagles’ state-qualifying 4×800 relay team in track. Junior Marino Dolph and senior Jordan Dolph have returned.

Sophomore Timmy Kilburn could be the No. 5 runner.

“We need a fifth right now, and we’re in the process of trying to find one,” Brown County coach Rob Abraham said. “We might be getting some new guys on the team, but we’re not sure.”

South Decatur

The Cougars lost their top two runners from a team that finished third in the MHC last season.

Seniors Cole Bower and Charlie Hamilton and Carl Kroger, who were the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 runners last year, likely will be the top three this season. Sophomore newcomer Logan Platt could be the No. 4 runner.

Junior Nolan Storm and sophomore Connor Bower also return.

“With those three senior leaders, we packed it together pretty well last year,” South Decatur coach Bethany Fromer said. “Connor Bower and Nolan Storm are both progressing, and adding Logan in there, he just realized he was a runner after running the 800 in the spring.”

Edinburgh

After having only one boys runner last season, Edinburgh likely will have just one again. Sophomore Isaiah Estes returns as the lone Lancer.

“Isaiah definitely has made improvement,” Edinburgh coach Ashley Myers said. “He knows what my expectations are of him, and I would definitely like to see him place at our conference meet.”

Trinity Lutheran

Like Edinburgh, the Cougars have just one runner again this season. Junior AJ Goecker, who also plays soccer, is two-time regional qualifier in cross-country.

“I’m expecting him to get back to regional,” Trinity coach Chris Crenshaw said. “Getting out of regional to semistate is going to be hard to break into that small group. But he’ll improve on last year.”

If you go

2017 cross-country schedules for Bartholomew County teams:

Columbus East

Aug. 16;at Brown County Challenge;6 p.m.

Aug. 19;at Zionsville Invitational,9 a.m.

Aug. 26;at Rushville Invitational;9 a.m.

Sept. 2;at Columbus North Classic;8:30 a.m.

Sept. 9;at Ben Davis Invitational;9:30 a.m.

Sept. 16;at Flashrock Invitational (Carmel);9 a.m.

Sept. 23;at Bedford North Lawrence Invitational;9 a.m.

Sept. 26;Columbus North;5 p.m.

Sept. 30;HHC;9 a.m.

Columbus North

Aug. 22;Martinsville;5:30 p.m.

Aug. 26;at Dave Bannon Invitational (Shelbyville);10 a.m.

Sept. 2;Columbus North Classic;8:30 a.m.

Sept. 9;at Brown County Eagle Classic;9:30 a.m.

Sept. 16;Conference Indiana at LaVern Gibson (Terre Haute);10 a.m.

Sept. 23;at Culver Invitational;8:30 a.m.

Sept. 26;at Columbus East;5:30 p.m.

Hauser

Aug. 19;at Rising Sun Invitational;9 a.m.

Aug. 26;at Rushville Invitational;9 a.m.

Aug. 29;at Greensburg (with South Decatur);5 p.m.

Sept. 5;Edinburgh at Blue River Park (Shelbyville);5 p.m.

Sept. 9;at Whiteland Invitational;8:30 a.m.

Sept. 16;MHC at Blue River Park (Shelbyville);9 a.m.

Sept. 23;Heritage Day Classic;9 a.m.

Sept. 26;at Morristown;5 p.m.

Sept. 28;at Greensburg Invitational;5 p.m.

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