From the crack of the gun, Jennings County’s boys cross-country team put itself in position for domination at Ceraland.
The 24th-ranked Panthers shot to the front of the pack at the start of the Hoosier Hills Conference meet and never looked back. Led by senior Dalton Craig’s winning time of 16 minutes, 7 seconds, they repeated as HHC champs Saturday.
Jennings scored 26 points. Floyd Central was runner-up with 57, and Seymour placed third with 96. New Albany finished one point behind the Owls, followed by Jeffersonville (109), Bedford North Lawrence (140), Columbus East (178) and Madison (253).
Top seven finishers earned All-HHC status while the next seven were honorable mention in the 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) boys and girls races. The Panther boys took the top four finishes in the eight-team field that featured 84 runners.
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Carter Leak was runner-up in 16:12, Alex Hendrix took third at 16:18 and Franklin Sanders claimed fourth in 16:27. Ryan Gasper rounded out the scoring five by taking 16th in 17:12.
“They just got out and ran,” Jennings coach Bryant Layman said. “We trained hard the last two weeks and didn’t let off this week. We knew that we were the favorite coming in. My top four guys are really tough. Five also drove really hard forward today. They took care of their jobs, and we’re just going to keep getting better.”
Craig said that taking the HHC crown meant a lot to him.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I know coach hadn’t ever had a conference champion. I knew one of us was going to win it today, and I’m glad it was me. My whole plan from the beginning was to lead from bell to bell. I did pretty well with that.”
Layman said the team is ready for the postseason.
“Our goal has never changed,” he said. “We believe that we belong on the (state) podium. We believe we can bring a state championship to Jennings County. These guys are way underrated. Our depth continues get stronger, and they’re on a huge winning streak — steamrolling the past four meets.”
Garrett McGaha paced the Olympians by finishing 12th in 17:02.
“(McGaha) had a really strong week of practice leading up to it,” East boys coach Ryan Burke said. “He went out and attacked the race. He stayed on his game plan throughout. He just ran well today.”
The Olympians other runners finished within ticks of one another — Ryan Sadtler (43rd, 18:23), Michael Zieleniuk (44th, 18:27), Kaden Wise (47th, 18:39.71) and Nick Walter (48th, 18:39.73).
“We had a ton of (personal records) today,” Burke said. “The overall placing was obviously not what we wanted, but we’re making strides individually.”
In the girls race, No. 6 Floyd Central almost posted a perfect score with 19 points. The Highanders were followed by Seymour (50), Jennings (98), East (110), Madison (137), Jeffersonville (150), Bedford (177) and New Albany (217)
Sophomore Sydney Liddle was champion, of 78 runners, in 18:51 for the Highlanders.
The Panthers’ Emma Morrison posted a 20:13 for 12th, earning honorable mention All-HHC status. Ashley Heindel timed 21:92 for 21st, followed by Elizabeth Walhman (26th, 21:49.39), Kaylee Ebinger (27th, 21:49.86) and Alana Daeger (33rd, 22:25).
Olivia Linneman paced the Olympians with a 21:10 for 18th. Elizabeth Stevens (24th, 21:40), Kristen Lyons (25th, 21:42), Amanda Pottorff (32nd, 22:16) and Hannah Harris (36th, 22:30) completed East’s scoring.
East girls coach Jesse Shoaf said the team had several personal bests in the race and that the team feels good going into Saturday’s Brown County Sectional.
“We had a good day. I was happy with our results,” he said. “I thought we were going to end up where we did. A lot of the girls improved on their times. The biggest thing at this point in the season is preparing for sectional and regional.”
Burke said that East enjoyed showcasing its Ceraland course to the other HHC schools.
“I really thought the meet went well on our home course,” he said. “When we have meets, we try to put on a good show. I think we did that today.”