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NEW ALBANY — As Jonah Woods reached different points in Saturday’s Hoosier Hills Conference cross-country meet at New Albany, something came to mind to give him the spark he needed to win the race.
When the Jennings County senior took the lead about halfway through, he heard someone in the crowd say, “It’s your race to lose now.”
“I was like, ‘That’s awesome. That’s a great thing to think,’” Woods said.
With less than a mile left, Woods remembered a message from a motivational video the team watched: “I can. I will. I must. I have to.”
Then near the end of the race, something his father yelled out gave him the final boost.
“At the last race, I was ahead, too, and I was ahead by about 200 meters, and he was acting like the guy behind me was literally there,” Woods said. “I never look behind me, and I never know. I’m like, ‘Dad, that’s perfect. I want you to do that,’ so he did that. I don’t know how far the guy was behind me, but he wasn’t right behind me, and my dad was like, ‘He’s right there. He’s coming.’”
Woods’ winning time was 16 minutes 38 seconds for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles), a good distance ahead of Seymour’s Jack Tormoehlen, who placed second in 17:05.
“I always try and stay my pace, even at the very beginning,” Woods said. “A lot of guys want to go out way too fast, in my opinion, so I just stayed back in the pack, stayed consistent, and then we hit about the half-mile, and that’s when I went up to the front pack and had my sights set on a couple of my friends from other schools that I know I’m right around.”
Once he reached the 2-mile mark, Woods said he wanted to take off. Then, there was no catching him.
This marked Woods’ third time earning All-HHC, which goes to the top seven runners. He earned honorable mention, which is for places 8-through-14, his sophomore year.
Woods said he liked running the course at Prosser School of Technology, which is where New Albany runs its home meets.
“It’s probably one of my dream courses,” he said. “It’s not incredibly fast time-wise, but I run a lot on trails, so back here (in part of the course that went through the woods) that was my zone. I was just in, and I was ready. Then you had openings to pass people, and you could see everything.”
Going into the season, Jennings coach Father Jonathan Meyer said he knew Woods had the potential to win the HHC title.
Before every meet, Meyer has had the team members share their goals. Most boys would say they want to reach a certain time. Woods had a different response for Saturday.
“He just goes, ‘I’m going to win,’” Meyer said. “That’s been our mentality all season, and that’s what he did. He came to win, and he won by quite a margin, and it was awesome.”
Meyer said Woods perfectly carried out his strategy.
“We have a continued mentality that we need to start off in the back and move forward, not go out too fast, so that he has energy at the end, and that’s exactly what he did today,” Meyer said.
As a team, the Jennings boys placed fifth with 101 points. Junior Kyle Lewis earned honorable mention with his eighth-place finish in 17:21, and Meyer was impressed with his finish because Lewis splits his time in the fall between cross-country and soccer.
Floyd Central took the HHC crown with 48 points, while Seymour was second with 58 and Columbus East third with 82.
Seymour’s Tormoehlen and Ian Hensen (fifth in 17:15) received All-HHC honors, and Daniel Hauersperger (10th in 17:35) earned honorable mention.
East’s Paul Bean earned All-HHC by placing sixth in 17:18, while Paul Baker (12th in 17:39) made honorable mention.
In the girls meet, Floyd Central easily won the title by placing six of its runners in the top seven, including winner Lydia Kotowski (19:43).
New Albany was second with 68. Columbus East and Seymour each scored 107, and East got third on the sixth runner’s placing. Jennings was sixth with 159 points.
Area girls earning honorable mention were Madison Hays (eighth in 21:12) and Megan Winter (14th in 21:33) of Seymour and Kira Singer (ninth in 21:15) and Morgan Ketron (10th in 21:20) of Columbus East.
Rachel Thomas led the Panthers with a 19th-place finish in 22:01.
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