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ONLY two years have passed since the Columbus North boys won their third consecutive state title behind one of the best trios ever to run cross-country in the state of Indiana.
While the Bull Dogs had Andrew Diehn, Christopher Kelsey and Michael Sublette for those 2009-11 championships, they’ve had a formidable duo in seniors Andy Carr and Kaden Eaton for most of this season. But with the emergence of junior Seth Williams, North now has three runners that can match up with any top three in Indiana going into Saturday’s state finals in Terre Haute.
“Diehn and Stubbs and Kelsey are more accomplished, but these guys haven’t had this opportunity to show what they can do yet,” North coach Rick Weinheimer said. “Certainly, that was a big three that came through before, and we’ll be able to better compare after this meet.”
Eaton led the second-ranked Bull Dogs to the Brown County Semistate title Saturday with a third-place finish in 15 minutes, 37.7 seconds for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). Williams took fifth in a personal-best 15:46.2, and Carr was eighth in 15:49.4.
North also had big performances from junior Chase Ballard, who finished 14th in 15:55.0, and senior Michael Keller, who was 17th in 16:05.8.
“I believe at the top end, this gives us as good a 1-2-3 punch as anybody else has,” Weinheimer said. “Plus, it also gives us the luxury of having both parts to a good team. You have very solid front-runners, and you have a very solid No. 5, so it’s all about trying to match everybody up front and getting your fifth man and shutting the door.”
Carr and Eaton took turns as the Bull Dogs’ No. 1 runner through the regular season and the sectional. Then, Williams came through with a breakthrough performance in the Brown County Regional, winning in 15:47.61 to lead a sweep of the top five places.
“It was a big confidence booster,” Williams said. “Since I’ve been third and fourth the whole season, to finally get first is a little different.”
Williams’ performance wasn’t a surprise to those who coach and train with him.
“I expected him to have a breakout,” Eaton said. “He’s been training hard for three years. That’s what happened for me last year. Junior year at that time of year is when you’re starting to see big improvements to get to that level.”
“I don’t know that we were that surprised because we’ve seen him in training,” Weinheimer said. “I think it was a matter of him becoming more comfortable with what it’s like to be a front-runner, and there was nobody more thrilled than Andy and Kaden when he ended up there.”
Carr and Eaton have had the benefit of being pushed by each other, and now, Williams.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s exciting and motivating to have people to run alongside you, especially knowing that they trained at the same level you did,” Carr said. “It’s cool to know that you can look at each other and say ‘Hey, I need you to do your best for me,’ and they’ll do it.”
“I think it’s huge to have a teammate that is at the same level as you, both in training and racing,” Eaton said. “Now that we have Seth and Chase and even Michael, everybody else is pushing each other in workouts, and that converts over to races. Saturday, it was a huge excitement when Andy and Seth and I were all running side by side. It’s a big confidence boost to know you have teammates that have been through the same stuff as you.”
Eaton, who has committed to run collegiately at Belmont, has been healthy all season after missing the first half of last year with a hip injury.
“That was a good experience for me to go through that injury,” Eaton said. “It was a challenge that I think helped me a lot, but then having this year healthy was good for my training.”
Carr is deciding between University of Indianapolis, Indiana State and Belmont. He noted the improvement this year of several individuals, including North’s No. 6 and 7 runners, sophomore Ben Rankin and junior Ben Porter.
“I’m proud of how so many people on this team this year have grown a bunch from the year before,” Carr said. “So many people have bought into the training philosophy. They came together to make something special.”
The Bull Dogs will be looking for another special finish on Saturday.
“I think a state title is definitely not out of the question,” Williams said. “We have to work at it.”
“We worked hard this season to be the best team that we can be and to give everybody we compete against a run for their money,” Eaton said. “I think Saturday, we’ll have to go back and trust our training, go back to what we’ve learned over the last few months and give Carmel and Bloomington South and all the other good teams there the best performance we can give them.”
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