Full cast fuels Wildcat coronation


Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper’s Sydney Berger smiled for a photo with the sectional trophy after the Wildcats claimed their first sectional crown since 2004 on Tuesday at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. Northeast Dubois earned second place while Forest Park and Southridge followed as Dubois County teams earned the top four slots, and all of them advanced to Saturday’s regional at Crawford County. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — With both arms wrapped around the sectional trophy after a gaggle of photo-seeking parents archived the moment, Sydney Berger almost felt guilty. Jasper’s lone senior felt obligated to part with the prize.

“I feel like I should be giving it away,” Berger said, smiling. “I don’t want to be holding it this long.”

That’s how Tuesday’s girls cross country sectional coronation unfolded for the Wildcats, who were all about sharing the love.

Wildcat sophomore Hannah Welsh zipped to first place individually, and afterward, the topic that she seemed most enthused to discuss was the sixth-place showing of her twin sister, Rachael. Jasper coach Kevin Schipp stationed himself at the finishing chute, offering high-fives to Wildcats who poured across the finish line at the head of the pack, leaving little doubt that the sectional trophy wasn’t going to stray too far from the Vincennes University Jasper Campus course this time.

With five Wildcat runners populating the top eight, Jasper soared to the first sectional title for a Dubois County team since the Wildcats won it in 2004. Jasper (22) overcame runner-up Northeast Dubois (59) as well as Forest Park (100), Southridge (103) and Perry Central (104), which all advanced to Saturday’s regional at Crawford County.

“The great thing about it is just the kids, how hungry they were, how hard they’ve prepared all summer and what they’ve put into it. That’s what means the most,” Schipp said. “I hope they realize how special it is, because you don’t win one of these every year. It’s hard to do.”

Added Berger: “We trained really hard to prepare for this, and we knew going in this is where we wanted to be, and this is what we wanted to get done.”

Jasper’s standard protagonist was Hannah Welsh, who hardly seemed flustered by a week of inactivity.

H. Welsh

Shin splints had relegated Welsh to training in the pool and on the elliptical machine, and Monday’s light run was her first training on land in a week. Still, the sophomore crossed first in 20:38 after jetting to a lead that only kept swelling. Teammate Tara Cassidy was 15 seconds behind in second place, while Noelle Weyer (fifth), Rachael Welsh and Berger (eighth) formed the thicket of Wildcat finishers behind Hannah, who had no shortage of motivation after last year’s third-place sectional run.

“It was kind of almost like, I have to do this. I’m going to train to do this and I have to do this,” Welsh said. “I really wanted this.

“Honestly, whenever I ran ... I was praying the entire time. I just prayed a lot toward the middle of it. I always pray before, and I told myself this time I was going to make the whole entire race, every single step I was going to make it to God. That helped me a lot.”

Southridge’s Casey Lamb can empathize with the sting of shin splints, because the sophomore battled them two weeks earlier at the Jasper Invitational on the same course. The pain hadn’t totally abated by Tuesday, but Lamb still ran 40 seconds faster, logging ninth place in 22:10.

“I didn’t really think about them as much. Not thinking about them, I pulled it through,” Lamb said. “And I didn’t want it to be my last meet for the season.”

The Raiders dealt with that downer last season, when they didn’t advance out of the sectional after grabbing the Pocket Athletic Conference title 10 days earlier. A healthy Aubrey Main made a difference. The junior motored to third place in 21:24, a year after suffering a blackout midway through the race and not finishing.

Tuesday, No. 4 Raider runner Judith Ott couldn’t finish because of an ankle injury, but Raider coach Leslie Denu credited Emily Eckert (33rd) for helping to compensate while Lauren Meyer grabbed 20th.

“It’s really good after last year’s upset of not advancing as a team when we should have,” Denu said. “It’s a good comeback here.”

Northeast Dubois enjoyed a similar ascension, as a fourth-place jaunt by Latesha Merkel (21:29) steered the Jeeps to second place a year after missing out on the regional in sixth.

Jessica Kahle swiped 13th place, Aubrey Knies took 14th and coach Vic Betz commended Ashton Knies (16th) for picking off runners throughout the race as she ran on fresher legs after pulling the soccer-cross country double this fall.


The Jeeps’ second-place finisher was Rachel Breitwieser, a former volleyball player who was a product of her coach’s recruiting sweep. Betz went so far as to make a house call with Breitwieser, whose house is along the path of the Jeeps’ course.

“I don’t know how he does it,” said Breitwieser, who landed 12th place. “He just was like ”˜You’re so good,’ and would keep talking to me and just bug me all the time. Last year he even came up to my house, because they run in front of my house. He came in and he’s like, ”˜Come on, you should be out here.’

“I had a good season last year with my team and everything, and he really wanted me to come back and help them out. It was a good idea.”

Forest Park completed a Dubois County raid of the top four slots in the team standings as freshmen Amy Troesch (eighth) and Sarah Pund (22nd) bracketed a gutty run from Nicole Rahman (11th), who can’t catch a break when it comes to running impediments.

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Forest Park’s Nicole Rahman battled a stomach bug Tuesday, but the Ranger senior still pulled out an 11th-place finish.

After placing fifth at sectional as a freshman, Rahman has coped with asthma that’s gradually worsened over the years. And Tuesday, she burned through 3.1 miles in her final sectional despite coming down with a sickness bug as she threw up twice after school.

“I wasn’t stressing out as much, which I thought I was going to, having that (illness). I’m just glad I had everybody behind me to push me,” Rahman said.

“I’m really happy with it. I didn’t worry about coming in first or anything, I just wanted to help my team out.”

The “team” theme for Heritage Hills, meanwhile, carried a different meaning.

Already with sparse numbers and with two-time defending sectional champion Sienna Crews shelved with a stress fracture, the Patriots had just two runners compete Tuesday. The season extended for one, as Nikki Welch (41st) was the last of the 10 regional-qualifying individuals from nonadvancing teams. Stephanie Schaeffer was 13 seconds behind Welch, and Patriot coach Kurt Denning commended both runners, who’ve competed on a higher platform as part of the Pats’ sectional champion and state finals-qualifying squad from 2011.

“They’ve both had a lot of successes. They’ve the luxury of actually seeing what the state finals is all about and actually running at the state finals,” Denning said. “I thought they went out and gave a great effort. It’s unfortunate one of the two moves on, but not everyone moves on.”

The measure of success was all-inclusive for the sectional champs. When Schipp addressed his runners before the race, there wasn’t one speck of talk about winning, only about the lead-up to the moment for the Cats. And after last year’s runner-up finish, there was no catching Jasper this time.

“We talked about what we’ve done to prepare for this,” Schipp said.

“They put the extra time in, they put the extra miles in. And there was no complaints. They’re all about team, and that’s what we need to be.”

Herald Sports Writer Joseph Fanelli contributed to this report.

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

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