Jasper boys snag title; Forest Park girls three-peat

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Jasper's Jackson Miller crosses the finish line in first place at Saturday's cross country sectionals in Jasper. For more photos from the sectional, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
sports@dcherald.com 

JASPER — Capturing your program’s first sectional in 37 years calls for letting loose, so Abe Eckman busted out his best bodybuilder pose: an all-out double bicep flex, plus a huge grin matched by his Jasper cross country teammates as they mugged for the celebratory photos.

Forest Park’s Ellie Hall was beaming about a sectional crown, too, albeit with a teary-eyed moment. Hall swelled with so much pride about how Abby Hauser and other Ranger teammates passed other runners on the homestretch to assure a Forest Park three-peat, that she started getting a little choked up.

Fitting, a diverse range of reactions for varying routes to sectional trophies. While Forest Park’s girls (39 points) clipped Jasper (46) for their third straight crown Saturday at the Vincennes University Jasper Campus course, Jasper’s boys emphatically smothered a sectional drought winning for the first time since 1982. Sweetening the day a little further, Jasper got his-and-hers individual wins by Jackson Miller (16:32) and Andi VanMeter (19:41).

With steady backup from Eckman (third), Drew O’Neil (fourth) and Jaryn Weinel (ninth), plus Will Gubbins, Cameron Eckstein and Harrison Hulsman all in the top 17, the 18th-ranked Cats (28) led Tell City (86), Forest Park (97), Heritage Hills (116) and Northeast Dubois (120) as the five qualifiers for this Saturday’s regional at Crawford County.

As the Cats see it, reaching the long-awaited sectional summit came down to simple stuff. Miller set the tone putting in offseason mileage, and others followed. And Gubbins — “the goober on the team,” as his teammates kidded — adds the comic relief that keeps workouts spicy.

“Freshman year for us, the goal was senior year to take over, and it’s happened,” said Miller, a senior who’s intent on adding a regional title (their last was in 1985) and reaching the state finals (which last happened in 1952).

“We dreamed about having this good of a team for a while, and it’s finally happening,” O’Neil added. “It feels really good.”

Added Eckman: “We’re kind of redefining cross country for Jasper. We should have a good history of cross country after this year.”

The Cats knew they’d waited a while to break through. It was even longer than they realized.

Their school records and IHSAA records showed their last sectional title in 1997. But that was a mistake. They discovered later Saturday that their last sectional triumph was actually in 1982. With a bunch of near-misses in the interim.

“We’ve been second I don’t know how many times in my 17 years of coaching, but it’s been a bunch,” Jasper coach Kevin Schipp said. “It’s not so much getting over the hump, it’s just this group is all in on this season. This is arguably the best team in school history. They’re putting the work in, and they’ve earned it. They’ve been laser focused every day.”

Forest Park's Abby Hauser hugs Ellie Hall after competing in Saturday's cross country sectionals in Jasper. For more photos from the sectional, click here.

Running with a little pressure can be an effective way to get it done, too. Just ask Hall, the Forest Park sophomore who zipped to third place in 20:07 to lead four Rangers in the top 10.

“We had a lot of stress coming in knowing that we wanted another one. There’s no words to describe when you hear your name going next to sectional champs,” Hall said. “It’s an unreal experience.”

The Rangers relied on the entire pack to make it happen. Including Danielle Eckert and Karli Kitten, the freshmen who were sixth and 10th, respectively, both passing Jasper runners near the finish.

“Which was huge, because that’s a two-point swing each place,” said Ranger coach Philip Wolf, whose boys team was buoyed by Spenser Wolf (second, 16:51) and Bryce Troesch (10th). “That was huge for us. It was a great team effort.”

“Danielle, Sara (Kitten), Karli and Abby, they all just killed it at the very end, and so did Amber (Theising). They all just pushed it and knew what they needed to do,” added Ranger senior Josie Berg, who scooted to fourth place overall and echoed Hall’s pride about the supporting cast. “They did awesome. It was so cool seeing them finish so strong.”

For everyone in the girls race there was no catching VanMeter, who glided through the finish line with an 18-second cushion with Jasper teammates Kathryn McCoy (seventh), Kelsea Skorge (11th), Amanda Schnell (13th) and Alexis Christiansen (14th) close behind.

You might not expect tension from a girl who was runner-up to a senior last season and dominated most of her races this season. But “I was still nervous,” VanMeter acknowledged. “I expected to win this race, but it doesn’t take away from the nerves going into it, because anything can happen in a race and there’s a lot of good people out here today. It’s satisfying to actually win it.”

Northeast Dubois pushed both of its teams to the regional, with Pierce Brinkman earning sixth to guide the boys while the Jeep girls took third behind individual runner-up Jordan Schweikarth (19:59) and Sara Livingston (ninth, 21:49).

Schweikarth’s standout freshman season keeps gaining steam, especially now with a tweaked approach: Don’t overthink, just run.

“If I think about it I don’t do as well, so I clear my mind and I just feel like I can do better now that the season’s progressing,” Schweikarth said. “I felt like I did really well today. I felt like I had a chance of getting (some of the faster runners), and I got Ellie Hall today — I didn’t think I would ever get her, but I did.”

Southridge didn’t have either team advance, though seven Raiders still moved on to regional individually: Dylan Bland (fifth), Cameron Giles (eighth) and Jaffet Cruz, plus Brooklyn Tretter, Evie Hasenour, Makayla Cox and Kaelynn Luker on the girls side.

With just 11 runners program-wide, “it’s a smaller team, but we still have a lot of fun together,” said Bland. All 11 Raiders squeezed together for a team pic afterward, along with their unofficial 12th runner — Cruz’s Goldendoodle named Miel, who sometimes runs with the team at practice and was hoisted up to be included in the back row of the photo.

“When you have smaller numbers, it’s just more memories made, the better you know each other,” Bland added. “We love every bit of it. I’ll remember these guys for a long time.”

Both Heritage Hills squads seized fourth place to advance, and while the Patriot boys keep relying on the power of many — Elliott Buechlein was the lead Patriot in 15th place — the Patriot girls are likewise starting to get more propulsion behind their trusty frontrunner Katie Winkler, who swiped fifth place Saturday.

“Bridget Flannagan and Halle Jordan have definitely been a surprise; they’ve definitely improved a lot over this season,” Winkler said. “They’ve gotten way better and they’ve gotten closer to me in practice and ran with me before. I think when I’m gone they can definitely take over as one of the No. 1 spots on the team.”




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