Jasper sends both cross country teams to state

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Jasper junior Andi VanMeter crosses the finish line of Saturday's Brown County Semi-State race. VanMeter finished third, while the Wildcats finished in sixth to qualify for state. It's the first time ever Jasper is sending both cross country teams to state in the same year.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

NASHVILLE — They say there's a first for everything, and Jasper's cross country teams proved that adage to be true on Saturday.

The Wildcats are sending their boys and girls teams to the state finals in the same year for the first time following their performances in Saturday's Brown County Semi-State meet at Eagle Park, with the top six teams advancing onto state. Jasper's girls competed first, making the grade by scoring 176 team points, and didn't finish far off of fifth place Bloomington South.

Having made it to state as a team last year for the first time since 1952, Jasper's boys looked to cement its second consecutive state finals berth, and they succeeded when they finished in fifth place — just a shade off of fourth place finisher Bloomington South.

"It's just special," Wildcats coach Kevin Schipp said. "It's special for our program — all the hard work we've put in over the years and the hard work these kids have put in this year. It's special to be able to make it with both teams."

The Wildcats had a pair of third place finishers on both sides. Junior Andi VanMeter got off to a hot start, and led the race around five-or-six minutes in, only for her to come in third with a time of 18:26.9, but she was thrilled at the thought of her teammates joining her to compete at state.

"Ever since I have been in high school, we have not made it as a team," VanMeter said. "So, (I'm) pretty excited for that."

VanMeter is hoping to place in the top 25 to make all-state this year, or possibly medal at state in the top 20. Schipp thought VanMeter got off to a faster start than he would've liked her to, but he also credited her for finishing strong. He commended senior Kelsea Skorge, who finished in 19th place with a time of 19:20.1, while adding that some of his other female runners ran some of their personal bests. Senior Amanda Schnell finished 60th at 20:22.1, while freshman Emma Schipp ran a time of 21:10.6 to come in 99th place.

Junior Abe Eckman made it a goal of his to win Saturday's boys race after winning the Oct. 17 Crawford County Regional. That didn't exactly happen on Saturday, but Eckman gradually moved his way up, and finished in third place with a time of 15:41.7.

Jasper junior Abe Eckman (center) competes in Saturday's Brown County Semi-State meet. Eckman took third place overall and Jasper finished fifth to make it to state for the second straight year. It's the first time ever Jasper is sending both of its boys and girls teams to the state finals.

"The way I race, I like to come from behind," Eckman said. "It's the smartest way to race — consistent splits. So, I really just focused on not getting too far behind in the first mile-and-a-half, then to pick people off as much as I could the second half of the race. And whatever I have left, the last three stretches is what I give."

Schipp lauded Eckman for running a good, smart race as he bypassed the other runners. Eckman and his teammates will get ready for their last race of the season together this coming week.

"We'll have a good workout in on Tuesday and then just keep our mileage about the same, a little bit less, not too much, but make sure we're fresh again for next week like we were today," Schipp said. "But expectations — you don't make it anywhere after state. So, the pressure there, like that you felt at semi-state, is somewhat gone, and both groups — they handle pressure well. The situation is not too big for them."

Brotherly Love

Southridge senior Dylan Bland ran a time of 16:09.6 to finish in 14th place and return to state, but this time, it's different. He'll be competing at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course while his older brother, Chase, is coaching him.

"It's really memorable, nothing to experience like this ever again," Dylan said. "I just love it — enjoy the moment while it lasts. It's awesome."

Chase was also a star runner at Southridge, and the two brothers laughed upon being asked what genes run in the family. Chase told the Herald that nobody in the family ran before they did, and he lauded Dylan for both his talent and work ethic. He said he can can only give his younger brother advice — as the credit belongs to Dylan for the work that he put in.

He said the goal last year was to get Dylan to state, and that goal was achieved. But this year, the goal is to not only get Dylan back to state, but to do something while he's there. Dylan ran a time of 17:00.4 last year to finish 118th overall. Chase is hoping for his brother to get in the top 50, which he thinks is doable, so long as Dylan believes he can do it.

Chase also coached his female runners earlier in the day, with senior Evie Hasenour and freshman Emma Blessinger competing on behalf of the Raiders as individuals, though neither qualified for state. Hasenour finished her high school career with a time of 21:25.3 and came in 110th place. Blessinger, meanwhile, capped her freshman season at semi-state and ran a time of 22:42.2 to finish at 146.

Southridge senior Dylan Bland (center) runs at the start of Saturday's boys cross country race at the Brown County Semi-State. Bland finished in 14th to return to the state finals as an individual.

Chase didn't want to take any credit for Hasenour getting as far as she did this season — noting how hard she has worked this year. He said Hasenour is irreplaceable, but Southridge's girls team will find a way next year — where he also looked ahead to Blessinger's future.

"She'll give you everything she has, no matter what, and that's something that as a freshman, you don't find very often," he said. "You don't find it in anybody very often. So, for her to get to this level and compete how she is, I hope she's hungry for more next year and she can just improve upon that."

Wolf moving on

Forest Park junior Spenser Wolf is also returning to state as an individual as he finished in sixth place with a time of 15:46.9. Wolf spent some time in third place before some runners bypassed him. He was happy that he achieved his goal of returning to state, but he was also disappointed with how he ran.

"I just gassed out, I think — went out a little too hard," he said.

Wolf also looked like he was going to win the regional race at Crawford County before Eckman flipped a switch to surpass him towards the end of the race. Spenser's father, Rangers coach Philip Wolf, said his son is losing energy for some reason, and the two will try to figure that out this coming week to get Spenser back on track and how to pace himself better.

"Since I live with him, I will figure it out just by evaluating his eating habits, sleeping habits — which should get a lot better now since we're off of Fall Break and now all of his other sports are done," Philip said. "Now, we can just zoom in on one thing and see what we can do."

Spenser is hoping to get in the top 20 to medal, or 25 for all-state honors, but Philip knows his son will have to run better than he did at semi-state for that to happen.

"I think if he runs like he can, I think he has a great shot of finishing all-state, but he needs to pull all 5Ks together," he said.

Forest Park junior Spenser Wolf competes Saturday at the semi-state race in Brown County. Wolf finished sixth overall to return to the state finals as an individual runner.

Fellow junior Bryce Troesch also competed as an individual on the boys side, as he ran a time of 18:01.9 to finish at 141. The Rangers sent their girls team to semi-state, and they finished in 12th place out 20 teams. Philip thought his girls finishing 12th was a feather in their cap because he told the Herald they were seeded 15th.

"Three of them (Allison Fraze, Anna Hulsman and Sophia Gentry) were freshmen, which they never experienced a race like this," he said. "So, we're very grateful that they got to experience it, and I think it's something to really help us carry momentum for next season."

Pats send pair to state finals

Heritage Hills senior Katie Winkler felt a lot of pride as she held her pink ribbon in her hand on Saturday. Winkler finished in 14th place with a time of 19:16.5 to clinch her trip to state — something that didn't happen as a junior in 2019.

"It feels pretty good," Winkler said. "I've been training for this since like six-to-eight months ago when all the quarantine stuff happened. So, I've been working my butt off for state this year. So, it feels pretty good to be advancing today."

Winkler had been putting in hour-long runs and did more miles than ever before to ready herself for her senior year. Last year's semi-state was flooded, whereas Saturday's event was more dry and the sun came out.

"That was kind of the goal," Patriots coach Kurt Denning said. "We thought she had a great opportunity. She went out and she had her mind set."

Denning said the extra work put in during the summer, as well as better weather conditions, contributed to her success on Saturday. Heritage Hills finished in 19th out of 20 teams on Saturday, but Denning found no shame in the Pats finishing second-to-last at semi-state.

"We're not upset at all," he said. "Our girls ran, time-wise, comparable times to their best times throughout the year. When you get to this level, you're running against the best of the best. So, we have nothing to hang our heads on. We had a tremendous season, team-wise. We got our lone senior moving on to the state finals, and we'll see what happens from there."

Winkler will have another runner from Lincoln City joining her. Senior Elliott Buechlein made it his goal to finish in the top 20 of Saurday's race. He came in 19th with a time of 16:13.5, and that was enough to qualify for state as an individual.

"It feels amazing," Buechlein said. "After all the hard work and not having such a great year last year, it feels redeeming."

Buechlein thanked his teammates, as they all ran together and began putting in the work for cross country once the track season was cancelled. He noted this was a "team and a culture thing."

He felt on top of the world, saying that nothing feels better than going to state and that he couldn't put it into words. Buechlein couldn't have imagined he'd be in this position a year ago, but knew that if he put in the work and dedicated his time, that it could definitely happen.

Denning called it a "beautiful day for Heritage Hills." He told the Herald that his runners have to believe in their training and what they are doing, otherwise, they're running for nothing.

"Kudos to the miles he put in this summer," Denning said of Buechlein. "He's very deserving of the spot he earned at the state finals."

Denning is ecstatic for both of his seniors. When he looked at the regional results from Oct. 10, he told Winkler and Buechlein they both had a legitimate shot.

"Regardless of where either runner ends up, we're very proud of them," he said.

 




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