Jasper sweeps memorable sectional

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Seniors Abe Eckman of Jasper (left) and Spenser Wolf of Forest Park (right) run side-by-side in the boys sectional race Saturday at the Jasper Youth Sports Complex. Eckman slightly edged Wolf for first place, though that was not what the focus was. Jasper's boys came in first as a team, while Forest Park finished second. 


JASPER - Don't call it a rivalry between seniors Abe Eckman of Jasper and Spenser Wolf of Forest Park, because Saturday's sectional at the Jasper Youth Sports Complex showed it was anything but.

Eckman and Wolf have achieved a lot during their cross country careers, and on Saturday, the two of them decided to compete with each other rather than against each other. They ran side-by-side, talking about things other than running during the boys race.

And while Eckman technically won the race with a time of 16:22.54 to lead the sectional champion Wildcats, Wolf finished less than a full second behind him at 16:23.14. The two raised each other's arms as they crossed the finish line together.

"We were talking about a little bit of everything - from our football game last night to college visits," Wolf said.

Both Wolf and Eckman talked to The Herald about getting ready for a big postseason. Wolf mentioned wanting to get his legs geared up for later races, while Eckman added that even though this was a big race, he knew bigger races were ahead.

Their coaches agreed.

"They're actually very close, good friends," said Rangers coach Philip Wolf, Spenser's father. "They planned all week of what they wanted to do, and they did it today and didn't care who won. It didn't matter who was first or second today."

"They're friends and it's good that they have that bond and they train together - and they're friends outside of this," Wildcats coach Kevin Schipp said. "And just two good runners at the same time, which is great to have."

Eckman and Spenser's teams both qualified for the Oct. 15 Crawford County regional, with the Wildcats finishing in first place and the Rangers coming in second - which was the case for the girls side as well. And the two boys who led the way in the first sectional at the new course still have more to show.

"For me, it's just helping my team get better," Spenser said.

"...Jasper's second runner (junior Jaryn Weinel, who came in third), was right behind us," Eckman said. "I think it really pushed him and helped him get better. So, it's just about like he said, helping our team out and doing our best when it matters."

Return to glory

An injury to Jasper's Andi VanMeter has caused her to miss a good chunk of her senior year, as she was sidelined in September, but it was expected she'd be back in time for the postseason. She returned on Saturday, and was just like her old self.

Jasper senior Andi VanMeter (right) closely leads Forest Park senior Ellie Hall (left) in the girls race on Saturday. An injury to VanMeter sidelined her for much of September, but she came back Saturday and got first place. Hall finished in second. Jasper's girls won the sectional championship, while Forest Park's girls were the runners-up. 

VanMeter ran closely with Forest Park senior Ellie Hall during the race, before turning on the gas and separating herself at the end. Her time of 18:51.87 netted her first place overall, as Hall came in second at 18:57:38.

Suffice to say, VanMeter was back on Saturday, and she showed it.

"I really wanted to run this race today," she said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to run it, but I really wanted to be able to run it because it will get me back in the motion for the next coming races."

VanMeter wasn't going to go all out in her first race back. She wanted to run with somebody during the first two miles, though she pulled away right before it was officially two miles. Schipp said the strategy was to get her legs underneath her and not overdo anything.

"She did a great job today, she ran a great race," he said. Hopefully, she gets stronger as she goes."

For more on VanMeter's return from injury, look for a story in Tuesday's Herald.

All locals move somebody on

Heritage Hills joined Jasper and Forest Park in sending both teams to regionals. Junior Pierce Lashley came in fifth place with a time of 17:04.69 on the boys side, while freshman teammate Aiden Mattingly ran a time of 17:09.37 to finish sixth. The two of them helped Heritage Hills come in fourth place on the boys side.

The Heritage Hills boys team came in fourth place on Saturday, which was good enough to qualify for the Oct. 15 Crawford County regional. 

"They trained together all year and I see it every day in practice," Patriots coach Kurt Denning said of Lashley and Mattingly. "It started out that way earlier in the year and then there was still separation. And they came back together today and just worked together, fed off one another and just kept moving forward. Not just them, the rest of the team ran a phenomenal race - by far, we ran the best race of the year."

The girls meanwhile, finished in third place, with their top four runners running as a pack and occupying each spot from 13-16. Junior Bridget Flannagan's time of 22:14.26 led the way for her team to come in 13th place.

"I was so proud of our kids today and their efforts and their hard work through the season," Denning said. "And that's why they held the ribbon in their hand and that's why they made it to regional."

Denning said the team will have both individual and team goals for regionals, with some decent workouts and easier distance runs this week in hopes to run fast at Crawford County.

Northeast Dubois is sending its girls team to regionals and five individual boys, but the boys won't be competing as a team. The Jeeps came in seventh place on Saturday, with junior Brandon Schnell coming in 15th at 17:40.04.

"The kid has just got the natural talent to run hard," Jeeps coach Ben Gessner said of Schnell. "I think that's what he's blessed with (and is a) hard worker throughout practice."

Joining Schnell at regionals on the boys side will be senior Preston Brinkman, junior Peyton Betz, junior Ty Verkamp and senior Austin Breitwieser.

The Jeep girls finished in fifth place to land the final team spot for the regional.

"I was pretty pumped when I heard the girls are advancing as a team," Gessner said. "They were on fire today - more than they ever been this whole season. They just had some extra pep in their step - they just came out ready to race and they see what happens."

Southridge was the only local school not to send a team to regionals, but both sides will have representation. The Raiders will send four individual girls to regionals in sophomores Kelsey Wibbeler, Claire Leathers, Emma Blessinger and junior Makayla Cox. They finished in seventh place out of nine teams.

Raiders coach Chase Bland was hoping to make regionals as a team on his girls side, but WIbbeler finished 10th with a time of 21:37.55.

"If you talked to her when she was a freshman versus where she's at now, it's like night-and-day difference," he said of Wibbeler. "Her mentality has completely changed. We've talked a lot about how that instead of getting upset about the things that don't go your way, it should motivate you - and things like that have really changed her mentality. And that's made her a completely different runner this year - and she's been a lot stronger because of it."

The Raider boys lost some quality when they graduated Dylan Bland and Cameron Giles in 2021, but sophomore Calib Sherman has found his way. Sherman finished in 33rd on Saturday with a time of 19:22.41 - good enough to give him an individual regional spot.

"Calib's worked really hard this season - especially after being hurt early on," Bland said. "He's had to really race his way into shape, which isn't always easy with the mental aspect of it to get beat, beat, beat and have to overcome that. But he took it really well.

The Northeast girls finished in fifth place Saturday to earn a spot at regionals. 

"He'll be a very seasoned junior next year and we're really going to lean on him more and more as this goes on to be our leader. And he's a very talented, very good runner, he's super-hardworking. So, I know he wants to continue to get better - so hopefully, this is just the start for him."

Bland is looking to have less mileage and focus more on speed as he hopes to send somebody to semi-state.

Philip talked about this past week being a down week, but the Rangers will be running hard in preparing for regional and semi-state. He said he's looking for his boys teams and girls teams to run "as a tight-knit family" when they represent Forest Park in the Crawford County regional.

"Every one of these guys and girls, they were running it not for them but for their counterparts that's right beside them," he said. "And I think that carries over on the course."

Meanwhile, Schipp knows Jasper has to have a good week of practice in order to have a good regional.

"We're not going to have the kids totally fresh until we get to semi-state, that's just how our plan is," he said. "But we're going to run into two great teams in the boys from Floyd Central and the girls from Floyd Central. They're top-ranked teams in the state, and they'll give us all we want next week - just a lot of competition. So, we'll see what we're up to."

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