Since Paige Brunner took the reins of the Oak Hill cross country program in 2004, it has developed into not only the top program in Grant County, but also into one of the top programs in the state of Indiana.
However, despite the numerous accolades, championships, and outright success that the program has achieved over the last 15 years, there was one feat that the Golden Eagles had not accomplished since 1992 – winning the boys and girls cross country sectional championships on the same day.
That is, until Saturday morning.
In some beautiful, but chilly conditions at the IWU cross country course, the Golden Eagles made history, capturing both championships and punching their ticket to the regional round, together, for the 12th straight year.
The boys recorded 41 points, while the girls finished with 28.
For the boys, it was their first sectional championship since 2014, while the girls won their third straight title. The boys qualified for the regional for the 18th straight year, while the girls qualified for their 12th straight season.
“It’s a big accomplishment for our kids,” Brunner said. “We won the regional on the same day a couple of times, but we’ve never been able to put it together at the sectional. We knew the girls were in a pretty safe spot coming in, and we used that to motivate the boys.
“It’s nice to have both of them do it. We’ll celebrate today, and then turn our attention to the regional next week.”
In the boys race, Oak Hill put two in the top five, four in the top 10, and seven in the top 25. Macallister Cheek placed third overall with a time of 16:35, while Dillon Mitchell was fifth with a time of 16:39.2
Solomon O’Blenis followed right behind Mitchell at 16:39.7, good for sixth, while Jacob Winger was ninth at 16:53.
Landon Ashley placed 18th (17:09), Tahj Johnson 23rd (17:37), and Landon Biegel 25th (17:49.8).
Mitchell, O’Blenis, and Ashley all recorded personal best times.
“They did really well,” Brunner said. “We knew that it was going to end up being a dual meet between us and Wabash. We knew Huntington was dangerous, but Wabash won the sectional and regional last year and was a team that should have probably gone to state.
“Our top four have lead us all year, and then we have had a revolving door of Landon Biegel, Tahj Johnson, and Landon Ashley take that spot. Landon Ashley PR’d by 11 seconds, and was huge for us in the five spot. It looks really good up front, but you have to have five, and we did today.”
Wabash’s Dereck Vogel won the individual sectional championship with a blistering time of 15:55, while Braden Sweet placed second with a time of 16:12.
Along with Oak Hill, Grant County will be represented well in next week’s regional. Marion’s Raffi Fry finished fourth overall with a time of 16:37.8, while the Giants advanced as a team with a score of 178.
Eastbrook’s Ben Neideck and Zane Callison placed in the top 10. Neideck finished eighth (16:48), while Callison came in 10th (16:53). The Panthers also advanced to the regional as a team with a score of 98.
And while Mississinewa did not place in the top five, three runner advanced to the regional as individuals – Jon Alsup (18:07, 30th place), Zak Huffman (18:18.6, 33rd place), and Tony Parish (18:18.8, 34th place).
The Lady Eagles put two in the top three, four in the top eight, and seven in the top 14. No. 1 runner and Taylor University commit Mollie Gamble took home second place honors with a time of 18:27, finishing behind Huntington North’s Addison Wiley. Selah Jackson finished third (19:51), Kinzie Robey placed seventh (20:09), and Grace Geller rounded out the top 10 in ninth place (20:22).
Kate Hornocker, the younger sister of former Oak Hill and current Butler University star Margo Hornocker, finished in 11th (21:07), Lauren Marsh 13th (21:49), and Ireland Dodson 14th (22:02).
While Gamble ultimately finished in second, she was right there with Wiley the entire race. In the week leading up to the regional, Brunner plans to work with Gamble, providing tips and guidance on how to turn that second place finish into a first place one.
“Addison and Mollie are girls that have bigger things ahead of them three or four weeks down the road,” Brunner said. “She’s does a little bit of different training than everybody else. I know she is happy for the team, and we will turn our attention to next week.”
Mississinewa advanced to the regional for the fourth straight season, finishing in third with a score of 104. Carli Fones finished in sixth with a time of 20:08, while Raegen Tippey was 12th with a time of 21:25.
The Madison-Grant also made a little history on Saturday, advancing to the regional as a team for the first time ever, placing fifth with a score of 135. Zoey Barnett finished in 24th (23:18), while Lacey Mayfield followed right behind her in 25th (23:22).
Eastbrook’s Laynie Craw and Rebekah Hammond, together with Marion’s Carynna Aguila and Madeline Stines, all advanced to the regional as individuals.
Since Brunner came to the Golden Eagles 15 years ago, he has instilled a winning tradition. His runners train well, they eat right, and they work tirelessly throughout the offseason. Their success comes from a combination of several factors, including parental support, an insatiable hunger to be great, and above all, tremendous coaching.
And it all starts with Brunner.
“We’ve got them to buy in right now,” Brunner said. “That’s always the biggest thing. You’re dealing with a sport that isn’t highly respected or valued, so you have to get kids to understand that winning is cool. Once they do that, we have great support for our families at Oak Hill, especially in the sports that I coach.
“You have to have that. They have to want to get the kids out there and make them do the training on their own. It’s not just when they are with me, they have to do things all the time, whether its rest or diet or nutrition. Once you get going, winning breeds success.”
While Brunner was pleased with his team’s performance, he and the Golden Eagles have bigger goals in mind, and they will not rest until those goals are met.
“We’re not content,” Brunner concluded. “I don’t want to say it’s never good enough, but it’s not. We want to be that upper echelon. We know we are a top 30 or 40 program in the state, but we want to be higher than that. It’s great to have, but we still have to keep working.