Coming off their first and third place finishes at the Columbus North Invitational, respectively, the Oak Hill boys and girls cross country teams faced an even tougher challenge on Saturday at the Wildcat Invitational.
The boys ran against a loaded field that included No. 3 Noblesville, No. 4 Fishers, No. 6 Hamilton Southeastern, and No. 22 Westfield. The girls went up against the likes of No. 4 HSE, No. 14 West Lafayette, and No. 19 Westfield.
However, the Golden Eagles were not fazed, as both teams put together tremendous performances in each of their races. The girls finished in eighth with a score of 203, and each of their top five runners finished in under 21:35. The boys finished in fifth with a score of 181, just 20 points behind Westfield and three points ahead of perennial powerhouse, Penn.
“We preach in our program – our hashtag we put on everything – ‘Be Uncommon.’ We don’t want to just have that tag of, ‘You’re a really good small school,’ or, ‘You’re one of the best small-school programs.’ We want to be in that conversation with the schools that are just absolute juggernauts.
“To come to meets like this and beat the Penns and the West Lafayettes and the Valpos who are just traditional powers, and to lose to only four teams who are ranked in the top 20…hopefully it boosts their confidence and gives them a better understanding as to what we are trying to do on a bigger picture.”
Kinzie Robey and Selah Jackson, who have both missed time this year due to injuries, were back at full strength on Saturday. Robey finished as a top-35 medalist, finishing in 20:23.7, while Jackson placed 42nd in 20:53.0.
“Our pack is doing really well right now,” Brunner said. “We had Kinzie back today. We haven’t had very good luck on the girls’ side with staying healthy. Kinzie and Selah both missed time but getting them back running in the mid-to-low 20’s is good.”
Freshman Leah Highley came in 54th (21:15.2), senior Kate Hornocker finished in 55th (21:15.6), and Sadie Wisner rounded out the top five with a 60th place finish (21:28.3).
All in all, it was an encouraging day for a group who has struggled with injuries all season long. With Grace Geller out indefinitely with a leg injury, the Golden Eagles are still trying to determine who they are as a team. While there is still work to do, Brunner is pleased with the progress that the team has made, and he hopes that their performance will inspire confidence in his group going forward.
“We’ve got to get Kinzie and Selah to move up,” Brunner said. “I think the potential is there for Sadie to be with them, and Kate is going to do what Kate does. She’s very, very consistent, and she keeps running better and better. We’ve got to have a solid five or six that are together, and we have to move that group up together and not allow there to be a big gap. We are going to go as far as our pack takes us.”
In the boys race, Sol O’Blenis, Owen Jackson, Jacob Winger, and Landon Biegel stole the show, running confidently against some of the best runners in the state. Two of Oak Hill’s top five runners finished in under 16:30, while all five finished in under 17:30.
“Coming in, we knew there were four top-20 ranked teams, and we talked about beating everybody else in a field that was predominantly 5A and 6A teams,” Brunner said. “It was a much quicker race today. We wanted to treat it like a semi-state simulator. I told our guys…they are going to have to be willing to really battle in the top 25, 30, 35, 40. And our top four guys really did that.”
O’Blenis continued his remarkable junior campaign, finishing in 17th overall with a time of 16:22.2, while Jackson finished in 25th, the highest finish among all freshmen in the field (16:30.6). Winger came in 32nd (16:36.7), while Landon Biegel broke the 17-minute mark for the first time (16:53.8).
“Owen Jackson had a huge day today, dropping 10 seconds as a freshman. He’s one of the fastest freshmen in the state,” Brunner said. “Landon Biegel, it was the first time he broke 17, a huge day for him. Sol, to be top 20 in this field, that was our goal, and he was there. It boosts our confidence moving forward down the road when we get to some bigger races.”
Oak Hill’s top four runners have been consistent all year long, and their performances and times continue to improve with each race. While Brunner would like one of his other runners like Lucas Cates, Trenton Sweet, and Landon Ashley, to solidify themselves as the Golden Eagles No. 5 runner, he believes that his boys are really rounding into form.
“Sol, of that group, did the most this summer. We knew coming in what that mileage was going to do for Sol,” Brunner said. “He’s in a really good spot. Jacob, Landon, and Owen all agree that they did not have the summers that Sol did, but they’re very athletic. Their ceiling is really high right now to continue to get quicker and quicker.”
Oak Hill will be back in action on Tuesday, September 22, when they square off against Eastbrook, Madison-Grant, and Mississinewa in the Grant Four championship.
“It was really good back-to-back weekends for us in terms of competition, courses, and times to boost our confidence,” Brunner said. “We’ve got a week-and-a-half here until Grant Four to pin our ears back and train a little bit.”