Oak Hill heading back to semi-state, Syswerda, Alsup, Howell also advance

In the world of high-school cross country, where bigger schools like Huntington North, Fort Wayne South Side, Norwell, and Carmel, to name a few, tend to dominate, Oak Hill has continued to prove year after year in Paige Brunner’s tenure at the helm that they belong in the conversation of one state’s best cross country programs.

On Saturday morning at the IWU Cross Country Course, Oak Hill’s tremendous legacy continued, as both the Golden Eagles boys and girls teams advanced to the semi-state. The boys finished in second with a score of 71, while the girls placed third with a score of 82. Bellmont won the boys regional with a score of 50, while Huntington North won the girls race with score of 59. Braeden Sweet of Southwood finished as the individual boys champions, while Addison Wiley won her second straight individual regional championship for the Vikings.

The Oak Hill boys punched their ticket to their fifth straight semi-state and their 17th in the last 19 seasons, while the girls advanced to their seventh straight semi-state race and 10 of the last 12. Both are state records for schools with a student population of under 650.

“I don’t have any complaints for [either] of our teams,” Oak Hill Head Coach Paige Brunner said. “We ran really well and had a lot of season bests and a lot of improvement from last week. When you can come into this meet and comfortably make it out to semi-state on both sides, [it’s a success.] I’m very proud of the kids.”

Sol O’Blenis (7th place – 16:25.0) and Jacob Winger (12th place – 16:41.3) ran as well as they have all season, but it was sophomore Landon Biegel who stole the show for Oak Hill. Biegel, who usually starts off slow before working his speed up later in the race, was aggressive from the start, and the result was a career best time of 16:28.7 and a 10th place finish.

“Landon had, by far, his best day he’s ever had for us,” Brunner said. “He normally starts off pretty controlled, but today, he got up in the mix right away and stayed there. He ran a lifetime best today by quite a bit. Great day out of him.”

Despite injuries to top runners and several obstalces along the way, the Golden Eagles’ have put together another outstanding season, and look to keep it going next weekend.

“At this point, we are happy to keep moving on and fighting for another day,” Brunner said. “Last year, we went up there in both races and ran really well and walked away feeling like we belonged. We plan to, hopefully, do the same next week.”

While Oak Hill advanced as a team, Eastbrook’s Thane Syswerda and Mississinewa’s Jon Alsup advanced as individuals.

Syswerda placed 27th in a time of 17:33.7, finishing with the third-best time of the top-10 individual qualifiers.

“It’s such a priviledge and such an honor,” Syswerda said. “It’s so much fun to be able to have that and finish my senior year being able to make it to semi-state singlehandedly. I think that’s such an honor and a privledge.”

Alsup finished with the seventh best time among the individual advancers, crossing the finish line in 17:38. In the process, he become the fifth Indiana in the last six seasons to advance.

“We got a huge, strong race from him,” Mississinewa Head Coach Dustin Jones said. “This is the best he’s run all season. He PR’ed by five seconds. This is what we’ve been working for the whole season. He shows up when the pressure is on, and that is you want from a runner. I’m proud of him. He’s worked hard and he deserves it.”

In the girls’ race, Kinzie Robey, who has been Oak Hill’s most consistent runner throughout the course of the season, hung tough after a slow start, finding her groove midway through the race to finish in 10th place (19:39.6). Selah Jackson, after a tough performance in the sectional, bounced back in a big way, placing 16th with a time of 20:04.9.

Oak Hill’s remaining pack, including freshmen Leah Highley and Sadie Wisner and senior Kate Hornocker, also ran well, establishing multiple personal records. Highly placed 23rd (20:29.8) Wisner 24th (20:30.2), and Hornocker 26th (20:33.4)

“Kinzie’s first half was not real solid, but I’m glad that she bounced back in the second half and got into it,” Brunner said. “I think Selah coming up on her really woke her up a little bit. Selah had a great bounceback meet from last weekend, so I’m proud of her. And you had PR’s from Sadie, Leah, and Kate, all coming in right behind. We had a great pack.”

While Oak Hill advances to another semi-state as a team, Eastbrook freshman Olivia Howell will join them next weekend, continuing a stellar freshman campsign with a semi-state berth. Running against Oak Hill, as well as tremendous runners from Huntington North and Fort Wayne South Side, Howell finished in 21st place with a time of 20:22.

“They did really well today,” Eastbrook Girls Cross Country Head Coach Lexi Eckleberry said. “Our goal coming into the season was to make it to regionals, and we did that. I am very proud of these girls, and I’m proud of Olivia and the fact she was able to make it semi-state.”

While the Panther’s team portion of the season comes to a close, Eckleberry is proud of how her young spaud performed throughout the 2020 campaign.

“It’s been an amazing season,” Eckleberry said. “All of these girls worked super hard. They’ve all dropped time, consistently, meet after meet, which has been huge. The fact that we even had a shot to make it to semi-state just makes me proud.

The semi-state meet will be held at Huntington University. The girls race begins at 10, while the boys will follow at 11:30 am.

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