Jay Country cross country runner Abigail Johnson had traditions to uphold Tuesday. The senior comes from a running family, with several sisters who had successful tenures with the Patriots, and her team was attempting to earn a seventh consecutive sectional title.
With those traditions on the line at the Delta Sectional, she upheld both.
Johnson won the girls meet held at Sportsplex Park and her team cruised past the field with four finishers in the top 15. The favored Central boys team went another step toward rebuilding their once-proud tradition with a third consecutive sectional win, and Bearcats runner Jace Hirst led the way with a first-place time of 16 minutes, 58 seconds.
The Patriot girls finished with 34 points to win by 44 and Central’s 63 was 28 points better than runner-up Monroe Central. The top five teams advanced on each side to Saturday morning’s regional also hosted by Delta, as did 11 individual runners in both divisions.
But Tuesday night, Johnson and her teammates could enjoy maintaining the streak that started when some of them were in third grade.
“It’s an honor to be a part of it as many years as I have been able to,” said Johnson, who finished in 20:29, nearly nine seconds ahead of teammate and runner-up Megan Wellman. “It means a lot, especially since my sisters were through it, and it’s cool to have it in the family.”
Johnson, a senior who was the No. 4 runner on last year’s team, actually deviated slightly from her gameplan after taking the lead early. She’d planned to surge at the 2-mile mark, but accidentally did it a mile early when she saw the marker.
Jay County coach Brian McEvoy said the key to Tuesday’s win was strength at the three through five spots, where the Pats finished sixth, 10th and 15th.
“We returned our No. 4 and our No. 6 from last year’s sectional team,” McEvoy said. “We knew it was going to be pretty tough this year. We really challenged our girls in the spring and told them the situation, how we hoped to continue our streak.
“They did a really good job of stepping up and doing that.”
Hirst also found himself needing to step up after trailing Jay County’s Dylan Cope for nearly the entire race. He said he expected Cope to burst out of the gate and potentially tire late. When that happened, Hirst took advantage.
“I knew I was going to have trouble with him; I always do,” Hirst said. “(Monroe Central) made me nervous throughout the race, that’s why I took off the last mile.
“That was my plan the entire time.”
Central coach Kris Scholtes said the key for all his runners was a strong third mile and admitted the team had a target on its back for most of the season. In light of that, he’d preached to his charges that in every meet they controlled their own destiny.
It was enough to help add to the revival of the program’s long-lost tradition.
“It’s just good to get the history of Muncie Central back in our sport,” Scholtes said. “There was a time in the middle-’60s, ’70s, when Muncie Central dominated, and it just went away for a while. I feel a responsibility to the team and the school to just be able to bring that back.”
The Yorktown girls and boys cross country teams both finished second at the Pendleton Heights Sectional to advance to Delta on Saturday. Chris Lowry finished second in 17:21 to help the Tiger boys to 52 points. The Yorktown girls had 62 points, with sixth-place Sarah Hazen leading the way.
NC boys advance
Tanner Dye finished first at the Connersville Sectional, and his New Castle team finished third with 84 points to move on to the regional at Rushville.