TERRE HAUTE — The Carmel girls cross-country team was the last to exit the post-race corral after Saturday’s IHSAA state finals.
The team members waited as senior defending individual champion Sarah Leinheiser dabbed away the last of her tears, collected herself and smiled. They then joined arms and exited the staging area to a reception of cheers and applause from their fans.
The top-ranked Greyhounds had just won their record seventh straight state title after another dominating team performance, despite a disappointing 21st-place finish for Leinheiser who fell off after taking a lead about one-third of the way through the 5,000-meter LaVern Gibson Championship course. Carmel scored 44 points, well ahead of runner-up Carroll (113).
DeKalb junior Tyler Schwartz battled with Leinheiser and Fort Wayne Carroll sophomore Abby Green early before making a move about two miles in to pull away for the win in 18 minutes, 8 seconds. Green finished second in 18:17.
The Greyhounds were unable to complete the team sweep for the second straight year, though, as the second-ranked Carroll boys upended No. 1 Carmel 71-117. Oldenburg Academy’s Curtis Eckstein capped his commanding senior season with his first state title in 15:13. Hamilton Southeastern junior Gabe Fendel finished second in 15:40.
“We’re excited,” said Carmel girls coach Mark Ellington, who’s been at the helm of all seven state championships. “The girls are pumped. Personal goals, sometimes those are disappointing, but they couldn’t be more excited to be together, achieve this and continue the trend.”
The Greyhounds’ top-four scorers made the podium of top-20 finishers, with junior Maddie Dalton placing third in 18:27, senior Christina Geisler (18:28) taking fourth, freshman Phoebe Bates (18:37) finishing sixth and senior Mental Attitude Award winner senior Rachel Anderson (18:57) placing 19th on a day that featured unseasonable 80-degree temperatures and significant wind.
“One of our team mottos is just to work together as a pack and run for each other,” Dalton said “You can notice how your other teammates are doing, and based off that, you can help them.”
The race became a battle between Schwartz and Green, who had squared off the previous two weeks at their semistate and regional, and finished in the same order as they did Saturday.
“Abby was next to me and I was like, OK, it’s just like any other weekend,” said Schwartz, who became DeKalb’s first state cross-country champion.
Eckstein and Fendel were neck-and-neck early, and well ahead of the rest of the field, just as they were a week prior at the semistate. It was on the hills, though, where Eckstein was able to pull away to coast to victory. He was the top returning finisher from last year, having placed third.
“I think I have more strength and (Fendel) has more speed, so when it came to the hills, I was just able to use it and pull away,” Eckstein said. “Last week at Shelbyville, it was very flat and he was able to keep up a lot easier.”
Carroll twice had finished as the runners-up in the team scoring — both to Carmel, and most recently in 2013 — but the Chargers used a second-half surge Saturday to pull away for their first team championship title. Carroll had five runners place in the top 37.
“We knew no one gave us a chance,” said Chargers coach Phil Yoder. “We had to take it, and we did. We knew we had to run our best race, and we did.”
Carmel junior Colin Murphy w placed eighth overall to lead the Greyhounds.
“I think the story of today and the story of the season is how much the guys from Carroll have improved and the season they had,” said Carmel coach Colin Altevogt. “Certainly, our guys are disappointed with second, but we had a good season.”
HS cross-country state finals notebook: Short-handed Noblesville makes podium
IHSAA CROSS-COUNTRY STATE FINALS
Team Scores: 1. Carroll (Ft. Wayne) 71, 2. Carmel 117, 3. Lowell 166, 4. Fishers 169, 5. Ft. Wayne Concordia Lutheran 173, 6. Avon 224, 7. West Lafayette 229, 8. Brebeuf 249, 9. Hamilton Southeastern 284, 10. Tell City 300, 11. Penn 306, 12. Terre Haute South 308, 13. Columbus North 322, 14. Westview 326, 15. Ft. Wayne Northrop 372, 16. Crown Point 376, 17. Portage 407, 18. Chesterton 456, 19. Zionsville 459, 20. Valparaiso 493, 21. Bloomington North 519, 22. Jennings County 523, 23. Pendleton Heights 612, 24. Barr-Reeve 626.
Top Times: 1. Curtis Eckstein (Oldenburg) 15:13.3, 2. Gabe Fendel (HSE) 15:40.7, 3. Skylar Stidam (Christian Academy) 15:51.6, 4. Mitchell Rans (Caston) 15:57.2, 5. Alec Fleming (Lowell) 15:57.8.
Top Local Times: 2. Gabe Fendel (HSE) 15:40.7, 8. Colin Murphy (Carmel) 16:00.8, 11. Cole Hocker (Cathedral) 16:05.1, 13. Aaron Bennett (Westfield) 16:06.3, 19. Josh Roth (Fishers) 16:14, 22. Sam Kuhn (Fishers) 16:17.2, 23. Ian Hunter (NC) 16:17.2, 25. Brady Harless (Brebeuf) 16:19.4, 26. Quinn Gallagher (Guerin) 16:20.5, 30. Rhys Grealish (Avon) 16:25.4.
Team Scores: 1. Carmel 44, 2. Carroll (Ft. Wayne) 113, 3. Homestead 157, 4. Zionsville 166, 5. Noblesville 245, 6. Valparaiso 269, 7. Bloomington North 276, 8. Fishers 282, 9. Penn 298, 10. Westfield 299, 11. Floyd Central 312, 12. Columbus North 313, 13. Warsaw 330, 14. Guerin Catholic 370, 15. Pendleton Heights 393, 16. Northridge 395, 17. Bloomington South 398, 18. East Noble 399, 19. Lowell 403, 20. West Lafayette 407, 21. Lake Central 449, 22. LaPorte 450, 23. Seymour 495, 24. Evansville Reitz 645.
Top Times: 1. Tyler Schwartz (DeKalb) 18:08.6, 2. Abigail Green (Carroll) 18:17.4, 3. Maddie Dalton (Carmel) 18:27, 4. Christina Geisler (Carmel) 18:28.3, 5. Sarah Hunsley (Lake Central) 18:33.5.
Top Local Times: 3. Maddie Dalton (Carmel) 18:27.4, 4. Christina Geisler (Carmel) 18:28.3, 6. Phoebe Bates (Carmel) 18:37.2, 13. Sophia Rigg (Zionsville) 18:38.3, 14. Abi Little (Noblesville) 18:52.3, 15. Katelyn Wasson (Zionsville) 18:53.3, 18. Sabrina Bippus (HSE) 18:56.8, 19. Rachel Anderson (Carmel) 18:57.1, 21. Sarah Leinheiser (Carmel) 19:02.7, 28. Megan Slamkowski (Guerin) 19:08.5.