TERRE HAUTE — Noblesville coach Dennis Scheele beamed like a proud parent as he watched his girls cross-country team pose for pictures after leaving the podium, where they received their plaque for finishing fifth at Saturday’s state finals. Carmel won its record seventh straight title, with Fort Wayne Carroll placing second, Homestead taking third and Zionsville finishing fourth.
Only the top-five teams make the awards stage, and Scheele was in awe of his squad’s achievement. It wasn’t because the Millers coach of 33 years had low expectations entering the season, rather the news Scheele received late Friday when he learned his No. 4 scoring runner, Aubrey Deal, was undergoing an appendectomy.
Junior Abi Little paced the Millers with her 14th-place finish, as Noblesville edged Valparaiso 245-269 for its first podium finish since 2006.
“With (Deal), we thought we had a real shot,” Scheele said. “Without her, people had to step up. Our top four moved up throughout the race, and Abbie Klinker held on for our fifth spot.”
Scheele and his team let Deal know the news after the awards were announced.
“We just texted her,” he said.
Fendel focused on next year
Like he did a week ago at the semistate, Hamilton Southeastern junior Gabe Fendel hung with Oldenburg Academy’s Curtis Eckstein for much of Saturday’s boys state finals.
Eckstein again proved too strong and pulled away around the 4,000-meter mark of the 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) LaVern Gibson course to win the individual title in 15 minutes 13 seconds. Fendel (15:40) finished 11 seconds ahead of third-place runner Skylar Stidam of Christian Academy of Indiana.
“I wish I could have run faster,” Fendel said “I let him go and kind of was in no-man’s land. It kind of sucks when you’re running alone. It’s hard to push yourself. It just takes time getting used to that. Next year, I’m sure there will be a better chance at winning.”
Weather a factor
With 80-degree temperatures — higher than they’d been in nearly two weeks — and strong winds, runners all dealt with a challenging day on the course. The winning time was the girls’ slowest in six years; the boys’ in three.
“It was hot humid and windy,” Fendel said. “Running with (Eckstein), it was fine, but when he dropped me, it wasn’t as easy as with him blocking the wind.”
Eckstein had been running sub-15 times before Saturday.
“I’ve been consistently beating my times from last year, but on this course I was six or seven seconds slower,” said the boys champ. “It was just a tougher day.”
Carmel girls coach Mark Ellington believes the heat had an effect on senior Sarah Leinheiser, last year’s state champion, who dropped to 21st after leading early Saturday.
“I think she maybe felt personal pride to have to stick it up front and fight, and I think that it took a little bit out of her late in the race with the heat,” he said. “She’s a trooper, though. She could have fallen down, and she could have quit.”
Carmel boys coach Colin Altevogt — whose team finished second to Carroll — said the heat had an effect, but everyone had to deal with it.
“It’s warm for everybody,” he said. “We thought we were optimally prepared. We practiced when it was hot. We did workouts in the heat all fall when it was hot.”
Lowell edged out Fishers for third in the boys race, 166-169. Senior Josh Roth (19th) and junior Sam Kuhn (22nd) led the Tigers, who finished second last year. … Avon finished sixt; Brebeuf placed eighth; and Hamilton Southeastern was ninth. … Carmel’s Colin Murphy was the top Indy-area finisher in the boys race after Fendel. He placed eighth. Cathedral sophomore Cole Hocker was 11th, and Westfield senior Aaron Bennett finished 13th. … The Zionsville girls made their fourth straight finals appearance and continued their steady surge. After placing ninth, sixth and fifth the previous three years, the Eagles took fourth Saturday and were just nine points behind third-place Homestead (157-166). Zionsville junior Sophia Rigg placed 13th and freshman Katelyn Wasson was 15th. … Fishers placed eighth and Westfield 10th in the girls team scoring. …Tyler Schwartz pulled away from Carroll’s Abby Green to win the girls individual title in 18:08, but Carmel’s girls dominated with all five finishing in the top 21. … Hamilton Southeastern senior Sabrina Bippus (18th) and Pendleton Heights senior Faith Baer (20th) also made the podium.