Posted: Monday, October 5, 2015 12:52 pm | Updated: 12:56 pm, Mon Oct 5, 2015.
By CLYDE HUGHES firstname.lastname@example.org
ROSSVILLE – The Clinton Prairie cross-country teams followed up their Clinton County titles earlier in the week with matching Hoosier Heartland Conference titles Saturday morning at Rossville High School.
Gophers sophomore Sam Ecenbarger held off Tri-County senior Austin Schneider in a dramatic finish for the boys’ individual title, edging him at the tape with a time of 17 minutes and 5.04 seconds, just .3 of a second faster.
Ecenbarger helped lead Clinton Prairie to the boys’ title over cross-county rival Clinton Central, 37-42.
In the girls race, Gopher senior Morgan Shield (22:29:47), sophomore Hailey Law (22:28.78) and junior Rose Tolley (22:29) finished fourth, fifth and sixth, allowing Clinton Prairie to score enough points early to beat Rossville for the team title 24-37.
“We haven’t had a conference win in quite a while and wanted a win today,” said senior Clinton Prairie runner Austin Biery (8th, 18:27.60), who coach Byron Garrett credited with providing senior leadership.
“I’m proud of each and every one of them,” Garrett said. “We’ve beaten Clinton Central in three different races, so I knew we could do it, but the fact was that we had to push ourselves and run our best races. I think we did that today.”
Garrett said despite the team running on likely the coldest day of their cross country season, the Gophers’ top five runners placed in the top 15 positions in the boys’ race and top 17 in the girls’ race.
“We talked about working for conference all year long,” Garrett said. “Before they went out to race today, they said they felt like they were going to run with their hearts. They ran with determination and ran as a group, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Rossville junior Grant Clark finished third in the boys’ race with a time of 17:29.98, while Clinton Central sophomores Brendan Smith (17:53.53) and Aidan Barrett (17:54.78) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
In the boys’ team race, Rossville finished behind Clinton Prairie and Clinton Central with 73 points, followed by Tri-County’s 102, Carroll’s 121 and Frontier’s 152. Eastern, Sheridan and Taylor ran individual runners.
Cami Hanson of Taylor easily won the girls’ race with a time of 20:20, beating Tri-County senior Emily Ewen (21:04.0) and Rossville senior Lauren Bright (21:34.0), who earlier won the Clinton County championship for the fourth year in a row.
“It’s a new conference, and I pretty much knew those two girls were going to be ahead of me,” Bright said. “I like running in the cold, and I thought helped me. If it wasn’t windy, it would have been a perfect day to run.”
Shield said that she believed the teamwork with her other runners proved to be the difference that gave them the conference title.
“Our goal was for Hailey, Rosie and I to all stay together and run as a pack,” Shield said. “We worked really hard to try to win county and hope to keep that up. We had Nicole (Burke) and Mallory (Robertson) right behind us. The whole team is really working well together. If we can continue to do that, maybe we’ll have a chance at sectionals.”
“This was the first time they’ve been that close to each other all year,” Garrett added. “I think they are starting to understand, if they work together, they can accomplish great things.”
After Clinton Prairie and Rossville in the girls’ race, Clinton Central was third with 76 points and Carroll was fourth with 85 points. Eastern, Frontier, Sheridan Taylor and Tri-County all ran individual runners.