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Panthers looking for strong XC season

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Eastbrook's cross country programs leading into the 2019 season and with good reason.

On the boys team, coach Ethan Evans returns five seniors and six of his top seven runners from a team that finished runner up to Oak Hill in the Central Indiana Conference and advanced to regional with a fourth place run at the Marion Sectional.

The Panthers' girls also have their top three runners return, all who were regional qualifiers, from a team that finished third-place in the CIC.

“The guys have been working for four years, we've got a big senior class, and its a culminating effort and season for them,” Evans said during Eastbrook's media day on Wednesday. “The girls are still building, but we have a great group of girls coming back and they're establishing a foundation because we have a great group of girls coming up from the junior high in a year.”

Leading Eastbrook's boys team is senior Ben Neideck, who finished runner-up in CIC behind Mississinewa's Brennan Butche, then ran to a 10th-place finish at the Marion Sectional and improved to sixth in the regional. Neideck's 59th place finish wasn't satisfactory and Evans said its fueled the talented runner to work even harder.

“Ben wants to make it to state,” Evans said emphatically. “He's having the best training of his life right now and he's healthy. He's driven. Last track season kind of left him wanting more. He saw guys that he'd been competing with advance and he didn't.”

Seniors Zane Callison, Nathan Brainer, John Hammond and Isaac Brown along with junior Thane Syswerda and sophomore Damien Jones all hope to help the Panthers improve on their 2018 season, which for all but Neideck, ended with the team finishing seventh at the Marion Regional.

“For the guys, we want to be competitive in Grant Four, conference, sectional and regional,” Evans said. “To have a team that can compete for a sectional and regional title is what this group has been working for the last three or four years.

“Ben looks to do some big things and he's got a great group of guys right behind him who are going to pack up and do things,” Evans added.

Eastbrook's girls sent five runners into the Marion Regional in 2018 but narrowly missed advancing as a team with a sixth-place finish.

Eastbrook's top three runners from last season all return and Evans is excited to see what juniors Laynie Craw and Rachel Manning along with sophomore Rebekah Hammond will accomplish this season.

Craw was consistently the top finisher in races for Eastbrook last season and helped led the Panthers with a 19th place at sectional. Hammond ended up 24th at sectional and Manning was 33rd and all moved on to the next week.

 “Rachel is doing both soccer and cross and she's had a good summer,” Evans said. “Laynie is doing the best mileage of her life. Mentally she is there.”

The Panthers' girls finished third in CIC, behind Oak Hill and Frankton and closing the gap on the top conference teams is just one of the goals for Eastbrook as it enters the 2019 season.

“On the girls side, our goal is to get as many of them out of sectional as we can,” Evans said. “Last year we had five (advance to regional), and didn't advance our team but we had five out. I don't know that we'll do that, but those same girls that are back, we want to get them higher in regional.

“It's just a natural progression of it, just to see how far we can get,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we want PRs, we want to advance far, but if they're learning about how this applies to their life … that's the main thing.”

Eastbrook opens its season on Tuesday at the New Castle Hokum Karem then will compete on August 24 in the Grant/Delaware County Clash at Taylor University.