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Marion Invite brings stellar field to IWU

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

One of the biggest cross country meets in Indiana returns to town Saturday when Indiana Wesleyan and Marion High School play host to the 22nd annual Marion Invitational.

More than 100 teams and 2,500 athletes representing more than 60 schools will compete in varsity, junior varsity and middle school races in a meet that will feature some of the top programs and runners from all over Indiana on one of the state’s fastest courses.

Eight varsity races will be contested throughout the morning and admission to the IWU course is $5 per person.

The Purple Division (generally schools with 1,001-plus students) will take the starting line first and the boys’ race begins at 8:30 a.m. Both Marion and Eastbrook are in the field.

The Panthers hope to have senior Ben Neideck back in the lineup after he’s missed Eastbrook’s first two races of the 2019 season. Neideck was a semistate qualifier last season as was Marion’s Raffi Fry, who raced for Oak Hill in 2018. Fry has earned three top-10 finishes already this season for the Giants.

The Purple Division girls’ race at 9 a.m. has the Giants and Panthers being joined by Grant County’s top program in Oak Hill. However, the Eagles will be a little shorthanded as state medalist Mollie Gamble and junior Selah Jackson will race in the Elite Division.

The Elite Division races will be a semistate or even state meet preview. The boys’ race fires at 9:30 am. and features nine teams currently ranked in the top 25 by either the coaches or Indianarunner.com. Top-ranked Fort Wayne Concordia, No. 2 Carmel, No. 6 Westview and No. 8 Indianapolis Brebeuf are the headliners.

Oak Hill’s boys will also compete in the Elite Division and Eagles’ coach Paige Brunner thinks it will help a team that carries high aspirations understand exactly where it’s at.

“The two meets we’ve had so far have not been challenging and we knew that going in,” Brunner said. “We’ve had two weeks of training now since then and we’re excited to see where we’re at from the last time we raced. There’s always an excitement when you get to race at Indiana Wesleyan because the kids know if you compete well the course is going to reward you with a good time.

“We’ve got no pressure on us. We’re not in a situation to win or probably even place,” he continued. “... If we can run season bests, there are 20 teams in the elite field, if we can push the top 10 if not higher I think that’s a good day for us and something we can walk away from feeling pretty confident about.”

The girls’ Elite Field features 21 teams, 10 of which are ranked with No. 1 Fort Wayne Carroll, No. 3 Carmel, No. 4 Fishers and No. 6 Fort Wayne Dwenger. It also includes Ohio’s Division I state runner-up and currently fourth-ranked Centerville.

“That’s the competition Mollie needs to be running against,” Brunner said of Gamble, a three-time state qualifier. “I think she’s in a position she could probably be has high up as the top three. She could also probably run well and barely be in the top 15. You have a loaded individual field.

“Selah has put in a lot of work and she’s been healthy,” he added. This will be the first race back for Kinzie (Robey) for the team, we wanted to separate Selah and give her an opportunity to run with Mollie in the big girl race and kind of see where she’s at right now.”

Following the Elite races, the JV boys (10:30 a.m.) and girls races (11 a.m.) will go.

Then it’s the Red Division (500 students or less), where the boys start at 11:30 a.m. and girls at noon. Madison-Grant will compete against a field of 12 in both of those races.

Mississinewa will be the final Grant County school to race and will do so in the Gold Division (501-1,000 enrollment. The Ole Miss boys compete in a field of 10 schools starting at 12:30 p.m. The Indians girls start at 1 p.m. in a 12-team race.

The final races of the day are the middle school boys (1:30 p.m.) and girls (2 p.m.). McCulloch, Oak Hill, Eastbrook and Madison-Grant all have teams of fifth through eighth graders entered.