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Marion Invitational provides state tourney glimpse

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OFF AND RUNNING: Oak Hill's Mollie Gamble (2045) and Selah Jackson (2048) run together just after the start of the girls Elite Division race at the Marion Invitational on Saturday. Gamble was 10th and Jackson 56th in a field of more the 200 runners.
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PANTHER PAIR: Eastbrook seniors Ben Neideck (880) and Zane Callison run closely together early on in the boys Purple Division race of the Marion Invitational at Indiana Wesleyan on Saturday. Neideckfinished second and Callison sixth. Marion senior Raffi Fry (not pictured) finished third.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion Invitational cross country meet is often a good early season preview for what runners can expect when the tournament season rolls around in just over a month.

All five Grant County schools took their turns are racing on Indiana Wesleyan's fast five kilometer course where each will compete in the Marion Sectional on Oct. 12. And no matter how success is measured by each coach and team, Saturday was a successful day for all five programs.

Following are capsules for the races in the 22nd annual Marion Invitational.

Purple Division-Boys

Eastbrook welcomed the return of its top runner Ben Neideck back to its lineup after he's dealt with a minor injury over the first couple weeks of the season, and the talented senior looked to be in midseason form already. Neideck finished with a lifetime best time of 16:25.1 and in second place to lead Eastbrook to a fourth-place finish in the nine team race. 

"As far what had been bothering me before the race, I felt pretty pain free. It felt a little bit harder than I think it would have been if I wasn’t out," Neideck said. "This was my first week back of a full week of training. A little rusty but my first race is under the belt and I couldn’t be happier with a PR."


Four other Panthers ran lifetime bests, including Zane Callison (16:46) who raced to sixth, Nathan Brainer, Isaac Brown and Damian Jones. Brainer finished 25th and Jack Hammond was 32nd and both were meet medalists. 

"Our team is running phenomenal right now and being able to watch them get after the start of the season how they have, it really excites me for the end of the season and tournament just to see what we’re capable of," Neideck said.

Marion senior Raffi Fry continued his stellar early season performance, racing his way to third place in 16:30. Fry has now recorded four top-10 finishes over the past four weekend invites for the Giants and is fighting to be one of the county's top runners in 2019.

"Raffi ran great. Last year here Raffi was 17:41 today he was 16:30….a minute and 11 seconds for him is huge," said Marion coach Sarina Lashbrook. "I think that just tells us we're ahead of where we want to be and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds.

"Mario Jimenez cut a minute off from last week (at Taylor). We've been waiting for him to come on and I think he's finally getting it together," she added.

Jimenez, a freshman and senior Austin Warpool were 50th and 51st as the Giants finished seventh with 193 points. New Haven (48), Fort Wayne Dwenger (63), Mt. Vernon-Fortville (73) and Eastbrook (101) were the top four.


Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner experimented with his line up a little in the race by opting to have senior Mollie Gamble and junior Selah Jackson race in the Elite Division. The Eagles welcomed last year's No. 2 runner, junior Kinzie Robey back to the lineup after she had dealt with a foot injury early in the season.

Robey (20:10) led the way with a seventh-place run and the Golden Eagles were impressive without Gamble and Jackson in finishing third as a team with 99 points. Fort Wayne Concordia (39) and Mt. Vernon (93) finished in the top two spots.

"I thought it started off really well in the girls purple race," Brunner said. "To get third without Mollie and Selah, the girls all ran really well. We got PRs across the board. Joy McDivitt had a huge day for us and came up to be in the fifth spot.

Sophomore Grace Geller finished 13th with senior Ireland Dodson and junior Kate Hornocker running 24th and 25th while McDivitt was 35th and all earned meet medals.  

Eastbrook junior Laynie Craw was 31st to medal and Bekah Hammond finished 40th. The Panthers were short of the five necessary runners to score as a team.

Marion's girls finished 10th in the meet but continued to improve and satisfy Lashbrook by their work. Junior Carynna Aguila again led the Giants by finishing 48th. Seniors Madeline Stiles (68th) and Chloe Hamilton (72nd) and junior Tori Daehn (74th) ran closely together.   


"Another great, great day. More PRs, not as much as last week but still a good amount of them today," Lashbrook said. "No matter how many times we tell them this first mile is fast and the second mile is slow, it takes being out here for them to figure it out.

"We’re happy to get a race under our belt here at IWU. We’re excited for sectionals," she added. "It's so important just to get the feel of racing out here. We do workouts out here but racing out here on this course is totally different. I think all of us learned today that that second mile really is as tough as we always talk about."

Elite Division-Boys

Oak Hill's boys looked to be overmatched racing in the Elite Division, but the Golden Eagles proved they belong by finishing eighth in a 21 team field that feature a dozen or so ranked teams. 

Senior Macallister Cheek finished 38th to lead the Eagles while senior Dillon Mitchell - running his first race this season - finished 50th. Sophomore Sol O'Blenis (54th), junior Jacob Winger (58th), who just started running this season, and senior Tahj Johnson (87th) scored for Oak Hill in the field of more than 200 runners. 

"From the eye test, it's really tough because there are so many talented kids in that race," Brunner said. "I think its going to take awhile. ... This is the first race we’ve had where varsity spots were on the line. To get eighth and beat some ranked teams, we talked about being top 10 coming in so we reached that goal.


Top-ranked Fort Wayne Concordia, led by race winner Reece Gibson, scored 41 points to beat No. 2 Carmel (74), No. 7 Brebeuf (82).


Gamble didn't have her best race, but even not at her best she's still one of the state's top distance runners. The Oak Hill senior was only a few seconds off her lifetime PR with an 18:40 to finish in 10th.

Erin Strzelecki, runner up in the 2018 state championship race, won the meet with a new course record of 17:24.

"It definitely is like a lot of the fast girls here because you've got a lot of the top (teams) from the state. It's nice because its really good competition," Gamble said. "I think I did really well for my second meet (this season). I had time that was better than all my times from last year so I was proud of that."

Jackson had hoped to break the 20 minute mark in the race but was just shy finishing in 20:08 and in 56th place in field of 206.

"It was really nerve racking at first because a lot of the top girls in the state were here," Jackson said. "It was really good competition to see, like semistate-wise that could be a possibility. It helped me a lot, it got my confidence up knowing I can race with those bigger girls and more competition."

Red Division-Boys

Junior Kaden Howell finished 40th and just five spots from a medal position for Madison-Grant. The Argylls also scored with Cole Hasty (46th), Chad Harbert (56th), Gavin DeDecker (58th) and Jase Howell (78th).

Madison-Grant finished 11th. DeDecker and Kolby Alvey each had PRs.


Junior Hannah Ogden is in her first competitive season running cross country for Madison-Grant and she ran a 24:42, a new personal best, to finish 24th and take home a medal. 

Mary Mayfield was 36th, Bailey Freel crossed 38th, Lacey Mayfield finished 41 and Chelsea Bowland was 44th to help the Argylls to a fifth-place team finish in the six-team event.

Gold Division-Boys

Mississinewa's boys had coach Ean Van Winkle nearly jumping for joy at the conclusion of the gold race. All five of the Indians top runners finished in medal positions to help Ole Miss finish third in the nine-team race with 96 points. Frankton won with 75 and Norwell (80) was second. 

Junior Jon Alsup (18:54) led the Ole Miss charge with an 11th-place finish while senior Zak Huffman (18th), junior Tony Parish (19th), junior Camden Dorothy (22nd) and junior Sam Bolden (34th) left IWU with medals.    

"I was very please because almost everybody improved or ran well. I think I had five PRs, the top 13 guys ran in the 18s, where I need them," Van Winkle said. "Everybody ran so strong at the finish, just like we teach them in practice. I was thoroughly impressed. ... I think its a confidence booster. Sam Bolden medaled for the first time in his life and I'll tell you what, that was everything to me. That was awesome."


Mississinewa was without top-runner Aurora Fisher for a second straight race and likely will be for awhile longer as she tries to heal up from a stress fracture in her foot.

But seniors Carli Fones and Reagan Tippey continued with their strong starts to the season top-15 finishes.

Fones, who recently signed to be a sprinter at Taylor University next year, ran 21:37 to finish 10th and Tippey finished in 22:02 and 14th.

The Indians finished ninth as a team with 188 points.

Junior High Divisions

Oak Hill eighth grader Owen Jackson set a new IWU course record by finishing the 3K distance in 10:04 and winning against a field of 211 runners.

Eastbrook eighth grader Olivia Howell ran 12:14 to finish fifth in a field of 191 girls.