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Panther track teams primed for exciting 2018 season

PANTHERS: Eastbrook senior Connor White (left) is shown competing in the 2017 Central Indiana Confernce meet at Oak Hill. White is one of several returnees for the two-time defending CIC and Grant Four champs that captured the school’s first-ever boys track sectional championship last season.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

The Eastbrook boys track team positioned itself above all other teams in Grant County by claiming the school’s first ever track sectional championship in 2017 while adding back-to-back to its moniker of Grant Four and Central Indiana Conference champions.

And the Panthers hope that was just a prelude of what’s to come in 2018.

Eastbrook coach Stu Goble returns most of his top tier point scorers from last season and has added perhaps even more depth to what is the county’s top team, and it has the Panthers thinking about bigger things.

“We have two goals that are the same every year, win Grant Four and win conference. Those are something I would say us and Oak Hill probably have those exact thing goals every year,” Goble said. “The goal then again this year because we know we have the depth to make a good run at it, is to make a good run at sectional. Stay healthy and take a good run at sectional.”

Eastbrook started its season earlier this week scoring 92 points in a convincing win over CIC-rivals, Alexandria (46) and Blackford, and had some standout performances on its opening night.

Senior Jake Taylor opened the season with a discus throw of 149 feet, five inches and he’s just one of the athletes Goble believes could qualify for the state finals this season.

“(Taylor) threw 15 to 20 feet further than where he started last season. His goals are to try to go win sectional and try to advance to state this year,” Goble said. “ He will have to throw it a lot further, typically upper 150 to low 160s would be in the area to get you into state.... The biggest thing with Jake is trying to develop some consistency right now, seeing piles of 140 foot throws instead of one then down in the 130s. When he develops that consistency the bigger throws will come out of it.”

Taylor is one of eight seniors on Eastbrook’s 40 man roster that Goble is expecting to score a lot of points.

The Panthers also have the return of the speedy Andrew Barajas for 2018. Goble expects Barajas, who missed last season recovering from surgery after being injured in football, to help in the sprints and pole vault. 

“Drew fits in a lot of different places but he’ll probably help us out in the 100 the most and pole vaulting,” Goble said. “He’s definitely gotten faster since we had him his sophomore year. Those are two big areas that he needs to step in. Especially in pole vault. Our best vaulter was a senior so we need to find those points again in the big meets.”

Junior Clay Dalton is expected to have a good season throwing the shot put, while junior Ethan Keller hopes to challenge in the 400. Senior Saxon Malonek and Xaine Kirby may shift around a little bit, but will be two of the Panthers top sprinters. Sophomore Issac Brown, a move in from Huntington, will also help in the pole vault, but Goble said his versatility could land him in some other events as well. 

Senior distance runner Connor White in another athlete Goble thinks has state meet potential

“Connor White is set for really good season and it will be fun to watch him and Brennan Butche (from Mississinewa) battle with each other,” Goble said. “They’ve had great battles the last three seasons and it will be fun to see how they battle back and forth with each other and push each other for big things.”

White will miss tonight’s Eastbrook Invitational to compete against Butche and many other of Indiana’s top milers at Franklin Central’s Miracle Mile. 

Senior Davon Wallace will help bolster the long jump and high jump and 4x100 relay team, senior Zeke Binkerd is another long jumper and will run in sprints. Senior Brandon Huber, Alex Baker and sophomore Hayden Raikes add depth and talent to the high jump event. 

Junior Graham Johnson returns as one of the areas top hurdlers and sophomore Ben Neideck adds depth in the distance races. Sophomore Nathan Brainer fills in the 800. 

Kirby, Malonek, Keller and Johnson recently finished second in the indoor state championship in the 4 x 400 relay. Already school record holders in the event, Goble thinks the team is another that could earn a trip to Bloomington for state.

“That’s our other big goal this year is getting some kids to state, on the boys side especially,” Goble said. “The 4x400 maybe surprised us a little bit last year. They ran 3:27 at the end and have already run 3:30. We said if we can get to 3:25 we think we can make it to state. As long as they don’t get a case of senior-itis over the next couple of months, they’ve got a really good shot at making a run at it.”

The Eastbrook girls team is building, and while Goble believes they still be a year away from being having an chance to dethrone Oak Hill’s girls from its position atop the CIC and in Grant Four, he’s excited for the potential his team has right now.

“We’re not very deep. We’re kind of small, but they’re pretty mighty,” Goble said of his 19 athletes on his girls team.” As far as that goes were better than last year...We’re not quite at that point of being able to catch up with (Oak Hill), they’ve just got some studs, some state level kids and enough depth underneath of them to be able to hang on.

“We feel like were gaining ground and we only lose one senior after this year,” he added. “And we’re excited about our eighth grade group coming up. We’ve got a few more girls out this year, in some spots that are good athletes so were a little better.”

But Goble and his girls have many similar goals to the boys.

“We want to win our own invite and challenge, run your best and see what happens at Grant Four and at conference again,” Goble said. “The goal is to hopefully get some more kids on to regional than what we did last year. I think we have the potential for one or two girls in there to take a good look at the state meet this year. That’s what our goals are this year, just keep building and getting a little bit better.”

At the top of his potential state level athletes is junior Audrey Altum. Altum had a successful sophomore season but wasn’t 100 percent after undergoing ACL surgery as a freshman. Altum is one of the hurdlers to beat in the area. 

“She’s probably our best shot on the girls side of being able to go to state, its just a matter of her getting confidence and three stepping the hurdles all the time,” Goble said of Altum. “We spent two years trying to talk her into and telling her she was good enough to run the 300 hurdles and we think that might be really her best chance at getting to state.

“She’s running really well now, you almost forget a year ago she was seven or eight months off of having ACL surgery and she still ran pretty well last year,” he added. “You physically see her at meet and she looks good, she looks fast...She gets after it in the weight room and it shows. I thinks she’s primed for a really good season.

Altum will also run in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Sophomores Brianna Stepp and Shauna Singer both qualified for regional in the 100 and both are also long jumpers. Kaylene Cox was a regional qualifier in the 800.

Freshman Sarah Foulk and sophomore move-in Grace Brown will compete in different sprint events. Eleana Manning, Corinne Walker - Eastbrook’s lone senior - and Jade Stuber give the Panthers depth in distance events.

Freshman Lexi Binkerd will compete in high jump. Juniors Jenna King and Maggie McLauglin and Hailey Schabo, sophomore Baylee Ditsler and freshman Allannah Brenner are young and improving throwers. Freshman Laynie Craw could compete in the 800 and longer distance events.

What would be satisfying for Goble with his girls team?

“Just to see the girls improve. You don’t want to throw the towel in on the conference and Grant Four early on, thats not a good way to approach those things,” Goble said. “Hopefully at minimum,  you maintain your spot there and...hopefully score a few more points and close the gap in those things from where we were .

“Knowing we’re not really losing a whole lot of points after this year and we’re gaining more points, you just keep talking about building on to the future,” he added. “Then after that talking about tournament time. Let’s get some more girls to regional than we did last year. If we do those things and you know you’ve improved off of the year before you’re getting yourselves ready for some team championships in another year.”