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Oak Hill's Gamble set to lead the pack in girls XC

EAGLES: Oak Hill’s Mollie Gamble (580), a two-time state finals qualifier, returns for her junior season as is primed to be the runner to beat in Grant County during the girls cross country season.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

The most imposing figure, perhaps in the history of high school girls cross country in Grant County, has taken her long shadow to Butler University to compete at the Division I level.

But Margo Hornocker’s graduation from Oak Hill and move into the Big East Conference certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare for the Golden Eagles and coach Paige Brunner.

Junior Mollie Gamble, who has spent much of her first two seasons running in Hornocker’s considerable shadow, is ready to emerge into the lead role for Oak Hill and quite possibly challenge on the state’s stage much like her predecessor.

“We’re never obviously going to replace somebody of the caliber of Margo and as much as we wish we could have her back we’ve got to be ready to move forward,” Brunner said. “Mollie is a luxury that a lot of people, when somebody like Margo leaves, wish they had.”

Gamble has been to state in both of her first two years in high school and finished 32nd last season. She’s a bit taller and stronger and Brunner believes she could be in store for another big season.

“Mollie is Mollie. In terms of the training and the discipline that is never going to change,” Brunner said. “The big piece of the puzzle for Mollie is she keeps growing, getting taller, she seems to be all legs now which is great if you’re a runner. As she continues to physically mature and become a stronger athlete and competitor, I think the sky continues to be the limit for her. She’s had a really good summer.”

Another luxury Brunner has is the return of senior Jenessa Hasty, who both the Grant Four and small school race at the New Haven Invitational last season. Brunner said Hasty would be the number one runner for a lot of schools around the state and believes the she and Gamble will Oak Hill another strong one-two punch.

“You could argue that Jenessa is probably, pound-for-pound, the best female athlete in Grant County and the most competitive one I’ve ever been around,” he said. “Her times and her paces over the summer have been pretty much spot on with what Mollie’s were last year.”

Whatever level of success the Golden Eagles attain as a team will likely be determined by the sophomore trio of Kate Hornocker, Kinzie Robey and Selah Jackson. What Brunner hopes his sophomores develop this season is consistency.

“There’s a vast amount of talent, but they’re still sophomores which means there are days when they’re really, really god and there days where they’re inconsistent,” Brunner said. “It never seems to be on the same day. I’ve got to find a way as a coach to get them to be more consistent in their training and their day-to-day life in regards to taking care of their bodies.”

While the Golden Eagles have been the queens of the cross country course for the past several season, both Mississinewa and Eastbrook have been slowly trying to close that gap at the top.

The Indians return junior Aurora Fisher at the top of their lineup, and the two-time semistate qualifier and multiple school-record holder at Ole Miss is working through health issues to continue her strong performance,  

“As long as its cool she does really good with her breathing,” said Ole Miss coach Ean Van Winkle of Fisher. “She gets through the workouts when its hot, but when its cool she does great. We were doing a really hard hill workout in the rain (on Wednesday) and she was really good. 

“She still wants to get in the high 19s and I think getting in the high 19s would be a really good goal for her this year,” he added. “I think she can exceed that, maybe at the end of the season...a high 19 and going semistate again is something I think she can easily do.”

Mississinewa will also be bolstered by the return of junior Carli Fones, who was a semistate qualifier in 2016, and the addition of Reagan Tippey to the varsity. Tippey transfered to Mississinewa before last season from Carroll (Fort Wayne) but was made to sit out by the IHSAA. 

Van Winkle has 10 total girls out, but is dealing with injuries to at least three runners, and once everyone is healthy, he hopes he’ll be able to find solid depth behind the Indians’ top three.

 

“As long as the last two or three out of the seven pick it up a little bit, we might be alright,” Van Winkle said. “Four or five have really good times at this point. Hopefully by the postseason I’ll have a really strong six or seven, right now I have a strong three or four. 

“I just wish the other girls were healthy because my top three is pretty strong.”

Eastbrook’s girls are following a similar trajectory to what the boys program has done in the last few years. 

Panther coach Ethan Evans’ girls have shown steady improvement over the past two seasons and enter 2018 led by the senior trio of Eleana Manning, Kaylene Cox and Jade Stuber.

Both Manning and Cox advanced out of the 2017 Marion Sectional as individuals, while sophomore Laynie Craw was just one spot from doing the same. Eastbrook’s team was also close to advancing and Evans hopes this could be the season for it to happen. 

“(The seniors have) kind of been the catalyst for change over the last three years,” Evans said. “They’ve been learning what it means to be competitive and that being competitive just doesn’t come by showing up. That’s been kind of a mindset shift.”

Sophomore Rachel Manning returns for her second year while freshmen Becca Hammond and Emma Neargardener will compete to be in the Panthers’ top-five runners each race. 

“All seven will come in and work their butt of and they’re eager to learn,” Evans said. “Our goal for the last two year has been to advance out of sectional. Two years ago we weren’t even close. Last year it was five or 10 points from advancing to regional.

“We know Oak Hill graduated very talented runners and by no means do we think we’ll beat them, but we want to be competitive with them and keep closing that gap,” he added. “They’ve got an amazing program and we have the aspirations to be that good.”  

Both Madison-Grant and Marion have new coaches for the boys and girls cross country teams.

Sarina Lashbrook replaces the legendary Terry Lakes at Marion while TJ Herniak takes the lead of the Argylls program.

Numbers have been an issue for both schools over the past few season, but Madison-Grant hopes to have a five girls ready to compete very soon. Herniak said he has five girls on the roster but sophomore Lacey Mayfield, who ran last season for M-G, is awaiting medical clearance to begin her season.

“I think it’s been three years since we’ve had anywhere close to a full girls team, maybe even a little longer,” Herniak said. 

Herniak said freshman Mary Mayfield, sister to Lacey, has been the Argylls strongest runner so far this fall, and sisters Rose and Megan Pax, along with freshman Riley Cass are all working hard and pushing one another to get better.

“It’s definitely a learning experience for our young runners, but what’s good for them is they can compete as a team and they’ve got some people to push them,” Herniak said. “They’re not just running against themselves. We’ve laid a good foundation right now. Hopefully we can just build upon it and keep getting better.”

Lashbrook was unable to be reached for comment about the Giants girls.

Madison-Grant and Eastbrook open the season Tuesday in the Lapel Invite. Oak Hill will go to Southwood to compete against the Knights and Northfield also on Tuesday.

Marion starts its season on August 18 at the Richmond Invitational. Mississinewa will race the same day, with M-G and Eastbrook, in Yorktown for the Grant County/Delaware County Challenge.