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Indoor season going well for local athletes

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Indoor track and field started out as a tuneup for the outdoor season but amongst some larger schools has become its own entity.

Grant County schools take a more traditional approach, but four teams will have athletes vying for top finishes Saturday in the Hoosier State qualifier at Indiana Wesleyan University. The meet begins at 10 a.m. in the Troyer Fieldhouse and admission is $5.

Madison-Grant will compete Saturday in a Hoosier State qualifier at Purdue-Fort Wayne.

“You will have a lot of bigger schools there that treat indoor like an entirely different sports season and they have a lot on the line,” Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner said. “We have a lot of pride at Oak Hill that a lot of our kids split time on different sports.”

The other Grant County schools are no different and Eastbrook, Madison-Grant, Marion and Mississinewa are still waiting on some of their top athletes to report. Many are coming off winter sports that just ended or have other obligations to fulfill.

Indiana Wesleyan already hosted one Hoosier State qualifier March 2 with several local athletes positioning themselves for the finals March 23 at Indiana University. Athletes with the top 24 times and distances after a series of three qualifying weekends will be eligible to compete in the finals.

“We had a handful of kids (at IWU) who were our heavy hitters or big-time athletes,” Brunner said of the previous meet, “and we had a good number of kids out who were younger and just trying to see where they are at.”

Oak Hill still is waiting on Tahj Johnson who was boys’ 400 meters state runner-up last June who just finished basketball season. Pole vaulter Caiden Lake, who recently won the IHSAA state diving championship, and Adrianna Trexler and Brittany McCorkle from the 2A state champion girls’ basketball team will make their debuts at IWU.

Zaimar Burnett, who qualified in two state finals events, runs for the first time after completing his obligations for the Marion boys’ JV basketball team. Giants coach Nate Larson said several expected contributors are part of the Marion boys’ basketball team competing Saturday in the regional.

“We’re trying to balance it out because we want the kids to support our basketball team, too,” Larson said. “It’s a benefit that we’re at Indiana Wesleyan so we can allow kids to come and go and they can support the basketball team.”

County athletes already have standout performances in the early indoor meets, led by Mississinewa’s Brennan Butche and Oak Hill’s Sammy Sommers. Butche is second overall in the two-mile with a time of 9:23.54 in the first IWU Hoosier State qualifier and previously ran a 9:22 at Wabash College. Sommers ranks second in Class 1-3 A hurdles and long jump and helped the 4x2 relay achieve the No. 1 ranking.

The Eagles’ 4x2 also consisted of Jon Holz, Gavin Holz and Ryan Fernandez, while Johnson eventually will take a place on the team.

“We’re happy with that group and Tahj will be on it by the end of next week,” Brunner said.

Butche, the third-place finisher in the state finals cross country meet last fall, is well ahead of his best indoor time of 9:30 from last year. Ole Miss coach Leonard Argobast plans to have Butche focus to the distance medley relay Saturday in an effort to qualify the team for the Hoosier State finals.

“Our boys’ DMR is No. 12 right now, and we’re going after it this weekend,” Arbogast said. “I want to run a fresh DMR Saturday and Brennan’s not going to run the two-mile ... he’s going to qualify for state no matter what he does. We’re going to bring him in fresh and have a couple other guys who normally run the 4x8 and have them come in fresh and hopefully knock 7-to-10 seconds off their time. That should guarantee a spot down in Bloomington.”

Gamble will be on vacation and won’t compete Saturday, but the junior currently has fourth-best girls’ two-mile time Class 1-3A. The Eagles DMR currently would be the No. 5 seed and consists of Selah Jackson, Kinsey Robey, Lauren Marsh and Ireland Dodson, while Gamble eventually will be part of the mix.

Eastbrook coach Stu Goble said several boys’ and girls’ relays and individuals are positioned to qualify for the Hoosier State finals. Hurdler Audrey Altum would be the highest seed in the girls’ meet, while freshman Emma Neargardner is another hurdler also would qualifier.

Goble said Xaine Kirby in the sprints and Ben Neideck in the distance races are off to good starts indoors. Zeke Binkerd and Justin Singer just reported after finishing the basketball season and Goble is counting on both to be top pointgetters by the outdoor season.

Larson said with several top athletes currently unavailable it would be hard to predict what Marion will accomplish at IWU. The Giants boys’ and girls’ should fare well in relays, particularly the Burnett-led 4x2 team.

“We have a little different look this year as far as our sprinters are concerned,” Larson said. “We’re still pretty young with mostly freshmen and sophomores. We’d like to try get a good time in the 4x2 and Zaimar’s going to run this weekend and we’ll see how he does. Of course, this will be his first time competing.”

Madison-Grant participated in the first Hoosier State qualifier at IWU with A.J. Jones and Peyton Freel among the top throwers. Jones was among the top three in the boys’ shot put and Freel was fourth in the girls’ shot put.

“It’s great to have Peyton back from an ACL and we expect her to have a good year,” Argylls coach T.J. Herniak said. “A.J.’s a typical farm boy who’s good at throwing a lot of weight around. If they work hard both have a legitimate shot at being at the state (outdoor) meet.”