Hornocker; Gamble Earn State Cross Country Bid

Posted on October 22, 2017 in Fall Sports, Girl's Cross Country

Coach Brunner talks to the girls team after the semi-state

Coach Brunner talks to the girls team after the semi-state

by Scott Hunt – Chronicle-Tribune
FORT WAYNE — It was impossible for the Oak Hill girls cross country team to hide the disappointment on their faces during the awards ceremony for the New Haven cross country semistate on Saturday at IPFW’s Plex course.
The girls sat in a circle holding hands as the MC of the event read down the list of team finishers from the bottom up, towards the magical sixth spot, the one guaranteeing a trip to Saturday’s state championship meet in Terre Haute.
The girls, along with coach Paige Brunner were holding out hope, knowing that the sixth and advancing spot in 2016 had a scored total of 203 points. The Golden Eagles had just finished their race with 201 and a chance. But when Oak Hill was announced as the eighth place finisher on Saturday, it was met with nearly instantaneous tears from falling short on what had been its mission all season.
Everything seemed to go as planned for the Golden Eagles, senior Margo Hornocker finished fifth and sophomore Mollie Gamble ended 13th, both earning another trip to the state finals, for Hornocker its the third straight year, but she wanted more than anything to be accompanied by all of her teammates for her final trip.
“In the past we’ve just had some glaring issue, but I don’t feel like we had any issues today,” said Brunner, almost looking and sounding bewildered in wondering how his girls came up short. “I don’t feel like we ran great, by any means and it starts with Margo and Mollie who didn’t have good days.
“But in years past, you usually have teams score over 200 points and make it in,” he continued. “If you would have told me going in we would have scored just over 200 points I would have thought we would be safe.”
The New Haven Semistate is simply a different beast when it comes to cross country invitationals. By the time you factor in it has double the teams and runners from either the sectional or regional, and then put the more than 180 runners on a narrow course, the first one-third to half the race becomes a physical battle for space before the field starts to separate into big packs.
The first 400 meters is almost an all out sprint to reach a hairpin right turn without being knocked down or boxed in, and those first 400 meters can also have a huge impact on where a runner finishes at the end of five kilometers.
“I was even kind of stressing myself out (Friday) night, and I’ve never really done that before,” said Hornocker of that first 400 meter dash. “But I was thinking ‘you have to get out make sure you don’t trip and fall.’ I was glad we started on the box on the edge – starting in middle can be stressful with how fast everybody goes out and I know people have fallen before. You definitely have to get out so I was glad I was able to get out and get up towards the front. That whole first K was really fast.”
Hornocker made her way quickly to the front and stayed with the lead pack for most of the race.
Defending state champion Tyler Schwarz of DeKalb edged away from the field and won the race finishing in 18:05 and 16 seconds ahead of Sydney Lambert of Norwell, who finished runner-up. But positions two through five were only separated by 11 seconds and Hornocker’s 18:32 landed her fifth.
“I don’t think I ran my best race, but you always trust your teammates,” Hornocker said. “I wasn’t too far off where I usually am, but sometimes you just don’t have your best day.”
Gamble wasn’t so fortunate at the start, but a lot of her success has come through the middle to end of races and she was able to work her way through heavy traffic to land in the top-15. Gamble finished in 19:17 to earn a second straight trip to Terre Haute.
“I didn’t feel like it went super well, but I went out and tried to compete,” said Gamble. “The first turn is super sharp and you can get boxed in if you’re on the inside and I was. I didn’t get out (fast) and got boxed in. But I made myself a path and pushed through.”
With Hornocker and Gamble waging their typical battle near the front of the field, the rest of the Golden Eagles were battling with a mass of bodies and little running room near mid-pack.
Jenessa Hasty was Oak Hill’s third finisher in 47th (scored 40th) place, while Savannah Hart (90th, scored 71st) and Selah Jackson (96th, scored 76th) rounded out the five scores that went into the Golden Eagles total.
Much to no one’s surprise, Carroll (Fort Wayne) scored 77 points to easily win the team title, with Penn (131), Fort Wayne Dwenger (161), Fort Wayne Concordia (162), Homestead (175) and Northridge (183) grabbing the advancing team spots. East Noble (186) finished seventh just ahead of Oak Hill (201).
“The sad thing is about 15 points (from qualifying for state) can kind of be spread amongst the whole team,” Brunner said. “None of us were good, I don’t think any of us were 100-percent where we needed to be. I don’t think anybody was bad. Nobody was catastrophically of the grid where we had to make up for it, we just weren’t good enough today.
“Outside of Margo, I’m not sure anybody got out where they need to be (at the start), but I thought we started to move pretty well during the race,” he continued. “We had some teams in front of us that have been to state for five or six straight years and their girls are used to flipping a switch here and being at a higher level and we have yet to figure out exactly how to get that done on the girls side.
“I’m kind of at a loss. I’m obviously disappointed. We wanted to make it out and we knew this was a group we had to do it with,” Brunner added. “There’s nothing that really stands out as a glaring weakness, we just weren’t good enough today.”
The only other Grant County girl to qualify for Saturday’s semistate was Mississinewa sophomore Aurora Fisher.
The fact Fisher was able to make her second straight trip to Fort Wayne was impressive as a serious health issue forced her to sit our for three weeks late in the season. But she was able to regain her strength and form once the tourney started and finished in 21:13 in 106th place.
It was another important experience for Fisher as she will try to accomplish what Hornocker and Gamble have done in qualifying for the state.
“She improved on her time every week in the postseason,” said Mississinewa coach Ean Van Winkle of Fisher. “You can’t really ask for anything more. It’s been a great day. For her that’s our goal, next year to be even better.”
Brunner said there was a lot of satisfaction to the season his team put together. Grant Four and Central Indiana Conference champions to go along with a the first sectional championship since 1993 and a fourth regional title.
Oak Hill’s eighth place finish was the best for any Grant County team since 1995 and the best for a county girls team since Oak Hill in 1992.
“I’m happy for the girls able to get sectional and regional and that helps. We still won a sectional and regional and we won a county and a conference, and we’ve still got two girls going to state again individually,” Brunner said. “90-percent of the time we’d take that and run with it.
“Some bigger schools, some more experienced programs ran better than we did today. Sometimes you’ve go to tip your hat to them, pat them on the back and tell them nice job,” he continued. “I know it doesn’t make our girls feel better, but at the same time I am happy that we didn’t have anybody that fell off and had a horrible day. It’s a team sport, and as team, we just weren’t good enough today.”

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