The Clay City cross country team including: Logan Bettenbrock, Adam Schroer, Cole Schroer, Austin Vansickle, Tyler Moon, Braxton Griffith and Kevin Cook will compete at semistate.
You won't get Clay City cross country coach Keith Jones to call his team an underdog in the Bedford North Lawrence Semistate on Saturday. While many believe that a single class postseason for cross country is unfair to smaller schools who have fewer athletes to draw from, Jones draws from something one of his former coaches told him.
"Ron Timberman once told me that you all have to put your uniform on the same way," commented Jones. "We can work hard and compete with those bigger schools. We've tried to upgrade our schedule to see some of the bigger schools so we understand where we need to be."
Where the Clay City Eels are is quite an achievement for the school whose enrollment is approximately 280 students. They will be the second smallest school at the semistate next to Barr-Reeve who have 173 according to the Indiana High School Athletic Association School Directory.
According to Jones, only four boys and just one girl have ever made it to semistate competition in school history.
But that is about to change.
"These kids have to realize that we're in a position that we may not be back in. Who knows what next year will bring. We've only had five kids every make it to semistate and we're going to more than double that this year," commented Jones. "Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to believe it."
This group of Eels knows what it feels like to come close but be left on the outside looking in.
Just last year, the team placed seventh as a team in the Brown County Regional in which the top-five teams advance. It didn't take long for the team to set their goals for this season.
"On the bus ride home last year we talked about what we needed to do to make it," commented Jones. "I think finishing seventh last year, we knew that we were right there and that we could make the next step."
The Eels did just that this season when they placed third at the Terre Haute North Sectional lead by a sixth place finish from Logan Bettenbrock and an eighth from Adam Schroer. Tyler Moon came in 19th for the Eels with Cole Schroer and Kevin Cook in 21st and 22nd overall to round out the scoring for the Eels.
The Eels will be depending on their entire slate of runners, including Braxton Griffith, Austin Vansickle and to battle for every position they can get.
Clay City came back last Saturday and finished fifth as a team at Brown County, beating out Terre Haute South for the final transfer spot. The Braves had won the North Sectional the week before making the Eels effort that much sweeter.
"We knew coming into the regional that we were going to have to beat one of the teams that had beaten us in the sectional in order to advance," said Jones. "I felt that if we could run where I felt we could run, I thought we could win the sectional. We came pretty close to Bloomington South and Brown County in the regional."
Clay City is going to need their best effort of the year to move on to state competition in a semistate that clearly has some great talent.
Bloomington North is a clear favorite, coming in as the No. 7 ranked team in the state and Floyd Central has a strong team as well.
There is a bunch up of teams over the next handful of spots including Terre Haute North, Silver Creek, Evansville Central and perhaps Mitchell though the status of one of their best runners is up in the air. Bloomington South, Barr-Reeve, Brown County and Northeast Dubois will be in the fight for a state berth.
According to Jones, his squad is prepared this season to make a run for a top spot.
"We've talked about bunching our top-five a lot closer to get out. I'd love to have some guys closer to Adam (Schroer). If we can do that we have a shot. I think we peaked a little too early last year so we've made some changes in order to change that. You've got to take advantage of a chance like this."
With the seasons changing as the weather cools and the leaves change, Jones will have one more challenge to add to his busy schedule next week.
In years past he has had a week off before he begins coaching girls basketball, but this year that has changed, but you won't hear him complaining.
"I met with the (basketball) girls the other day and told them that if (cross country) advances that we'll practice at 5 p.m., but if we don't that we'll practice right after school."
When asked if that busy a schedule would be a little tiring, Jones smiled and commented, "If we made it (to the state finals), I'm not sure my feet would be touching the ground (at practice)."
Regardless, Jones feels that this particular group of athletes has achieved some great things for themselves and the school.
"This has been a pretty special group. They come in and run in the mornings on their own sometimes. That's why they've had the success. They want it."
Perhaps on Saturday they'll be rewarded with even more.
The Bedford North Lawrence Semistate begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday with the boys race starting at 11:15 a.m.