Though it may seem a stretch to believe that a group of sixth graders running for North Clay are important in building a future sectional championship contender for Northview. But just ask current high school girls' coach Ryand Tucker about how important building a strong junior high team is in having a great high school team.
"This is the future," said Tucker as he surveyed the runners taking on the Craig Park, also the home of his varsity Knights.
"Anyone out here running today, is the future of our high school program," said the former Clay City standout. "This is how the kids get better, it's not like they have to run 5-10 miles a day, but even jogging and being active is good for them."
Fitness is just one positive for the runners who begin the workouts that the junior high teams partake in after school hours. For many, it's a chance to spend some more time with their friends in a healthy social environment. Not every athlete is going to be a state caliber runner once they reach the high school level, but getting the chance to be a part of a sectional championship team means being part of something special.
Numbers at both Northview and Clay City are ebbing a bit compared to past years as success in other programs draws from the pool of incoming freshmen available to cross country.
"I think the success of volleyball has drawn some athletes," commented Tucker. "But I also think that maybe not having the state series success is a part of that. When you have success in the state series (i.e. sectional, regional, semistate, state finals), that you don't get noticed as much."
Both Clay City and Northview have had their share of success however and the Knights have two recent graduates running collegiately.
James Grounds, a sectional cross country champion in 2005 and a current competitor for Vincennes University. Emily Pugh, a 2005 Northview graduate, reached the IHSAA State Finals in 2004 and is a member of Indiana State University's cross country and track teams.
Last season, a very talented group of Clay City boys' made the run to the semistate level against steep odds versus schools more than 3-4 times their size. That team is honored with their photo on the wall of the high school gymnasium where they will be remembered for untold years to come.
Running cross country isn't the easiest sport to participate in because it does take a level of dedication not everyone is able to provide. But Tucker has seen the benefits of the sport carry over to the academic world as well.
"I think that runners in general are some of the hardest workers and that tends to carry over into the classroom. I believe that all of our girls are on the honor roll and I think some of that work ethic is developed in this sport."
Unlike many sports, cross country teams are all about numbers. The 'more the merrier' truly applies in a sport where there are no cuts. In fact, the more runners who continue from junior high to high school benefits the team in their depth in a sport where an injury can have a drastic impact on team success.
"Injuries happen, we have four juniors, two sophomores and a senior so ideally if we get three or four each year to compete than that gives us good depth," said Tucker.
Freshman also get the opportunity to compete right away which is a good selling point for younger runners.
"I realize a lot of these kids are still trying to figure out what they want to do, but everyone can run and fit in," said Tucker. "The ones that work hard at it will be good at it."
On Monday night, Shakamak was the team winners in both girls and boys' races though Clay City eighth grader, Carmela Roeschlein, ran one of her best races of the season to win in 13:05.
Owen Valley's Grant Sims was the boys' winner in 12:15 overall though Clay City took the next two spots with Ben Denker in second with a 12:35 and Wayne Tharp in third with a 12:47. The Eels also got a 10th place finish from Kole Smith in 13:24.
North Clay was led by Brendan Morris in 17th with a time of 14:14 followed by Ian Heffner in 14:17, Christian Swan in 21st and Travis Bell with a personal best in 14:59.
Shakamak won the boys' team event with a 36 followed by Owen Valley's 43, Clay City's 55 and North Clay's 106.
The Lady Lakers scored 45 team points to beat out North Clay's 56 followed by Owen Valley's 67 and Clay City's 96.
North Clay's top-finisher was Kourtney Clark in seventh place with a time of 16:55 followed by teammate Allison Marshall in 17:13, Shelbi Morris ran a 17:15 for ninth, Aubrey Welton was 10th in 17:25 and Andrea Harting was 12th.
North Clay will compete on Wednesday at South Putnam at 4:30 p.m. Clay City will compete at the SWIAC Meet on Oct. 1.
At Craig Park
Girls Team Results
Shakamak 45, North Clay 56, Owen Valley 67, Clay City 96
1. Carmela Roeschlein (CC) 13:05, 2. Morgan Stanifer (SH) 14:41, 3. Sabrina Pritchard (SH) 15:50, 4. Zane Busey (OV) 16:09, 5. Hannah Corder (OV) 16:18, 6. Elise Miller (SH) 16:27, 7. Kourtney Clark (NC) 16:55, 8. Allison Marshall (NC) 17:13, 9. Shelbi Morris (NC) 17:15, 10. Aubrey Welton (NC) 17:25, 12. Andrea Harting (NC)
Boys Team Results
Shakamak 36, Owen Valley 43, Clay City 55, North Clay 106
1. Grant Sims (OV) 12:15, 2. Ben Denker (CC) 12:35, 3. Wayne Tharp (CC) 12:47, 4. Jason Allen (SH) 12:50, 5. Zach Swain (OV) 13:01, 6. Brock Dowell (SH) 13:03, 7. Brodie Crow (SH) 13:09, 8. Drew Strange (SH) 13:13, 9. Noah Woodruff (OV) 13:19, 10. Kole Smith (CC) 13:24.
North Clay: 17. Brendan Morris, 14:14, 18. Ian Heffner, 14:17, 21. Christian Swan, 14:46, 23. Travis Bell, 14:59.