To borrow a baseball term, look out for a grand slam Saturday at the boys and girls cross country championships in Terre Haute.
Carmel has the top-ranked team in both 5,000-meter races and has individual favorites in defending boys champion Ben Veatch, and Sarah Leinheiser, who’s run the fastest girls time this year in the state. Veatch is rated fifth in the national rankings and the Carmel boys are ninth. Leinheiser is ranked 23rd and the Greyhounds girls are 10th.
No program in state history has completed the grand slam before. Carmel has come closest, claiming three out of the four winning spots in 1996 and again in 2013.
The Carmel girls are vying for their sixth straight state championship, which would also be a record. Carmel twice has won five straight, including from 1984-88.
Carmel sweeps team, individual cross-country semistate titles
Veatch won the boys title in a photo finish last year for the third-closest finish in state history. It’s a meet Veatch won’t forget, not only for his personal achievement, but for what his team failed to accomplish. Carmel finished second by seven points to West Lafayette. Veatch, who’s headed to run at Indiana after this season, insists the memory isn’t bittersweet.
“It was bitter,” Veatch said. “I really only cared about the team. It’s a great accomplishment, but I’m a team guy and team means the most. I’d take the team title any day over it.”
That mentality is part of the reason the Greyhounds are continuously successful. The Carmel boys are competing in their 40th straight state finals, having won 13. The girls haven’t missed a state meet in its 35 years of existence and have 16 championships. The programs have been built from the elementary level up, and incoming runners understand the tradition before they ever step foot on the course.
“That is more powerful than anything else we do,” said Carmel coach Mark Ellington. “Our kids come in with a lot of knowledge of our history. These girls on the team right now haven’t known not winning the state meet. So, they don’t want to start that trend. They don’t want to let down the group before them … and honestly, we have a girls swim program that’s pretty good and we’re trying to chase them.”
The Carmel girls swim team has a chance to make it their 30th year in a row to win the state championship at next February’s state finals, which would also set a national record across all sports for both genders.
Carmel isn’t the only team in the field, of course. Area boys teams include No. 2 Fishers, No. 4 Westfield, No. 7 Hamilton Southeastern, No. 9 Avon, No. 13 Mt. Vernon, No. 17 Brebeuf and No. 23 Pendleton Heights. Mt. Vernon senior Christian Noble placed 16th in the state last year. Brownsburg’s Hari Sathyamurthy was 18th.
The girls field features No. 5 Pendleton Heights, No. 6 Cathedral, No. 8 Zionsville, No. 11 Noblesville, No. 16 Fishers and No. 20 Hamilton Southeastern. Avon’s Taylor Nicholson finished last year as the runner-up. Greenwood Christian Academy’s Alexandra Dalton was fourth. Pendleton Heights’ Alex Buck placed eighth.
“It’s kind of cool to be able to say we’ve won the last five years,” said Leinheiser, whose 17 minute, 22-second finish in last weekend’s Carmel Semistate was the third-fastest in state history. “But it also puts a lot of pressure on us. We can never get too comfortable. You never know what could happen where you think you’re going to win and could end up losing.”
Leinheiser has heard cautionary tales from both Veatch and Ellington. The last time the Carmel girls didn’t win, in 2009, they were the favorites heading into the meet and finished second to Columbus North.
“I remember coach telling us that was such a blow,” Leinheiser said. “Ben told me that he would trade his state medal for the team title any day. It’s more fun to share that state title with teammates.”
Saturday the Carmel boys and girls could be celebrating, again, together.
If you go …
What: The IHSAA 70th boys and 35th girls cross country state finals
When: Saturday, Oct. 31; boys race is at 1 p.m., girls 1:45 p.m.
Where: LaVern Gibson Championship Course, Wabash Valley Sports Center 599 S. Tabortown Road, Terre Haute
Admission: $8 per person