With eight minutes to go before the start of the boys state cross country meet on Saturday, a light drizzle began to fall.
Perfect, Center Grove coach Howard Harrell reasoned, knowing his team’s partiality for competing in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
The misty conditions were short-lived, however, as were any such psychological or strategic advantages the Trojans might’ve felt they would’ve had on the LaVern Gibson course.
Center Grove nonetheless finished an impressive sixth after taking fourth here a year ago. The top five squads made the awards podium, with the Trojans just missing out after finishing seven points behind fifth-place Carmel.
Trojans senior Bella Hodges, the county’s lone qualifier in the girls race, used her customary late kick to secure 46th place.
“I’m so proud of the team,” Harrell said after watching his team compete at state for a third consecutive season. “We really performed well as a team today, and there are so many things to be happy about.”
One being the performance of junior Griffin Hennessy, who did grab some podium time on the strength of his 15th-place individual performance (16 minutes, 5.6 seconds).
“The conditions were bad, especially on the turns. The ground would just kind of slide out from under you, so it really slowed you down there,” Hennessy said. “Top 20 was my goal. I was stressing all week for that, and I got it, so it’s a great feeling.
“With the course conditions, this might have been my best race.”
Junior Parker Mimbela was the second Center Grove runner to finish, placing 25th in 16:18.6. Mimbela led the race through one kilometer, but fell back after that.
“Honestly, (fast start) was my plan, but I think today maybe I should’ve stayed back a little bit and ran a little bit smarter,” said Mimbela, who placed 77th at state last season and 138th as a freshman. “This is a big improvement for me.”
Jarret Rockwell, another junior, was in 58th in 16:34.5 and sophomore Kyle Montgomery was 65th in 16:38.4 for the Trojans. Running his final prep cross country race was Raef Sauer, who was 75th in 16:42.1. Soph Gavin Rockwell took 111th and junior Levi Farmer 161st for the Trojans.
Sauer’s final cross country race proved equal parts bitter and sweet. While proud to be an integral part of one of the state’s premier programs, the lone senior in Harrell’s lineup expressed relief.
“I mean, it definitely wasn’t my best day. Just the middle of the course I got really tired, but I’m happy with the effort I put in,” Sauer said. “Honestly, that was the hardest race I’ve run in my life.
“I love this team. I love my coaches. That’s the thing I’m going to miss the most, but it’s nice to be done. This is, I think, the hardest sport out there.”
In the girls final, Hodges, who placed 11th at the Shelbyville semistate a week earlier, posted a time of 19:40.9 in the last cross country race of her high school career.
“I think she did really well. The goal for Bella was to be a top 12 senior, and she finished 15th, so she was just three off,” Center Grove girls coach Wes Dodson said. “She was in 60th at the start of the last straightaway and passed about 15 girls, so that was a great way to end her season.”