Franklin girls, Center Grove boys win county cross country titles

Franklin girls cross country coach Ray Lane knew that if his team was going to defend its Johnson County championship on Saturday morning, it was going to have to win with its depth. Indian Creek, with its 1-2 punch of Libby Dowty and Abby Fleetwood, was better up top; the Grizzly Cubs needed strength in numbers to prevail.

And they got it.

The host squad placed five girls in the top 13 for 42 points, good enough to hold off the runner-up Braves (53). Center Grove (67) was third, followed by Greenwood (90) and Whiteland (103).

“We knew early in the year that was going to be tough to compete with,” Lane said of Indian Creek. “We’ve just been really focusing on our pack; we have a big group of girls that are all right together, and we just said we’ve got to get as fast as we can if we’re going to have a chance. … Today, that was outstanding.”

Lauren Klem paced the Franklin contingent with a fourth-place individual finish in 19 minutes and 15 seconds. Hannah Lindsay was close behind in sixth, Ava Ott eighth, Amelia Tisdale 11th and Ainsley Botkin 13th.

The Braves dominated at the top, with Dowty pulling away to win in 18:37 and Fleetwood coming in just seven seconds later. Indian Creek, which also got a ninth-place effort from Phoebe Dowty, hopes it can overtake the Grizzly Cubs in the sectional this coming weekend.

“We know now what we need to do next time to get better and improve, and that we’ve just got to keep working to beat them,” Libby Dowty said.

In the boys race, Center Grove was again running without its top runners, who competed later Saturday evening at the Nike Valley Twilight Invitational in Terre Haute. Coach Howard Harrell needed some of his less experienced runners to rise to the , and they did — the Trojans took first with 40 points, outdoing Indian Creek (63) and Franklin (68) to successfully defend their championship.

“The guys knew that we had a split squad today, and that this squad was going to have to step it up,” Harrell said. “They were willing to take on the challenge. We’ve been talking about it all week, and to a man I think every single one of them took it to heart and did step up today.”

Freshman Cameron Cox was the first Center Grove harrier to the finish line, taking fourth overall with a time of 16:53. His teammates followed in rapid succession, with Nathan Hollcraft seventh, Jacob Ellis eighth, Logan Buckmaster 10th and Michael Leavitt 11th.

Those runners won’t be expected to carry the Trojans in the postseason meets to come, but the experience of coming through in a pressure situation should pay dividends for them in the future.

“It’s good to get them acquainted to that,” Harrell said. “Get them used to next year this year.”

Greenwood’s Samuel Grimes was the top individual finisher, going 16:35 to finish seven seconds ahead of Indian Creek’s Lucas Niebert.

“I saw the rankings, and I saw that I was projected second,” Grimes said. “All week, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve just been in the zone.”

Franklin’s Ty Murphy and Ari Smith were third and fifth, respectively. Whiteland’s Matthew Nino was sixth, and Indian Creek’s Noah Greenwood came in ninth. Filling out the individual top 10 on the girls side were Whiteland’s Victoria Jackson (third) and Isabella Fuentes (10th), Greenwood’s Lily Rollings (fifth) and Center Grove’s Lillian Brunsman (seventh).

As is usually the case, the county meet serves as a perfect tuneup for the sectional and regional races on the same course. Lane is hopeful that Franklin’s performance in the girls meet was a sign of things to come.

“Now that we’ve done it, we’ve got to maintain it,” he said. “Indian Creek’s going to be good next week, Center Grove’s going to be good, so we’ve got to keep repeating that effort — because it doesn’t get any easier from here.”