Whiteland girls, Center Grove boys win county track and field titles

Whiteland’s girls wanted to give coach Brandon Bangel a birthday present. Bangel just wanted to exorcise a demon that had haunted him for his entire career.

During the Johnson County meet on Tuesday night, both wishes were granted.

On a night of star-studded performances that saw nine girls meet records fall, the host Warriors totaled 157 points to finish safely ahead of runner-up Center Grove (133), which hadn’t been beaten at a county meet since 2003, and win the girls title for the first time.

“I’ve been here for 17 years, and Center Grove’s just always so good year after year after year,” Bangel said. “And they always show up and compete at the championship meets, so it makes them so hard to beat. So it’s extra sweet for me for it to have been this long, to get a win over them, but I’m super proud of our girls. They came out, they were excited about the moment, they came out ready to compete and they did a great job.”

“It was really exciting knowing going into this meet that we were capable of accomplishing a really great thing,” Whiteland senior Tori Jackson said.

Sophomore Elnora Stevenson was the high scorer for Whiteland. She set a county record in the long jump with her winning leap of 18 feet, 6 inches, won the 100-meter dash in 12.47 seconds and teamed with Sydney Rodgers, Emma Gill and Marissa Kratowicz to take the 4×100 relay in 49.03, missing another county mark by just .19 seconds. For good measure, Stevenson added a second-place finish in the 200 meters.

Jackson lowered her year-old county standard in the 800 meters, crossing the line in 2:15.98, and was second in the 1,600. But more important than her times has been her rock-solid leadership this season on a young and talented squad.

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Bangel said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, we have a lot of young talent, and to have that one catalyst for the team that everybody just looks to and everybody knows — when the going gets tough, look at Tori. She’s going to lead the way.”

According to Jackson, her Whiteland teammates make that job easy.

“It’s really awesome coming into practice, knowing that we have girls that want to work hard every day and are full of so much talent and have so much ahead of them,” she said.

The Warriors didn’t have any other individual winners on the night, but they piled up enough second- and third-place performances to put the meet away.

Meanwhile, Center Grove’s boys continued a county winning streak that has carried through the entire millennium thus far. The Trojans put up 194 points to easily outdistance Greenwood, which finished second with 116.

The only two meet records on the boys side came from Trojan relays in the first and last races of the evening. The 4×800 team of Kyle Montgomery, Gavin Rockwell, Mason Vrshek and Cameron Cox finished with a time of 8:05.14, and the 4×400 quartet of Ben Tapak, Brevin Holubar, Austin Hennessy and Daxon Sauer coasted to a win in 3:21.24.

The Trojan boys had plenty of other winners. Dallas Johnson was first in the 110 hurdles (14.61 seconds), Holubar took the 400 meters (49.46), Tristan Baxter the 300 hurdles (38.89), Vrshek the 800 (1:59.54), Rockwell the 3,200 (9:45.69), Heath Wingler the shot put (48-9), Levi Jones the discus (162-6) and Peyton Coffey the high jump (6-2).

“The kids ran really hard,” Center Grove boys coach Brad Timmons said. “They trained hard for this, and they’re a product of their work. They work hard in and out during the week and take very good care of their bodies, warm themselves up properly. Encourage everybody else throughout the meet; they really support one another. It’s pretty easy to look good as a coach when you’ve got kids that’ll sell out for you all the time.”

Despite Center Grove’s overall dominance, the outstanding performer of the meet on the boys side was Greenwood’s Will Riley. The sunglasses-clad sprinter won the 100 meters in 10.59 seconds and the 200 in 21.85, and he also ran the anchor leg on a shocking 4×100 relay winner, teaming with Amare Middleton, Benjamin Hommell and Gunner Ruppert to place first in 42.30 seconds.

“This is the first actual meet of the season, so I wasn’t expecting to do what I did,” Riley said. “I wasn’t expecting to win the 4×1 — I was just wanting to break the school record for it — but once it got in my head that we had a chance to win, I got so happy, because at the beginning of the year I told the guys on the team, I was like, ‘We’re going to break the school record this year,’ and the fact that we did it in the first actual meet just makes me so happy.”

The Woodmen also got a victory from Sam Grimes in the 1,600 meters (4:27.80).

Picking the top individual performer in the girls meet was a tall order, but the honor went to Franklin junior Aubrey Runyon, who lowered her previous meet records in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles with respective times of 14.52 and 45.58 seconds.

“In the 300s, honestly, it didn’t feel too good,” Runyon said, “but after all that, I feel great. Two more county records, two school records. It makes me know what I can do. I can do better than this; this is just the beginning of the season.”

Runyon also teamed with Ainsley Botkin, Hanna Stewart and Lauren Klem to win the 4×400 relay in a record time of 4:05.28, edging Center Grove by .05 seconds. Addison Martin was first in the high jump (5-4) for the Grizzly Cub girls, who ended up third in the team standings with 106 points.

Greenwood was fourth as a team with 88 points but had a pair of record-setting performances of their own. Emma Gardner established a new mark in the discus with a heave of 149 feet, 1 inch, and also won the shot put (40-0 1/2).

“It’s a really good start, so I’m pretty happy with it,” Gardner said. “This is a really good morale boost, because that was a 19-foot PR for me in the discus, so all that offseason work was worth it.”

Teammate Amy Luttrell cleared 12-3 in the pole vault to break the record of 12 feet set by former Center Grove state champion Taylor Jarosinski five years ago. Luttrell added a second-place effort in the long jump, and Makena Cruse was victorious in the 400 (59.49) for the Woodmen.

Libby Dowty paced fifth-place Indian Creek by shattering the previous meet records in both the 1,600 (5:00.12) and 3,200 (10:49.99), winning the latter by nearly 48 seconds.

Center Grove’s girls got a victory from the 4×800 relay team of Hallie Mimbela, Diana Hodges, Marissa Pogue and Gretchen Meisberger (9:58.49), while Dee Biddings won the 200 meters (25.42) and placed second in the 100.

Franklin’s Carson Sommers won the boys pole vault, clearing 14 feet; Edinburgh’s Jackson Hartwell was first in the long jump at 21-3.

Though it’s early in the season, both winning teams hope to carry the momentum from this meet forward through the bigger meets a month or so from now.

“It’s just encouraging that the kids are committed to our training regimen and they’re getting a little bit better each time they perform on the track,” Timmons said. “There’s no telling how good some of these kids could be.”

“They’re an incredibly confident group,” Bangel said of his team as it took a victory lap. “They’re a fun group — they’re kind of goofy, but they’re fun. They know when to laugh and joke, and they know when to compete, and I think they realize that we have a chance to do some really special things this year.”

Including making their coach’s 41st birthday an extremely happy one.