PRINCETON – It was an early morning sunset for cross country in the Big 8 Conference as the league held its final conference championship at Princeton Saturday morning.
With the Big 8 disbanding after the current school year, the final boys championship went to the Jasper Wildcats while the Wildcats of Mt. Vernon claimed the girls’ title in a close finish with Jasper. Washington finished third in the boys’ race and garnered a pair of top-10 finishes to place two runners on the all conference team.
Senior twin brothers Isaac and Garrett Gray both wound up their regular season careers as Big 8 honorees. Isaac Gray claimed an all conference spot for the fourth straight year with a fourth place finish in 16:15, while Garrett, who just missed an all conference selection a year ago with an 11th place finish, made it as a senior, finishing in eighth place in 16:42. After the race Washington coach Tim Baxter was already missing the twins even though they still have the state tournament to go before their careers will be over.
“I’m going to miss them next year. They’ve been the scorers of the team ever since I’ve been here, they’ve been great runners,” said Baxter. “Isaac has a great mindset. He works hard. He’s always been a leader, he’s been a captain, especially this year.
“He’s taken the lead on the stretches, the warm-ups, the cool downs, all that stuff. He’s been great,” said Baxter. “Garrett’s come along real well, he’s done really good. He’s maybe trying to catch his brother.”
Overall, Washington finished with 86 points, good enough for third place behind Jasper (18) and Vincennes Lincoln (57). Princeton (91) and Mt. Vernon (122) rounded out the boys’ varsity field. Jasper’s Jackson Miller was the boys’ varsity champion in a time of 15:44.
Rounding out the varsity boys scoring for the Hatchets were Roberto Gutierrez (24th, 17:59), Colin Englehart (25th, 18:27), Eli Wilson (29th, 19:26), Zach Mann (30th, 19:45), and Omar Mora (33rd, 20:32).
In the girls’ varsity race, Mt. Vernon (36) barely outdistanced Jasper (37) for the title, followed by Princeton (57) and Vincennes Lincoln (98). Andi Vanmeter of Jasper was the girls’ varsity champion in a time of 18:26.
Washington did not have enough runners to compete for the girls team title but did field three competitors. Audrey Helms finished in 24th place in 25:12, followed by Chloe O’Neal in 25th (25:40) and Madalyn Sickles in 26th (27:03).
As they have all season, the Hatchet girls were battling injuries coming into Saturday’s race.
“The thing with the girls, they were all injured, they were all hurting. So I just told them, go out and have fun, do your best,” said Baxter. “But they weren’t so much competing today. It was more of a practice for them. They’re all hurt.”
Washington finished second to Jasper in the boys JV race, with the Wildcats scoring 15 points and the Hatchets finishing with 50 points. Ben Myers was the top Hatchet runner in 15th place in a time of 20:54. Other Hatchet finishers were Keegan McDannald (18th, 21:54), Grant Baxter (19th, 22:03), Orlando Otero (20th, 22:18), Isaac Mozingo (21st, 22:44), and Dayton Cremeans (23rd, 23:06). Of that group, Myers, McDannald, Mozingo, Cremeans and Mann from the varsity race are all freshman. Baxter likes the team’s future as five seniors depart the boys program after this season.
“These freshmen did really good in the open race. Those two (Gray’s) are going to be gone; we’ve got these freshmen coming up. We’re going to need them to fill these gaps of those guys that are leaving,” said Baxter. “I was pleased with them today.”