BY CHAD DARE
Hoopeston Area’s Madie Brown spent her freshman cross country season running in the shadow of Lauren Houmes.
With Houmes graduating and taking her running talents to Bradley, it has allowed Brown to shine on her own.
The sophomore claimed her first-ever Vermilion Valley Conference title on Tuesday at Kennekuk County Park with a winning time 20 minutes, 59 seconds.
“Last year, I was getting second-place finishes right behind her,’’ Brown said. “I was hoping that I could move up that one spot this year.
“I felt like I did really well today. I wanted to break 21 minutes like I did this past Saturday (at Prairie Central) and I was able to do that.’’
According to Hoopeston Area coach Rich Stipp, Brown has been putting in extra time.
“Madie is a strong runner, but she’s had trouble closing,’’ he said. “These last few weeks, she has worked very hard with her speed work, and it’s paying off.’’
Brown was 14 seconds ahead of Cassidy Baugh from Chrisman/Georgetown-Ridge Farm and Megan McKee from Chrisman/Geo-RF was third.
Not only did Brown keep the individual title in Hoopeston, but the Cornjerkers earned their seventh straight team title.
“To win as a team was the most important thing today,’’ said Brown, who added it gives them bragging rights at school. “We are one ahead of our soccer team in conference titles.’’
Hoopeston Area won the title by 20 points (29-49) over Schlarman Academy thank in large part to the Cornjerkers having four of the top 10 runners.
“I questioned if we could come back and win it again,’’ Stipp said. “This effort today was an example of the type of kids I’ve got running at Hoopeston. They believe it’s a tradition that belongs to Hoopeston Area.
“We had to really run our best to be able to win. Running just average wasn’t going to get it done today. They competed as well as they have competed all year long.’’
Stipp said one of the biggest factors in the Hoopeston Area victory was No. 4 runner, Shania Goble.
“I’ve told her all year that she is a pivotal runner for us,’’ Stipp said. “The last two races, she has come up and performed really well.
“You don’t just rely on a No. 1 runner, you need to have a good 1-5.’’
The pack mentality was also the key in the boys team competition.
For the second year in a row and the fourth time in the past five years, Chrisman/Georgetown-Ridge Farm claimed the Vermilion Valley Conference title.
“We ran a really good packed up race,’’ said Chrisman/Georgetown-Ridge Farm’s Wyatt Avenatti, who was his team’s top finisher in fifth. “We had three all-conference kids and two more that were right there.
“Overall, I think it meant a lot to Mr. and Mrs. Coach (Tom) Kulbartz.’’
And it meant a lot to Kulbartz because his team was finally running to its potential.
“This is the second good race we’ve run this season. We’ve been waiting for this,’’ said Kulbartz, pointing out the first good race was at Cumberland this past Saturday.
And what did the team do well?
“Figuring out that if they all work together and do their job — and everyone had an assigned job — they could accomplish what they did tonight,’’ he said.
After Avenatti for the Buffaloes came Tyler Owen was seventh, Lane Avenatti finished ninth with Byron Brinkley (12th) and Caleb Farnsworth (13th) rounding out the scoring runners.
“We’ve always been at our best when we run as a pack like that,’’ Wyatt Avenatti said. “It was time for us to go, and we got it done.’’
In the individual competition, Schlarman Academy’s Jesse Hahne didn’t run his best race, but the senior captured his third straight conference title.
“It wasn’t the race I was hoping for,’’ said Hahne, whose winning time was 15:52. “I had a slight injury from a fall on the streets the other day, so I’ve had to take the last two days off from practice.
“That might have had a little bit to do with it. But, it’s something that I’m sure every runner has had to deal with before.’’
Hahne said his goal was to have a time in the low 15-minute range.
“I was a lot faster at the 1-mile mark than I thought it would be,’’ he said. “But things just sort of fell apart for me.’’
But what about being three-for-three in conference meets?
“That’s a great feeling,’’ he said. “I would have been really upset it I didn’t win the race.’’
Jon Davis from Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac was second with teammate Emerson Grey finishing third.