Keesling, Coe, Osborne lead county girls at Huntington
Ron Braun was worried. His Monroe Central cross country runners had invested so much of themselves into having a great season. They were county, conference and sectional champions this season, but if they couldn’t advance to the semi-state, they would think they had failed.
They would not have failed just themselves, or him, or the rest of the coaches, or their friends, family and parents. They would think they had failed the entire community.
They would have let all of Parker City and all of Farmland down.
Of course, none of that would have been true. Not remotely true. But try explaining that to 15 and 16-year-old teenage boys. To them, the burden of their whole world was on their shoulders.
But when the results became official, Braun’s worries turned into relief. His Bears took the fifth and final spot by a comfortable 35 points over sixth place Yorktown.
“They feel like they were running for the whole community,” Braun said. “They didn’t want to let them down. They felt like they would have disappointed a lot of people who have been so supportive all season. I didn’t want the season to end on a down note.”
Let’s break this down. We are talking cross country, a sport that only a couple decades ago was attended by only a handful of people – maybe an athlete’s parents – or maybe no one at all.
Cross country has come a long way since then, but maybe nowhere as far as it has than at Monroe Central, under the zestful custody of Braun.
Braun has built a program that is expected to win every year. He’s surrounded himself with people with passion for the sport. Kids at Monroe Central are effectively joining the cross country program in the third and fourth grade. The junior high last year, between the girls and the boys, had more than 40 kids run in the county meet.
Under Braun, the school hosts the annual Meister Family Memorial Run, which has become one of the most attractive meets in the state, drawing top tier competition from as far away as Indianapolis and the Fort Wayne area. The community rallies around the season kickoff event by setting up food and drink booths, helping out as race workers and later in the day helping to stage a Community Day. It’s one of the most exciting days of the year in the Parker and Farmland community.
All this serves as a backdrop, once again, for this year’s cross country teams.
The boys’ team entered this season with lofty goals, and have not disappointed. The girls’ team, in a period of transition, showed great promise, with a group of young runners having great seasons.
10 County Runners
Compete at Semi-State
On Saturday, on the campus of Huntington University, the Golden Bear boys’ team will be joined by two impressive freshmen at the semi-state. There will no pressure on most of the runners, although the Bears’ Tucker Burris and Carter Miller have legitimate shots at running well enough at the state meet.
We have yet to bring up one of the most inspirational stories of the entire cross country season, so as we give credit to our 10 runners who will be participating in the semi-state on Saturday, we will start with the three ladies who are competing as individuals. And let’s start with Olivia Keesling of Randolph Southern, just a junior.
Let’s go back to first meet of the 2018 season, the Meister Family Run at Monroe Central. Randolph County’s unquestionably best runner – the eventual county and sectional champion – was a super talented junior, Leah Keesling of Randolph Southern. Leah finished second in the meet with a 5,000-meter time of 20:27.9. The winner of that meet, Maria Mitchell of Hamilton Southeastern would go on to finish 16th in the state meet.
The year before that, in 2017, Leah won the Meister meet and her older sister Emma was third. Emma would go on to win the sectional championship in 2017.
It wasn’t so long ago that Emma and Leah Keesling were known statewide as two outstanding runners. They sister duo pretty much dominated Randolph County and the Mid-Eastern Conference from 2016 to 2019.
The Keesling girls had a little sister in junior high school – Olivia – who was not considered much of a runner. In fact, when she decided to run cross country, it surprised many people.
In that same Meister race that Leah Keesling finished second to the 16th place state meet finisher, Olivia also ran her first race in a Rebel uniform. There were 95 runners in the race, most all from bigger schools, some from much bigger schools.
It was understandable then, that Olivia would be overwhelmed. In her cross country debut as a ninth grader, she finished 86th of 95 runners, entering the chute with a 32:21.4. But there was no pressure, no one expected any better. She was not a runner.
From that moment on, the youngest Keesling girl has transformed herself into one of Randolph County’s top talents. She’s done it the only way it can be done – hard work, a positive attitude, determination, and in her case, a great deal of faith.
It was nearly unthinkable a week and a half ago when Olivia finished eighth at the sectional, at least a dozen places ahead of where one might expect. But what she did last Saturday at the regional – ninth overall in a field a state-ranked runners – that would have been considered impossible.
Olivia Keesling may never achieve what her big sisters did – she’s still got a semi-state race and a senior season to go – but her story of success will have a profound effect on future runners.
How about this for starters? As a ninth grader, Addison was second in the county meet and second in the conference meet. She was ninth in the sectional and 22nd in the regional and easily advanced to the semi-state.
Since the beginning of the season, Addison has chopped off two minutes from her time. Her time of 21:16 at the regional was 30 seconds better than her sectional time and just six seconds off her personal best time of 21:10.4 that she ran in the MEC meet.
The potential for Addison and her Lady Bear teammates is off the charts. She’s only going to get better.
Katie and Addison have given the Bears a formidable 1-2 punch all season. She was third in the county meet and fifth in the MEC meet and 10th in the sectional. She led the Bears with a 20th place finish in the regional with a personal best time of 21:12.0.
Like Addison, Katie has lopped more than two minutes off her time in the first meet of the season.
Very few freshman are good enough to advance to the semi-state. It just doesn’t happen very often. It’s about as impressive an accomplishment as a freshman that one will see.
The team’s leader, Caden is finishing up a stellar career that few could match. He’s a four-time all county performer, three-time Mid-Eastern Conference and will be competing at the semi-state for a second time.
He’s been solid as a rock for the Bears, a reliable top five runner who will be sorely missed next season, even on this star-studded team.
“Caden has played a huge, huge, huge role in our program,” attests Braun.
Caden hopes to continue running at IU East next season.
With a season to go, Tucker is set to finish his career as the most accomplished cross country runner in school history. He has set a new school record previously held by his coach, Ron Braun, lowering that record to 16:16.7 at the MEC meet.
This season, he was the county champ, the conference champ, the sectional champ, the Wapahani Invitational champ, the Marion Invitational champ, the Muncie Central Invitational champ and the South Adams Invitational champ.
He was projected to finish 10th last Saturday at the sectional, but finished fourth, and along with classmate Carter Miller, gave the Bears a couple of low numbers that were needed to secure the fifth spot.
Tucker has a real shot to finish in the top 10 on non-qualifying teams at Huntington, but it will take yet another top performance, likely around the 16:10 give-or-take mark.
Call Carter the wild card. A great wild card.
Carter was set back a couple of weeks at the beginning of the season but has come on like gangbusters late in the season and is now nipping on Tucker’s heels. He was fifth at the sectional, a blue-chip effort on a day the Bears needed one.
Carter was second behind Tucker in the county meet, the conference meet and the sectional meet. His time of 16:31.7 in the MEC was his personal best.
If he runs healthy, nothing is out of the question for this talented fellow.
Kyler has really stepped up late in the season to place sixth in the county meet, sixth in the Mid-Eastern Conference meet and eighth in the sectional. Like his big brother, he’s been solid as a rock and vital to the team’s success.
Kyler’s best time this season was 17:39.6 in the MEC meet, but his best performances have been in the sectional (8th) and in the regional (36th). He appears to be running his best right now. He’s a tough cookie and is part of an underclass group that’s going to make the Bears a big force next season.
What an asset to have a couple of juniors on the team like Lane Anderson and Dorian Weesner, usually the seventh or eighth runners, but both good enough to be No. 1 on several other teams around. They would certainly be in the top three or four on other teams.
Lane finished 10th in the county meet, giving the Bears seven of the county’s top 10 performers. Dorian was just one spot behind him in 11th. Not only do these two push the guys in front of them, but if either one of them break out, they could crack the top five.
Caden’s battled through some muscle tightness in the postseason, but let’s be clear. He’s been an integral part of Monroe Central’s solid back since he entered the scene as a talented freshman last season. With him and what’s he brought to the table, the Bears would not be the same team.
Caden’s best performance was his third-place effort this year in the county meet when he had a season-best time of 17:44 on the Randolph Southern course. That comes on the heels of a fourth place finish in the county meet as a freshman.
He was 11th in the Mid-Eastern Conference meet.
When’s Caden is a full strength, he’s be right up at the front of the pack. One to keep a close eye on in the next two years.
Call Eli “The Big Bonus.” He’s emerged as a rising star and one who have given the Golden Bears an extra special big bonus to push them up another level.
Eli finished fourth in the county meet, but his best effort has clearly been his sixth place performance in the sectional, which pushed the Bears over the top in their quest to defeat rival Wapahani. Eli had his best time of the year, 17:53, in the sectional meet.
Eli started the season running in the 19’s, but quickly got it down into the 18’s, and now he’s in the 17’s. Expect him to only get better and in a couple of years be running among the leaders in the area.