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Heavy losses

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

With graduation being a living thing in high school athletics, losing athletes to the cap and gown is a given. Fair or not, that is the way it is.

Thus, dealing with those losses falls into the preparation plans for anyone who calls themselves a coach.

One day after the 2018 season concluded, Connersville High School boys track and field coaches Jeff Cooley and Kelli House found themselves with a lot of preparing to do.

When the 2019 season gets under way, the Spartans will be without the services of graduated seniors Isaiah Bennett, Peyton Caldwell, Skylar Hentz, Collin Herron, Jared Isaacs, Wes Smith and Cameron Taylor.

Additionally, Connersville lost Victor Torres, a junior foreign exchange student, who recently returned to home to Spain.

That’s only eight names from a roster of 30 that will not return next year.

But they’re some mighty big names.

“We’re losing a lot of seniors that scored quite a bit of our points,” Cooley said of the losses that he and House are facing. “In fact, a majority of our points were scored by those seniors.

“I’ve had some really good senior classes in the past. But when you consider sheer numbers and talent, this is one of the best I’ve had to say goodbye to.”

House echoed that.

“This is the heart of the team that will be extremely difficult to replace,” she said. “I can’t even think of the words to express how hard it is to see them go.”

In addition to scoring, Cooley adds that, with the loss of this group, the team will need to replace a large dose of versatility in 2019.

“Caldwell and Herron both competed in four different events,” he said. “The flexibility they offered when filling out a line-up will be extremely difficult to replace.”

That talent and versatility helped carry the boys to a 6-3 finish throughout the 2018 campaign. In the postseason, the Spartans finished fifth as a team at the sectional, but were only a dozen points out of breaking into the top three.

CHS earned a regional berth in three events, winning the pole vault, finishing second in the high jump, and crossing the tape third in the 4x100 relay.

Hentz, was the pole vault champion, his leap of 12 feet giving him a second consecutive sectional crown in the event. In addition to his sectional win in May, the CHS upperclassman was also fifth in the 200 meter dash, missing a regional qualification in that event by little more than a second.

“Skylar is a wonderful kid, and was very talented,” House said. “He was driven in that he always wanted to be the best.”

The 4x100 relay unit was made of completely of upperclassmen, as Caldwell, Hentz, Herron and Isaacs finished the race in a time of 46.02, behind both Richmond and Rushville.

“You could not pack more heart on a team if you tried,” House said of the third-place unit. “These were some of the best leaders of the team.”

When the team reunites in 2019, Jacob Brown will be a junior and the lone returning regional qualifier. In the high jump, the sophomore version earned his runner-up sectional finish with a jump of 5-8, trailing only Cambridge City Lincoln’s Caleb Craig’s 6-3 height. Craig was a senior this past spring, leaving Brown as a potential favorite in the event next season.

“Jake really dedicated himself to track and field this year,” House said. “He showed so much progress throughout this past season.

Connersville had some near misses at the sectional, fourth-place finishes that could have resulted in more regional invitations.

Dylan Cox earned one of those, barely missing the regional in the 400. 

“Dylan’s 400 was heartbreaking,” House said. “Through his last couple of races in the season, he was dealing with a lot of knee pain. In spite of that pain, he never said anything, he just battled through it. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

Herron knocked on the regional door in both hurdle events (110, 300), but wound up fourth in both.

“It was just an off day for Collin at the sectional,” House said. “Any other day, he would have advanced in both.”

In addition to Herron, the 4x800 relay team of Adam Arndt, Gavin Parsley, Smith and Torres also underachieved, missing the regional mark by two and-a-half seconds.

Isaacs was also a fourth-place finisher, his effort coming in the pole vault.

In spite of those near-misses, both Cooley and House were proud of the season the boys put together.

“Injuries caused us to struggle at times, but in spite of that, the boys had a really good season,” House said.

“The senior boys were as close a group as any I’ve been with, they were true track and field enthusiasts,” Cooley said. “As a result, they helped lead us to a great year.

“I will miss that about them.”

Connersville should return five seniors next season, as Jacen Beckman, Evan Cobb, Trevor Hux, Brendan Robinson and Cox will spend their final season in CHS colors on the track.

Add in eight juniors, nine sophomores and several incoming freshmen who could make an impact, and both House and Cooley will have plenty to work with.

And if there is a silver lining to the loss of so much talent, that might be it.

“The younger kids are going to have an opportunity now to step into the roles that are open, due to these kids leaving,” Cooley said.

“We did lose a ton of talent, but the potential for these younger kids is really good,” House added.