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Ahead of the pack

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RIGHT: Connersville senior Hallie Wilson approaches the finish line at the CHS track, in a dual with Rushville on April 9.
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Connersville senior Sicily Bowling leads a pack of runners in the 4x400 relay event at the IHSAA Sectional meet, held at CHS on May 14. Bowling helped lead the Lady Spartans to first place in the event.
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Connersville senior Ali Sargent leaves the starting line during a relay against Rushville on April 9. Sargent was one of six upperclassmen competing for the Lady Spartantrack and field unit throughout the spring of 2019.
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The Connersville High School girls track and field team celebrate winning the 2019 IHSAA Sectional championship in its own unique way inside the Connersville football stadium on May 14. The win by the Lady Spartans made them repeat champions, following a win in 2018.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

One year ago, in the spring of 2018, the Connersville High School girls track and field team got called into a meeting, one day following a loss to Rushville in the IHSAA sectional.

When the Lady Spartans left the track one night earlier, they were scratching their heads following the loss by a half point.

In that room at the meeting 16 hours later, however, there was a much different perception, as it was revealed that a scoring correction had leap-frogged Connersville ahead of their Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference rivals, giving the Spartans possession of the trophy.

Flash forward one year to the 2019 postseason, and at the end of the sectional, it was again CHS and Rushville at the top of the standings.

This time, however, there was no chance of a scoring mistake.

The Spartan girls finished with 150.5 points, well ahead of the Lady Lions, who wound up with 128.50.

In fact, the score earned by Connersville at the sectional meet was a school record, beating the 150 score earned by the 2006 team.

The road traveled by the Spartans to earn such a high score?

“Our depth played a very big part in winning the sectional this year,” Connersville coach Jeff Cooley said. “To earn a score like that, you need to place two girls in each event. We did that, with the exception of only a couple of events.”

Indeed, the only two events in which the Spartans failed to place two girls in the top eight were the high jump and discus.

Winning events at the sectional had an impact on that score as well, and the Spartans had a share of those, as Jessica Beckman (shot put) and Brooke Sudhoff (pole vault) earned championships, as did the 4x400 (Marley Smith, Claire Kleve, Emily Lastaad, Sicily Bowling) and 4x800 (Smith, Bowling, Caroline Arndt, Tylissa Beckner) relay teams.

In addition to the wins collected at the sectional, several other regional berths were earned.

Those taking advantage of the individual opportunities included Gabby Gonzalez (100), Brianna Thomas (200), Beckman (discus, long jump), Beckner (1600, 3200), Kleve (400, pole vault), Arndt (3200), Bowling (400) and Smith (1600).

“We knew that these girls would have the potential for a great season, yet we were still pleasantly surprised with many of the performances,” CHS coach Kelli House said. “They did better than we expected at the sectional.”

“Each year, we set a goal to win the sectional, so when the girls are able to accomplish that, it’s the culmination of all of their hard work,” Cooley said.

The postseason wasn’t the only point during the year in which the Spartan girls put some shine on their efforts, as they achieved an 8-1 record throughout the regular season, as well.

To accomplishing those things with a senior-laden class would be one thing, but Connersville managed it with only six seniors on the roster ... a half-dozen amazing upperclassmen.

Ali Sargent, Hallie Wilson, Arndt, Beckman, Bowling and Smith all leave the team with a strong legacy for the underclassmen to follow.

“As a coach, you have some years where there is just a really special group of seniors,” House said. “This was one of those groups. These girls had a lot of impact every time they went out there, and losing them will be felt.”

Cooley agreed with that.

“These are six quality girls that we lost,” he said. “This group included distance runners and throwers, girls that will be very difficult to replace.”

Included in that group is Emilie Lastaad, a foreign-exchange student who was ‘on loan’ to the team for only one year.

“Losing Emilie is like losing another senior,” House said.

Among those losses, the team loses three-time Most Valuable Player winner Beckman, the senior scoring more than 50 points more than any other person on the team throughout the 2019 season.

In spite of the six seniors and Lastaad leaving the team, there is reason for optimism, heading into 2020.

“We have our entire sprint group back, and there are several key girls returning as well,” Cooley said. “From the middle school, we should get some girls that will help fill some of our needs. It should be a good year coming up.”

House shared that enthusiasm.

“There are some good middle school runners that should help us fill some of the gaps we might have,” she said. “This is a strong program, and I look forward to working with some of the younger runners next year.”