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LEOPOLD - Until 2006 Perry Central had never won a cross country sectional title. Now the Commodore boys have won two in a row and are favored to make it three in a row this year.
They start the season ranked 15th in the state by IndianaRunner.com. New Albany, ranked 22nd, is the only other team from the southern fourth of the state ranked in the top 30.
So the secret seems to be out about Perry Central's boys team. But Coach Jason Barnett thinks the Commodore girls can sneak up on some opponents and also win the Jasper sectional this year.
"One of our goals is to win the boys and girls sectionals this year," he said Tuesday.
The Commodore boys graduated two of their top seven runners last year, including Corey Kimball, who is now running for Marian College.
But they return six lettermen, including four of their top five finishers from last year's semistate.
Junior Jake Schwartz was the Commodores' No. 2 runner most of last year but led them in the regional and semistate with sixth- and 22nd-place finishes, respectively.
Eric Scheiber, the Commodores' No. 4 runner most of last year as a freshman, is now pushing Schwartz for the top spot.
"They're both running real well," said Barnett. "I'd say Jake's No. 1 because he has more experience, but Eric beat him in the Schweizer Fest six-mile race."
Junior Michael Ernst and sophomore Ian Bashor are battling for the third spot on the team.
"Our top four are running real well," said Barnett. "I think we'll have four guys in the 16s (under 17 minutes for the 5-kilometer course) by midseason, maybe sooner."
Barnett said brothers Jacob (a junior) and Neal Schwartz (a sophomore) are in a "pretty tight" battle for the fifth spot.
Andrew Kimball, Kyle Troesch, Kyle Schnell and newcomers Sam Champion and Cody Seigneurie are battling for the seventh spot.
All but Schnell are sophomores. The Commodores have a young team, with only one senior on their 14-man roster.
Still "I think this team will be stronger than last year's," said Barnett.
"I really think going to state is definitely our goal," he added. "We want to get up there and perform better than last year (when the Commodores finished 24th among 24 teams). We want to be at least in the top 20."
He knows they can't afford to overlook any opponents along the way, though.
"I think we are the sectional favorite going in, but I told our guys we have big targets on our backs. They seem to be handling it pretty well - they haven't gotten too cocky."
As for the Commodore girls, most opponents know about Rachael Rayford, who placed second in the semistate as a freshman and qualified for it again last year but did not get to run in it because of a stress fracture.
But senior Brianna Crockett, a track sprinter in her first year of cross country, has "been a great surprise," said Barnett. "She's been staying up there with Lavina (Schwartz) and Lavina's really improved."
Sisters Amy and Susan Schwartz are fighting for the fourth spot.
"After Rachael, our next four are pretty tight," said Barnett. "And Robbi Thomas is right there at the sixth spot."
So Barnett thinks the Commodores could have the talent and depth to win the sectional, though "going into the season I'd say Heritage Hills will be favored."
He thinks the Commodores could advance even further than that. "If these girls stay injury free, making it to the semistate is a definite possibility."