PENDLETON — The Pendleton Heights girls cross country team entered Tuesday’s sectional meet as the clear-cut favorite. The only question was how much would the Arabians win by.
The answer — 49 points.
Led by Alex Buck, the No. 14 ranked Arabians took six of the top seven positions to compile 18 points and earn their third straight sectional title and fifth in six years.
“It has become an expectation,” Pendleton Heights coach Melissa Hagerman said. “It is a whole mindset. We are looking forward to Saturday for regional, but we still have our eyes on the big prize at the end.”
Buck bested her teammate Alli McCarty by nearly 50 seconds with a time of 19 minutes, 7.61 seconds. It is the sophomore’s second individual sectional win. She shaved an impressive 46 seconds off her time from last year’s sectional.
“It means a lot to me this year because of my time,” Buck said. “Last year, I worked so hard just to get under 20 (minutes) on the course and to be in the low 19s — it’s crazy. I feel extremely blessed to be able to knock that many seconds off in just one year.”
Buck and McCarty are just two of the underclassmen leading the youth movement at Pendleton Heights. Monica Dudley, who finished in fourth, is a sophomore, and the fifth-place finisher, Emma Hall, is a freshman.
“My top (four) today are freshmen and sophomores, we don’t have a junior on varsity,” Hagerman said. “It shows what a great job our middle school program is doing.”
The final of Hagerman’s youthful Arabians to capture a top-10 was Faith Baer, a freshman who finished in 20:46.57 to secure the seventh position.
“Our strategy was to get everybody in the top-10,” Buck said. “I am so proud of how (my team) did.”
The remaining teams to earn a top-five score and advance to the Delta regional on Saturday are Mt. Vernon (67), Lapel (82), Yorktown (90) and Shenandoah (152).
“Third place is probably where we should have finished,” Lapel coach Darrell Richardson said. “We’ve got our goal for the girls to get to semistate. So they are going to have to beat a couple teams to get there.”
The Bulldogs were one of three teams to finish with four runners in the top 20. Sophomore Mandie Flora who finished ninth in 20:50.88 led them to their third straight regional run.
The same five teams advanced to the Delta regional from the 2012 Pendleton Heights sectional.
Indiana High School Athletic Association rules allow the top-10 individuals who are not on an advancing team to move on to the regional meet.
Michaela McCurdy, a sophomore from Liberty Christian, finished in 11th in 21:18.99, and was the top finisher from the non-team advancing runners.