Before Saturday’s Hoosier Hills Conference meet, Seymour boys cross-country coach Randy Fife let his team know it had a shot at making history.

Since joining the HHC in 1997, no Owls cross-country team had won a conference title. For the past eight years, Seymour had placed second in the eight-team field.

On Saturday, with family, friends and other Seymour sports teams cheering them on, the Owls made it a race to remember on their home course by narrowly taking the team title with 61 points.

Jennings County was second with 63 points, and New Albany took third with 65.

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“Up and down the lineup, they just competed,” Fife said. “The thing is, it wasn’t important if I believed we could win. What was important is that they believed they could win, and they went out and did it. It wasn’t just one or two that ran well. All seven ran well. They all feel a part of it because they all did their job.”

While it only takes five runners for a team score, Fife said all seven runners were crucial on this day.

“Even though five score, our six and seven pushed back other team scores, so everybody was key today,” he said. “That’s what’s fun. Everybody contributed, and we win a team championship.”

In the girls race, it was a battle between a pair of ranked teams. No. 24 Floyd Central wound up with five runners in the top nine, while No. 14 Seymour had four, and Floyd Central won 28-29.

Fife, who was named HHC Coach of the Year with his team taking the title, said after being so close for several years, it was exciting to come out on top. This is his 13th year coaching the Owls.

“We’ve been in there long enough to win, and we’ve been very competitive,” he said. “Actually, over the last 10 years, we’ve probably been the most competitively balanced team in the conference. We just never had the title to show for it until today, so it feels good. I’m happy for the kids. This is something they’ll remember.”

Fife also was glad to see his team perform strong in a big meet.

“We haven’t competed as well in the big invitationals as we have in previous years,” he said. “I think the boys maybe could have been a little disappointed about that, but they didn’t let it bother them. They continued to work hard, they stayed focus, and so now, they’ve got a conference championship to show for their hard work.”

The Owls were led by senior Tim Molinari, who placed sixth in 17:14 and earned all-HHC for the first time. That honor goes to the top seven runners.

Owls earning honorable mention, which goes to those placing between eighth and 14th, were sophomore Jacob Voss (11th, 17:26) and senior Cam Deppen (12th, 17:30).

Molinari said Fife had rested the top runners since the FlashRock Invitational on Sept. 19 to help them prepare for the HHC meet.

The Owls hosted their annual season-opening invitational in August at the Freeman Field Sports Complex, but a bridge recently added to the park made the course a little different.

Plus, with rain Friday night and a slight mist Saturday morning, the course conditions weren’t favorable in some spots.

“Where the bridge was put in, the mud was kind of everywhere,” Molinari said. “That was probably the toughest part of the course. We couldn’t find any traction, even with our spikes.”

Molinari said he expected Jennings County’s Ricky Hendrix or Columbus East’s Paul Bean to push the pace.

“But it ended up being to where everybody was kind of trying to gun for first, and so I tucked myself in between the leaders for the first mile,” he said.

Bean wound up winning in 16:37, eight seconds ahead of Hendrix. Runners struggled to set personal records because of the temperature hovering around 50 degrees and the light mist.

Molinari is hoping for better weather at the Brown County Sectional this weekend. His PR is 16:56.

“I really want to go sub-16,” he said. “But if that’s going to happen, I’m going to have to work some miracle to go like a 5:08 pace or something like that.”

In the girls race, Floyd Central senior Kassidy Manning held on for the win in 18:56. She was followed by Seymour freshman Ashton Chase in 18:57 and sophomore Emma Brock in 19:27.

Chase, Brock, senior Megan Winter (fifth, 19:54) and sophomore Claire Loebker (seventh, 20:04) earned all-HHC. Sophomore Oriana Morales earned honorable mention with her 13th-place finish in 20:50.

“I was pretty excited about getting second. It took a lot out of me,” Chase said. “Coach told me to stay up there and try to beat those Floyd girls, and that was my goal, to try to get at least second. I did it, so I was pretty happy. Toward the finish, I try to push it and give it my all.”

While first place would have been nice, Seymour girls coach Spencer Sunbury said he was happy with the way his team battled.

“We had so many girls racing all the way to that line and just put it all out there. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said. “It was an exciting day. I knew it was going to be a tight race. We would have liked to have come out on the other end of it, but I’m not taking anything away from these girls. They ran a hard race today, and Floyd brought their best, and we came out with our best.”

Sunbury said this was the first time for him to have four all-HHC runners in one season.

“I told them it wasn’t about time today. It was about racing, and that’s what they did,” he said. “Through the whole race, I watched them looking for those Floyd girls, running in those packs. Emma and Ashton, they took off and made Cassidy and the other Floyd girl race them and go after them.”

Sunbury said the team will continue working toward making it back to the state meet.

“I hate seeing them disappointed after having such a great race. I just want them to understand that the team they raced today is a quality team,” he said. “It’ll be a little bit of self-motivation, I think. I told them the best part of the season is yet to come. This is the start of it, and our goal is still out there.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.