Gambill, Grant, both Northview teams repeat as sectional champs

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Oct. 9—Terre Haute South senior Matt Gambill won as close of a three-way battle as you could want in the 5-kilometer boys race on a sunny Saturday morning at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course.

But Northview sophomore Gnister Grant could have stopped, lied down flat right in front of the finish line, done a bunch of pretend snow angels for 45 seconds and still got up in time to place first in the 5K girls race during the IHSAA cross country sectional.

Gambill and Grant were repeat champions. So were the Northview boys, ranked 12th in the state, and Northview girls, ranked eighth, in the team competitions.

In the boys race, Northview senior Nolan White, Terre Haute North junior Dylan Zeck and Gambill remained in a tight lead pack throughout the race, with White and Zeck usually co-leading or taking turns trotting in front and Gambill refusing to fall back much farther.

"The plan was to go out, draft [behind other runners] a little bit and don't go out too hard and tire myself out at the beginning," Gambill told the Tribune-Star afterward. "I wanted to stay in there [in the lead pack] and kick it out there at the end."

All three sprinted hard down the final straightaway, but Gambill seized a slight advantage with about 100 meters left to the finish line. He edged White by one second and Zeck by 2.7 seconds.

"I was pretty happy with it," Gambill admitted. "I stuck to the strategy."

"Those three [Gambill, White and Zeck] are phenomenal talents," Terre Haute South boys coach Josh Lee added. "A final burst from Matt was perfectly timed to give him back-to-back individual titles at the sectional and the sixth in a row for the Braves [namely Griffin Barger, James Turman, Cael Light and Gambill]. As a three-time individual qualifier to the state championship, Matt is proving he will be back there for a fourth time. What an outstanding accomplishment that would be for Matt."

In 2020, Gambill beat runner-up Zeck in the sectional by three seconds. Meanwhile, White placed ninth while running for Terre Haute North before transferring to Northview for this school year.

"Dylan and Nolan were kinda side-by-side most of the race," Gambill said of Saturday's tussle. "I just stayed behind them the whole time."

Almost the whole time, he should have said.

Obviously, Terre Haute North boys coach Aaron Gadberry was pulling for Zeck to cross the finish line first. But Gadberry was still proud of the junior's performance.

"Zeck ran with some guts," the Patriots' coach emphasized. "We have to regroup and have some guys step up for us to get out of the regional [next weekend]."

Team-wise, coach James Grounds' Knights used superior balance to hold off runner-up Terre Haute South 25-47, although the top five boys teams — which also included Terre Haute North, Clay City and West Vigo — will advance to next Saturday's regional at Bedford North Lawrence. In addition to White, Northview got top-10 finishes from Jcim Grant (fourth), Stuart Bennett (fifth), Douglas Dillman (sixth) and Hank Slater (eighth).

"The boys went out today and did what was expected of them," Grounds noted. "We have a great team of boys that take a lot of pride in competing with the best each year.

"I had a feeling that it was going to be a close battle between those three [Gambill, White and Zeck] at the front. It was quite a joy to watch them because it's always great to see runners giving their best. Matt and Dylan are great runners and great kids, so it's a friendly but fun rivalry."

From the Terre Haute South perspective, Josh Lee expressed appreciation for all of his runners, not just Gambill.

"After a couple of weeks of not looking like the team I thought we were capable of being, this weekend was a better representation of the work this group has put in," he explained. "As a team, our goal is to race as many weekends as we can and we certainly took care of that job here at the sectional. Hopefully, this promising showing was a sign of a few more weekends together and ultimately a race back on our home course for the state championship [Oct. 30]."

As stated earlier, Gnister Grant — Jcim's sister — won the girls race handily. The five girls squads qualifying for the regional are Northview (21), Terre Haute South (63), Terre Haute North (96), Clay City (143) and Owen Valley (158).

"Me and my teammates were just going to go out and run and see how we could do," Gnister Grant said. "I decided I would try to get out as fast as I could and just keep going and see where I'd be at. And if there was any competition around me, I'd make sure that I'd fight them off.

"Usually, when I end up running up there by myself, I just try to push as hard as I can because it's hard to push when you're up there by yourself. It's really a mental game. I kept telling myself, 'Just keep going.'"

Grant said she started pulling away from Clay City junior Macy Tucker, who also went out fast, at the 1K mark. Tucker ended up fifth, behind Grant, runner-up Peyton Smith (another sophomore) of Linton and Halle Miller and Micah Peals, both of Northview.

Other top-10 finishers for the Knights were Ellia Hayes (sixth), Maisie Eldridge (seventh) and Katelyn Morrison (eighth). That's six of the top eight for Northview.

"The team ran a great race," Northview girls coach Tim Rayle assessed. "Our girls have been focused on the sectional championship all week. . . . I'm excited to have Gnister getting back to full health. Repeating as sectional champion is amazing. She's worked smart and hard to get back into being able to compete up front."

Other coaching perspectives from the girls race:

—Jon Lee of Terre Haute South — "I'm happy with their effort overall as a team. We had one coming back from a medical issue and one dealing with a sickness the last few days, so we are looking to get those two to continue to get healthy. Our young core of sophomores stepped up and represented us well. The girls responded well to being back out to LaVern for the fourth time this year. It's our home and we competed well there again. On to the next week."

—Jim Cottom of Terre Haute North — "The North girls performed pretty much up to our expectations. They ran with the true heart and guts of successful distance runners. I was pleased with their showing and determination. . . . We were led by Ye-Won Jung in 10th."

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