By JIM HOPKINS
"It's more important to win the outdoor state (title), but we'll take a state championship any way we can have it," stated Bellmont junior Bailee Hankenson after the Squaws won 18 medals, taking the small school indoor state track title in Saturday's Hoosier State Relays held at Indiana Wesleyan University.
"I think it's a big deal," said Hankenson. "I knew we were rated in the top three, but I didn't realize we could actually win it."
Amazingly, the Squaws scored in eight of the nine events that they participated in and 10 different Bellmonters scored points as the girls from Decatur tallied 65 points to the 52 of second place Fort Wayne Concordia in the meet.
Concordia had four girls score, which is typical when the state's top competitors get together. The cream rises. Bellmont was lathered in it.
"It was certainly a thrill for the team to go down to that event and take the crown, and it's definitely a great springboard into the outdoor season," said Coach Carl Risch, in his 20th season as head coach here.
The Squaws, who trailed by as much as 20 points, came from behind by steadily placing in most events, rattling off five third places. Bellmont trailed Concordia by four points going into the key 1600 relay, which was thought to be the last event that both teams would score in. The relay events scored double Saturday, making the win critical. Concordia took third.
Though Bellmont was fifth after the first lap, a 1:05 by senior Alexis Harvey, senior Andrea Fruchte picked up two places and Bailee another, handing the baton to sister Holly. She trailed the Oak Hill anchor by 20 meters. It didn't matter.
"I definitely thought I could catch her," said Holly, who had placed third in the 55 hurdles and third in the long jump with a record-shattering jump of 17'7.25".
Hankenson made up most of the difference in the first lap, then hung with the Oak Hill runner until the last turn. She led coming down the stretch and held on for the win, crossing the line less than six-tenths of a second ahead of the second-place finisher. She ran stunning 59.4.
The Squaws made it a rout as junior Rachel Klingensmith had the vaulting meet of her life, clearing 8'6" for the first time, and doing it indoors under the state microscope to earn third place. Senior teammate Megan Schueler also cleared 8'6" and grabbed sixth place.
Also for Bellmont, Harvey earned fifth place in the 55 meter run, Bailee Hankenson took third with a high jump of 5'2", and the 3200 relay team earned third place. The 800 relay team finished 8th place.
The Squaws returned home to Decatur late Saturday night with a police escort from St. Mark's Church to Bellmont High.
"Andrea, a first-year runner as a senior, ran a huge 64 (seconds) and picked off two runners, then Bailee ran a 1:01 to get us to second. Holly came up with a few extra gears and had enough to pass the leader and hold on," described the coach.
"I think the biggest thing about this championship is that we had a lot of girls do things today that made a difference. We had 11 girls run in the four relay events," noted the elated coach.
"I'm so excited. It's a pretty great way to start the season," said co-captain Sarah Garner. "I knew we had a chance, but I wasn't sure. I'm so glad we could win this for coach Risch, he's such a great coach. We're hoping we can go to outdoor state and do it again."
Junior Emily Roman was beaming. "It was so great, so exciting, but nerve-wracking. We have a lot of depth, so we should be winning a lot of meets this year."
Holly added nearly six inches to BHS outdoor long jump record, which was established at 17'2" by then frosh Jane Koons (Selking) in 1976, and tied by Lindy Jones (Fuelling) in 1991. "She killed it," noted Risch. "And how much long jump work have we actually done this season? Not much!
"And Bailee faced a log-jam in the high jump, and was back and forth for relays, but pulled out a big third place.
"And the pole vault girls...icing on the cake. It was late and a lot of the other girls just wanted to vault and get out of there. Our girls kept their composure and just showed so much mental toughness. I was impressed," said Risch.
The coach credited his girls. "I'm the part that hasn't changed much, and it's these girls that got the job done here today," praised the coach.
"We're lucky to have Coach Risch," inserted Holly.
Obviously, it's a pretty good combination. And they're not yet finished!