Forgive first-year Carroll cross-country coach Phil Yoder if he gets sentimental about Saturday's Northeast Hoosier Conference championships at The Plex. In fact, if he were in a little better shape, he'd be tempted to sneak into the boys race himself.
“I was just thinking about the years I ran in this meet,” Yoder said Thursday night. “A lot of memories ... I was fortunate enough to compete in the meet four times and now I get to coach in it.”
Yoder, a 1999 East Noble graduate, led the Knights to the 1997 NHC championship. “I finished third or fourth place," he said. "I can't remember for sure and that doesn't matter. I just know we won the team title.”
Now, 14 years later, Yoder has the same mindset for his Carroll teams: It's about team championships, not individual titles. It's appropriate as both the boys and girls are favored but neither team has an individual expected to win.
“Our teams may be young, but they know the tradition and what's expected of them at this time of the season: to win championships,” Yoder said. “They've worked really hard all year and the past two weeks have been really tough. They've learned how to compete on dead legs. Now we start to back off a little. We want to run well Saturday.”
The Carroll girls have won nine straight NHC titles. This year's team is ranked No. 5 in the state coaches poll and is led by junior Stacey Metzger and sophomore Madison Fruchey.
“It's great for a team to have one front-runner, but we have two,” Yoder said. “They've flip-flopped, literally, every race. They are both dependable, solid.”
Not far behind is a tight pack consisting of freshman Allison Thomas; seniors Londyn Wise, Coral Whaley and Caitlyn Chastain; and junior Megan Doty.
“I expect them to start getting closer to the front now every week,” Yoder said.
No. 15-ranked Homestead will certainly challenge the Chargers.
“We have to run well,” Yoder said. “Homestead has a couple of really strong runners and we can't let their pack break up our pack.”
The Carroll boys are ranked No. 12 in the state, have won the past two NHC titles and are led by sophomore Cameron Clements.
“Cameron is a coach's dream,” Yoder said. “He leads by example. He goes out (to practice) day in, day out and works really hard.”
Behind Clements is junior Jacob Schmeling and a trio of seniors: Bret Unger, Adam Kelty and Alec Kreilach. Only Clements and Unger ran in the NHC meet last year.
“Those seniors are very determined to go out with a win,” Yoder said. “Alec is still coming back from an injury and he's progressing.”
Homestead, behind sophomore Brayden Law, is expected to challenge the Chargers.
“Homestead is right there,” Yoder said. “They have a bunch of seniors who are capable of breaking up our pack.”
Where: The Plex.
Schedule: NHC Boys 9 a.m., SAC Boys 9:30 a.m.; NHC Girls 10 a.m.; SAC Girls, 10:30 a.m.; Combined boy's reserves, 11 a.m.; Combined girl's reserves, 11:30 a.m.
NHC top boys: Homestead's Brayden Law; DeKalb's Mark Beckmann; Carroll's Cameron Clements; Columbia City's Evan Harney; Norwell's Brent Bales.
NHC top girls: Bellmont's Bailey Beery; Columbia City's Samantha Roush; Carroll's Stacey Metzger and Madison Fruchey; DeKalb's Krista McCormick; East Noble's Alexia Zawadzke; Homestead's Madison Distelrath and Kelsey Batt.