For the love of running: Lancers, Cougars short on runners, not enthusiasm

Running alone isn’t a novel concept for Edinburgh sophomore Isaiah Estes.

Since the start of the 2016 cross-country season, Estes has been the lone student-athlete representing the Lancers’ boys program.

Edinburgh puts as many as five runners on the course for a girls meet, which is still short of the seven athletes required to contend for a team triumph. Greenwood Christian Academy is experiencing a similar numbers shortage this season, with three girls runners and three boys runners.

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Estes is the most extreme example of a small school making the best of a dearth of available athletes.

“Practices get very lonesome because I’m usually the fastest one,” said Estes, who practices with Lancers girls runners along with members of the middle school’s girls and boys programs. “At meets when we have runouts, another team will sometimes ask me to run out with them.”

Greenwood Christian Academy is one such program. Estes credits Morristown and Milan as others which have exhibited similar displays of good sportsmanship.

“It’s a little awkward sometimes,” Estes said of the gesture. “But it’s also very encouraging.”

Unable to use something as basic as a team victory as motivation, coaches Ashley Myers (Edinburgh) and Sean Branch (GCA) are forced to be creative prior to the start of practices and meets.

Self-improvement and team unity are emphasized most.

Branch, a three-year varsity cross-country runner at New Palestine who went on to run for the University of Indianapolis men’s program in the early 2000s, isn’t accustomed to so few athletes.

“As a coach it took some adjusting,” Branch said. “You always prefer to have a complete roster. We’re focused on growing, but growing the right way. We want people who are willing to push themselves and support their teammates in a positive way.

“Our success this season comes from the individuals on the team achieving their personal goals. But it’s still very much team-oriented. When one of the runners does something spectacular, we consider that a team victory.”

Neither Greenwood Christian nor Edinburgh let a numbers shortage get in the way of postseason success last fall.

Two members of the Cougars’ girls program, Allie Dalton and Anna Subris, advanced for the Shelbyville Regional, with Dalton making it all the way to semistate. The Lancers’ Emily Davis placed 59th in the girls event at the Brown County Sectional, with Estes finishing 72nd in the boys race.

“You still want to run the best you can,” GCA senior Anna Simons said. “We’re still there to compete. Just because we don’t have a full team doesn’t mean we don’t want to compete against other schools.

“Being part of a small team, I’m super close to the other athletes on my team and the boys team because we all practice together.”

Both coaches are aiming to field full girls and boys rosters in the near future. In the meantime, Myers, a 2012 EHS graduate who ran women’s cross country at Franklin College, works to make the most of what she has.

“If they feel they’re losing their push or their drive, it’s about doing it for your team. There’s a lot of bettering yourself instead of going out and trying to win a (team) conference title,” Myers said. “They’re there to make themselves better. It’s pretty inspiring.”

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.