Seymour’s Kleber named ‘Mr. Cross-Country’

When it comes to nicknames, not to mention awards, a long-distance runner can do worse than being called “Mr. Cross-Country.”

When the Seymour boys team wrapped up its awards ceremony, senior Brandon Kleber was the recipient of the new award.

Kleber, one of the top Owls runners this season for a team that advanced to semistate and for the first time in history put five competitors under 17 minutes for the 5-kilometer racing distance, was surprised by the honor.

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“I didn’t know anything about it,” Kleber said. “It means a lot because of all the work I put in over the years.”

The boys and girls teams put together first-rate seasons, both qualifying for semistate, the boys with an experienced crew, the girls with a group that had no seniors and is on the rise.

The No. 1 girls runner all fall was sophomore Kinsley Folsom, and she was named the most valuable runner for the Owls at the girls awards ceremony.

Kleber, Ethan Dippold and Connor Harriss, three seniors who scored in the top five all year, junior Michael Proffer and sophomore Jude Bane were the five Owls who cracked 17 minutes, what coach Randy Fife described as a first for any Seymour team.

Fife said it was a special group that had to tap dance around threats from the COVID-19 pandemic, yet constantly worked hard and achieved much as a group, including winning the sectional crown as well as running fast. The Owls built confidence.

“They believe in themselves and were able to see the improvement at the finish line,” Fife said. “Giving their best.”

The runners overcame some hard times to come out the other side, he said.

“It’s not a finesse sport. It’s about how much you want it,” Fife said. “I’m thrilled with the season we had. You better have your A game when you run us.”

The Owls were victors at the Silver Creek Invitational and Batesville Invitational and finished one team shy in points of qualifying for the state finals. Fife noted the team put seven runners under 18 minutes, recalling that 16 years ago when he took over the program, Seymour had just one runner who was a sub-18-minute finisher.

Freshman Sam Rockey, who ran 17:40 this year, was a top-seven regular and showed great potential for the future.

“A great start for Sam,” Fife said.

Bane ran swiftly enough to earn all-Hoosier Hills Conference honors.

“That’s one of the highlights of the year, dude,” Fife said.

Dippold owned the team’s fastest time in 16:19. Bane ran 16:26, Kleber 16:34, Proffer 16:35 and Harriss 16:58. Clay Greenawalt’s personal best was 17:14. Senior Levi Croquart ran 18:11 and was a fashion trend-setter at the awards ceremony with a white bow tie and dark suspenders over his dark shirt.

In addition to Kleber’s Mr. Cross-Country designation, Dippold was most valuable runner, Rockey won the newcomer award and Bane was named most improved.

Seniors said a few words to the audience in the school auditorium.

“I’m going to miss you guys,” Dippold said. “You have a bright future.”

Fife said the Mr. Cross-Country award is about tangible performance and intangibles with the underlying statement, “I am a runner.”

Kleber hopes to continue to be a runner for a college team. The last four years, he said of his association with the Owls, were “the best of my life. I’m going to miss this team and coach Fife.”

The girls should not miss coach Spencer Sunbury because they are all due to return and run again for the 2021 season.

In addition to MVP Folsom, who ran a personal-record 19:31, Vivienne Siefker, who also broke 20 minutes with a 19:52 clocking, shared the newcomer award with Hayley Harpe (20:06), who was a rookie at long-distance running.

Also, Samantha Jacobi received the Spirit of the Owls Award, Emilee East was given the mental attitude award and Carly Kaiser received the coaches award.

The Owls reached semistate despite injuries to some key runners, who are also scheduled to return next season, giving Sunbury a strong lineup.

Folsom said she was paranoid the season would be interrupted by the coronavirus, so she was happy the team made it to the end of the schedule and said it was a good team and individual season overall.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Folsom said.

Folsom hopes to establish some fast times on the track this spring in the 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and with partners in the 4×800 relay, then come back strong next fall.

This season, she wanted to break 20 minutes and did so. Next year, Folsom’s goal is to break 19 minutes.

“It’s just 30 seconds,” she said. “I definitely want to make state.”