Jim Nohl knew from the start 2015 could be special.
And because few others believed that was true entering this past season, that made the Cathedral High School boys cross country season all the more memorable.
Because Nohl, the Irish’s boys cross country coach, was right:
While the 2015 season began with few around Indiana believing the Irish had a chance to be one of the area’s best teams, the Irish quickly became just that.
Nohl said that wasn’t surprising, but it was really satisfying to watch.
“Our season went pretty well,” Nohl said. “We were picked to be nobody and we ended up being somebody.”
The Irish, projected to be somewhere around the bottom of the Top 50 teams in the state by Indiana Runner before the season began, instead were competitive in big-time meets throughout the season, winning All-Catholic, City and Sectional titles before narrowly missing the chance to advance to the Carmel Semi-State meet.
The Irish finished sixth at the Noblesville Regional with 161 points, finishing behind Fishers (52), Carmel (67), Westfield (70), Hamilton Southeastern (81) and Brebeuf Jesuit (136). The top five finishers at regional meets advance to the semi-state round.
Four of the five semi-state qualifiers from the Noblesville Regional advanced through to the state meet with Brebeuf finishing sixth at semi-state.
For the Irish, freshman Cole Hocker advanced to semi-state individually by finishing 18th at the regional in 15:59.6. Sophomore Christopher Bessler also advanced to semi-state individually by running a 16:15.4 for a 32nd-place finish at the regional.
Hocker finished 39th at semi-state with a time of 16:34.5 and Bessler finished 40th with a time of 16:35.1. Neither qualified for the state meet.
That postseason capped a season in which the Irish made strides by the week and maximized their potential. The Irish finished the season ranked 24th in the Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Association poll, running their best meet of the season as a team in the regional.
“I can’t say anything more,” Nohl said. “We ran the best we could (at the regional meet). It’d be nice to get out, but we did what we could: we kept getting better all season.”
Hocker led the Irish at regional with Bessler next. Sophomore Morris Kimble finished 39th at the regional with a time of 16:26.6, with senior Patrick Burgett finishing 40th (16:30.2), senior Patrick Gresham finishing 41st (16:30.9), senior John Quigley finishing 67th (17:0.00) and freshman Ryan Pelham finishing 77th (17:14.8).
As good as the Irish were on the course in 2015, Nohl said they were as good or better off of it.
“It’s a great group with a super-high GPA – super-smart seniors,” Nohl said. “I knew I had something special in the summer because of how they practiced. I knew it was going to be something.”
The Irish fulfilled that projection by improving throughout the season, with Nohl for the first time implementing a training system that was a popular approach to 1960s distance running: focusing more on speed and less on distance in training. Nohl said the Irish’s longest training run of the season was about six or seven miles compared to the 10-to-12 mile training runs common for many programs.
The Irish, in addition to the City and All-Catholic titles, also won titles at Rushville and Delta, finishing second at the early-season Plainfield Relays.
With Hocker running No. 1 much of the year, the 2015 Irish were a solid mix of youth and experience. Though seven seniors will graduate, the underclassmen – combined with what potentially could be a strong freshman class – make the future bright. The Irish eighth runner from 2015 also returns.
“Next year’s team could be better than this season’s,” Nohl said. “There’s a certain timeframe. Talent’s coming in and they’re very talented. I told the parents at the parent meeting (before the season), ‘There’s something special about this group. It’s a good nucleus.’
“I knew it wouldn’t have a front-runner like we had the last few years, but I knew this group would be pretty good and surprise everyone even though they didn’t rank us very well. This is one of those groups that’s achieving way more than what’s expected.”