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Fall Sports Preview: Boys Cross Country

Tribune Staff • Aug 22, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The 2017 cross country season is already underway and many local runners have gotten out of the gates with a spring in their step.

Here’s a look at how the Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Fruitport and Western Michigan Christian boys cross country teams look this fall.

GRAND HAVEN

Head Coach: John Tarr

Last Year: Finished third in the O-K Red, second at regionals, 13th at the state meet

Key Returners: senior Jack Nicholson (All-Conference, All-Regional, All-State in 2016), junior Andrew Ireland, junior Dominic Weatherwax, junior Aidan Martin, junior Nathan Wolffis, junior Caleb Borns, junior Kyle Eveland, junior Max Sepeshy and junior Aaron Hughes.

Key Newcomers: junior Jake Fischer and freshman Cole Rowden

OUTLOOK

ON 2017 LINEUP

“Jack Nicholson is the key to our success this year,” said Tarr. “He’s been O-K Red All-Conference three years in a row, All-Regional the last three years, Regional Champion in 2015, All-State in 2016, and a state qualifier in track and is the 3,200-meter school record holder. Nicholson has run sub-16 minute races more than any Grand Haven runner in school history, and he will be our captain for the second year in a row. We are expecting even greater things from him this year, especially after running a 15:42 in the Coast Guard 5k Run a few weeks ago. I’ve never had a runner come into the season that fast. I’m excited for Jack and the potential of his upcoming season.

“Junior Andrew Ireland is also one of the fastest runners we have had come into the season, as well. Last year, he was our alternate at the state meet and after a great track season, he ran a 16:03 at the Coast Guard Run, making him our No. 2 runner right now. I’m amazed at what this kid has accomplished with his tenacity and hard work over the past year. He could be a great one for us.

“Ireland is a member of a talented group of junior runners for the Buccaneers. Dominic Weatherwax (16:55) was our No. 5 runner last year who had another great track season as one of the team’s all-time best 800-meter runners, and he has put in a lot of miles over the summer. Aidan Martin (16:58) was a great 3,200 runner in track and the Bucs’ No. 6 runner last year. He’s a kid we expect to have a breakout season. Aidan is a great runner, but most importantly, he is developing into a great leader for us. He’s a great role model and an extremely hard worker. Nathan Wolffis (17:32) will also help lead the Bucs with leadership and talent. Nathan had a great track season and has been with us all summer.

“Behind those four great juniors are Caleb Borns (17:34), Kyle Eveland (17:36), Max Sepeshy (18:11) and Aaron Hughes (18:27). All of them could break into the top seven as varsity runners this year. Aaron had a great track season running the 400 and recently ran at the AAU Junior Olympics at Eastern Michigan University with some of the East Kentwood runners. He’s become a dependable leader and we are looking forward to seeing a great year out of him in cross and track.”

ON NEWCOMERS

“Junior runner Jake Fischer, who recently moved to the area from Grosse Pointe North, is going to be a nice addition to our team this fall. At Grosse Pointe North last year, Jake ran in the low 17s in the 5k and a low 2-minute time in the 800-meter run. Primarily a speed racer, Jake should contribute to the team right away. We don’t get many ‘move-ins’ in Grand Haven, but after talking to Jake’s old coach, this kid could be an unexpected outlier for us.

“Another potential varsity runner will be freshman Cole Rowden, who broke all of Nicholson’s records at the middle school level last year. I like the fact that he has leg speed and great endurance and wants to work hard. I enjoy the fact that, like Jack, he is a free spirit who will run with reckless abandon. During conditioning this past summer, he was right in mix with Jack, D-Wax, Andrew, Aidan, Nathan and Jake, so he could be a great one in time.”

ON TEAM GOALS

“Our goal every year is to qualify for the team state finals held in Brooklyn at the Michigan International Speedway on Nov. 4. If we do not finish in the top three at regionals and qualify for the state finals, I would consider that a failure. I’m sure we can do that barring injury, but I think we can do even greater things this year with this team. Winning the O-K Red might be tough with Rockford and Hudsonville in the mix, but we could do it, and we could win regionals with these guys. If I didn’t believe that, I’d quit right now. However, with Jack, these juniors and Cole, this could be the greatest team we have ever put on the course.”

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK

“As always, Rockford and Hudsonville are formidable. Hudsonville has a lot of great young runners and Kevin Conklin is a great coach. You never count out Rockford with Cole Johnson, and with Andy Martin as their coach, they combine to create a juggernaut. Rockford sets the standard, and we must live up to it to compete. Co-champion Caledonia will re-load and come back. It’s tough being in the O-K Red. We could finish fifth, we could win it all, and we could also finish fifth in the conference and win the regional. In the end, all of this competition makes us better.”

SPRING LAKE

Head Coach: Erin Carmody

Last Year: Won the O-K Blue Conference, finished third at regionals and finished 12th at the Division 2 state meet.

Key Returners: junior Andrew Hylen, junior Ben Hylen, senior Cameron Thalhammer, junior Matthew Vanderwall.

OUTLOOK

“Last year, we went through the season relentlessly toward our goal of team state, and we achieved that goal through many victories throughout the season,” said Carmody. “This year, we are looking to return to state under our new theme of ‘dedication’ toward our individual and team goals. We have one of our deepest rosters with a lot of talent and are looking forward to continuing our Spring Lake cross country legacy.

“This season, we are looking to win the O-K Blue Conference again, finish in the top three teams at regionals, and finish in the top five at state for Division 2. We graduated a few seniors from a very talented team, but our varsity roster is still strong. The guys have put in a lot of work and training throughout the summer, and we are looking forward to seeing how it will pay off throughout the season.”

FRUITPORT

Head Coach: Randy Johnson

Last Year: Won the O-K Black Conference, GMAA city meet champions, finished second at regionals, sixth at the Division 2 state meet

Key Returners: Brendan Deneen, Cameron OIeen, Nick Kleinhecksel, Peyton Sharlow, Cameron Weaver.

OUTLOOK

“Our team goal is to repeat as O-K Black Conference champions and city champs,” said Johnson. “We also want to earn another trip to the Division 2 state meet as a team. Our top two runners have the talent to qualify individually for the event, but we want to get there as a team.

“Kenowa Hills and Jenison performed well in our conference last season, and will be a part of a very competitive league. The competition will only push us to perform better and train harder during the season.”

WESTERN MICHIGAN CHRISTIAN

Head Coach: Greg Gould

Last Year: Finished second in Lakes Eight, ninth at GMAA meet, fifth at Division 4 regionals

Key Returners: seniors Sam Braak, Brandyn Gould and Andrew Plaisier; juniors Eli Rotman, Heechan Wang and Jack Zuidema

Key Newcomers: sophomores David Clausing, Caleb Croft, Ben Garretson and Daniel Plaiser; freshmen Tyler Gould and Pierce Newell.

OUTLOOK

“We return almost everybody from last season, including six of the top seven runners, so that should be a big boost for us,” Gould said. “I anticipate great in-squad competition for the No. 6 and 7 varsity spots prior to regionals.

“Last year, we were young and adjusting to new coaching. We established ourselves well in our first year in the Lakes Eight Conference, which had a new look with many new schools, us included. Ludington will remain strong in the league, with Manistee, Muskegon Catholic and ourselves in a very strong battle in an attempt to close the gap on the Orioles.

“We will now have mainly juniors and seniors up front providing leadership to our younger runners, who are looking to move up the ranks. I see us having three competitive goals for the season. We want to remain competitive in the Lakes Eight Conference, move up a couple spots in the GMAA City Meet and qualify as a team for the MHSAA Division 4 state meet.

“The team has put in more summer work than last season, and we hope to build momentum all season long to reach our goals.”

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