The Grand Haven boys cross country team took on the first of three O-K Red Conference Jamborees on Tuesday at West Ottawa, taking home top-honors and an early lead on the league with 54 points.
Rockford finished second with 61 points, just ahead of Hudsonville’s 63. Caledonia took fourth at 110, East Kentwood fifth at 115, West Ottawa sixth at 145 and Grandville last at 169.
“It all really came together today,” said Grand Haven boys cross country head coach John Tarr. “That is the first time we have really beaten Rockford since 2010. We put ourselves in a great position.”
The name of the game for the Bucs was pacing. From their first to last runner, Grand Haven ran smart races, focusing on race position and sound strategy rather than speed.
“We knew it was going to be a pretty tight race with Hudsonville and Rockford, we were all four or five points apart,” Tarr said. “We decided to be really conservative about how the boys went out today, so they were able to pick off people in the middle of the race.”
Jack Nicholson led the way with a third-place finish overall, clocking in at 16:27. Nicholson has been as fast as 16:09 this season, but appreciated trading speed for smarts in the conference competition, to a point.
“It was more of a tactical race today, more of a smart race. We had to think a lot,” he said. “It isn’t my favorite, but today was about being smart and working hard for a good place. I like how it was strategic and focused, but who doesn’t like a fast race?”
Andrew Ireland and Aidan Martin followed, making huge moves from their seed positions to take eighth (17:07) and ninth (17:10), respectively.
Freshman runner Cole Rowden made his mark with a 15th-place finish (17:19), ahead of Dominic Weatherwax in 19th (17:30) to round out the Grand Haven scoring team.
“Jack was third and ran well,” Tarr said. “But, the two guys who really made a huge difference were Andrew Ireland and Aidan Martin. They made up about 10 places from their predicted positions. That was huge. The other guys came in at their regular positions, and that is what did it for us.”
The pace now, pass later strategy, is a risky one to employ in such a high-stakes meet, but the proof was in the training for coach Tarr, who saw the back-half potential in his team.
“We do long runs so that they have that final push in them at the end of the race, that is part of it,” he said. “When they are picking off guys in the second half of the race, it gives them a lot of confidence in the race, and they end up racing even better.”
Tuesday’s jamboree is the first of three over the course of the season. Jamborees No. 1 and 2 count for one quarter of the final league championship points, while the final jamboree accounts for half the points.
“We put ourselves in a really good position today, we are two points ahead of Hudsonville, which is huge,” Tarr said. “And to be ahead of Rockford, that is a good, good spot.”
GH girls take fourth
The Grand Haven girls cross country team also took on their first conference jamboree of the season Tuesday, finishing fourth overall with 105 points.
Rockford took home top-honors with 39 points, ahead of West Ottawa with 51 and Caledonia at 78. Hudsonville took fifth with 105 points, ahead of Grandville in fifth at 118, and East Kentwood in last with 189.
“We were ranked fourth coming into the meet, but I thought we could be as high as second or third,” Grand Haven girls head coach Scott Pryzstas said. “We just didn’t put up much of a fight, it was a little disappointing.”
Gabby Hentemann led the way with a second-place finish for the Bucs, coming in at 18:28. Abby Buitenhuis followed in 14th overall (20:19), ahead of Kelsie McManus in 26th (20:34), Giovana Maracek in 31st (20:59) and Kelsie Bovee in 32nd (21:06).
Contrary to the boys’ strategy, the girls had to get ahead and stay there in order to contend for the top spot as planned.
“We wanted to get out today, and we did,” Pryzstas said. “The trail sections are really hard to pass on, so we wanted to get out in the first 600-meters and be in contention. We did that, we had 14-18 locked up with Gabby out front at the one-mile mark, then people started passing us and we just didn’t respond.
“Gabby ran really well, she ran a smart race and is learning to trust her training a little bit more and take some more risks. She had a good kick at the end. Abby Buitenhuis was 14th, which keeps her in the mix for All-Conference as the season goes on. She had a good second half of the race, but let up around the 3K mark. She should have been top 10.”
After beating West Ottawa at the Spartan Invite over the weekend, the Bucs’ hopes were high for the first jamboree of the year, but it takes constant vigilance to compete in a loaded O-K Red.
“Rockford is ranked No. 1 in the state right now, it is almost sickening how competitive it is in the O-K Red on the women’s side. We have two, three or four of the best teams in the state racing each other,” Pryzstas said. “We were right there, then our three, four and five runners were in the late 20’s, low 30’s in places. That just isn’t going to get it done in the O-K Red.”
Both cross country teams return to the course have some time off before their next race. They take on the Allendale invitational on Sept. 30.