The Spring Lake cross country teams celebrated the end of the September heat wave with a tremendous performance in the second O-K Blue Jamboree of the season at their new home course at Spring Lake High School.
The boys took home top honors with a final score of 36 points, led by a sensational performance for their top seven runners, with four finishing inside the top six.
The girls finished second behind perennial conference powerhouse Allendale, with 47 points, led by a fourth-place overall effort by Julia Bajt.
Both teams finished in the same position at the opening jamboree of the year, leaving the boys in command of the O-K Blue heading into the final stretch of the season, while the girls have some work to do to catch up with Allendale in the home stretch.
Lead lap Lakers
Overall Wednesday, Sparta finished runner-up on the boys side with 64 points, ahead of Allendale at 76, Comstock Park at 96, West Catholic with 115, Catholic Central at 139 and Coopersville bringing up the rear at 170.
Andrew Hylen led the way for Spring Lake with a pass on the final straightaway to finish first overall in 16:03.5. He was followed close behind by a pack of Lakers. Ben Hylen finished fourth overall (16:55.7), just ahead of Cameron Thalhammer (16:57.2) in fifth and Matthew Vanderwall in sixth (17:01.8). Will Brown rounded out the Spring Lake scoring team in 20th (18:05.6).
Also finishing in the top 50 for the Lakers were Jack Leech in 27st, Callen Carrier in 28th, Evan Schock in 29th, Andrew Sellon in 31st, Nathan Peterson in 33rd, Cameron Hall in 34th, Tyler Much in 35th, Hunter Vetula in 37th, Thomas Cullen in 39th, Ben Walters in 45th, Josiah Swenor in 49th and Hopper Miller in 50th.
“Our top seven really did well today, the boys ran exceptionally well,” Spring Lake boys head coach Erin Carmody said. “We have been working on our placing and trying to stay tight as a varsity pack, and they did well on that today.
“We are rounding out a really strong top 10 overall. Big shout-out to those guys. It takes everyone showing up every day and driving each other and helping to drive the top 10 to where they are at. I can’t express how proud I am.”
As the boys round into the final third of the regular season, every day is an opportunity to get better and close the gap on some long-standing performance standards.
“They are a very hard-working, goal-oriented group,” Carmody said. “We practiced reverse goal setting this year. We have a poster that started with what we would like to accomplish at the end of the season, and worked back from there to mark things we want to achieve along the way. We have things we focus on every day. Each practice has a purpose, a why, and a result that connects back to our goals.”
For a team enjoying an influx of talent and a few superstars at the top of their lineup, the Lakers’ goal sheet is a lofty one, motivating their stellar in-season performances.
“We have quite a few team goals,” Carmody said. “They would love to be top five in the state, and would like to win regionals, but to place top three would be absolutely excellent, as well.
“We are hoping to win the O-K Blue on Oct. 17 and become back-to-back champions, and we have even more inter-team goals outside of those.”
Over the next few weeks, fine-tuning race strategy will serve as the final piece for what is a promising Laker roster.
“Our biggest focus is still, and will be for the next couple weeks, working on our top seven and keeping our varsity pack close together,” Carmody said. “Keeping with our theme this year of dedication, we are dedicated to what they want to do in terms of the regional and state meets.”
Allendale took top-honors on the girls’ side with 34 points. Catholic Central finished in third with 75 ahead of fourth-place Sparta with 97. West Catholic took fifth at 138, Comstock Park sixth at 172 and Coopersville last at 191.
Julia Bajt led the way with a fourth-place effort, clocking in at 19:47.2. The rest of the Laker team finished in a well-maintained pack. Maddy Windberg took ninth (20:09), Elizabeth Penrice finished 10th (20:40.0) and Eva Tilton took 11th (20:41.5). Kate Gilchrist (20:47.3) rounded out the scoring team in 13th.
Also finishing in the top 50 for the Lakers were Taylor Rebone just behind Gilchrist in 14th, Maggie Cooper in 17th, Maggie Holmes in 18th, Chloe Lohman in 19th, Sophia Tilton 24th, Sidney Czinder in 27th, Anna Fedewa in 30th, Jaynie Seylhower in 32nd, Janna Ercole in 33rd, Jenna Hoffius in 36th, Erin Burke in 38th, Rose Henke in 42nd, Natalie Sawyer in 47th, and Marley Fogel in 48th.
Spring Lake’s second-place finish mirrors their effort from the first jamboree, with Allendale running away with the lead. As the season wears on, the Lakers are dialed in to overtaking the leaders.
“The girls ran really well (Wednesday),” Spring Lake girls head coach Aaron Andres said. “We obviously know Allendale is really strong. Overall, we just have to keep getting stronger every week.
“This week, Julia ran really well, and as a group we are getting faster. We talked (Wednesday) about in this type of race we have to just stay with Allendale. We look at their No. 3 runner and that is where we need to be.”
Sophomore Bajt has enjoyed a breakout season so far, and continued her tear Wednesday as she left the rest of her Laker varsity pack behind for a shot at the leaders.
“That was by far a personal record for Julia,” Andres said. “She wanted to go in the 19s. We always talk about pack running, but Julia broke away from the group, which is great to see, now we need the pack to go with her.”
While the boys turn their focus to topping out at the state meet, the girls team is as focused on getting in.
“We want to make it back to the state meet his year, that is a big goal for us,” Andres said. “We have been away for a few years now, so the No. 1 goal for this team was to make it back, and we are starting to focus on pushing toward that.
“This team really doesn’t know how good they are. They say that running is 20 percent physical and 80 percent mental, this team is physically there, we just have to get ourselves mentally ready now. Last year, we had 12 freshmen. They all have another year of experience under their belts, you learn something about yourself every race, so we are just now figuring out what they can do. If they realize what they are capable of, we will be pretty successful.”
Both teams will next take on the Portage Invitational, a showcase of the state’s best talent on the cross country course, before moving on to the final conference jamboree of the season and the postseason beyond.
“At Portage, you get a look at where you are in the state, all the best teams are there,” Andres said. “We have a tough regional like always, so we will be looking at those teams.”
Coach Andres believes a few tweaks over their final weeks of training could put the Lakers in contention to accomplish their goals at the end of the season.
“There are some things we can tweak, one of them is the confidence thing,” he said. “Getting the girls together near the front, and if someone takes off like Julia did (Wednesday), getting three or four girls to go with her.”
With three meets between them and the regional championships, the Lakers have a lot of goals to tackle, and plenty of motivation to do so.