The top three teams and top 15 individual runners in each race would get to extend their seasons and compete at the state finals this weekend at the Michigan International Speedway course.
In the Division 1 meet, the Grand Haven boys cross country team finished second to Rockford, a week after the Bucs upended the Rams at the O-K Red Conference championship race.
The Rams clocked in with 47 points to take top team honors, while Grand Haven recorded 68 points and East Grand Rapids scored 86 points to also advance as a team.
Senior Jack Nicholson finished fifth overall with a time of 16:02 to lead the Bucs, while Dominic Weatherwax (16:25), Andrew Ireland (16:29) and Aidan Martin (16:29) also adding individual qualifying times.
Kyle Eveland (16:56) added a 24th-place finish, while Cole Rowdan (17:05) added a 31st-place finish and Nathan Wolffis (17:39) added a 44th-place finish.
“Our boys ran a great race Saturday and put four guys in the top 15,” said Grand Haven boys coach John Tarr. “If you put four guys in the top 15, you should win — unless you are running against Rockford.
“We had four of our guys named to the All-Region team with Jack Nicholson, Dominic Weatherwax, Andrew Ireland and Aidan Martin reaching that mark. Even our No. 5 guy, Kyle Eveland, ran a PR at 16:57, but it wasn't enough to hold off Rockford.”
Tarr viewed Saturday’s results as another benchmark in the program’s history.
“This is the most All-Region runners we have ever had in the history of Grand Haven cross county. Our guys ran an extremely tough race in 40-degree weather, rain, sleet and some snow on a muddy course. We ran everything according to our plan, but Rockford was out for revenge, and they simply ran an inspired race. Our boys were absolutely great on Saturday, but Rockford ran out of their minds.
“Finishing second secures our seventh team qualification to the state finals in eight years and our eighth appearance in as many years. This is unprecedented in our program’s history.”
There were a few individual performances that stuck out to Tarr as he reflected on the event.
“Our race of the day came from Dominic Weatherwax, who ran three spots above his predicted spot and pushed us into second place as a team,” he said. “I can't say enough about his gutty race. Kyle Eveland also ran 10 spots above his ranked spot to help us gain the runner-up spot. Kyle was instrumental in our runner-up finish.
In the end, Jack Nicholson is our superstar and without his talent, leadership and hard work in that race, we might be sitting at home next week. It's been a pleasure to be his coach.
“Our varsity seven was rounded out by Cole Rowden and Nathan Wolffis, both of whom ran tough individual races to push back the East Grand Rapids and Forest Hills Northern runners. Without those two guys, the meet would have been much closer for us.”
On the girls' side of the race, the Buccaneers scored 115 points to finish third behind Rockford (21) and East Grand Rapids (76).
Junior Gabby Hentemann finished second overall with a time of 18:03, while Abby Buitenhuis placed 19th with a time of 19:31.
Meadow White (19:44), Giovana Maracek (19:56), Jenna Ray (20:17), Marlie Fraser (20:25) and Kelsie Bovee (20:43) rounded out the varsity seven runners for Grand Haven.
“This season has not gone according to plan in terms of consistency with our varsity girls,” said Grand Haven girls head coach Scott Przystas. “We have had a number of setbacks through the season with uncommon non-running injuries to some of our top runners, but it has always been a 'next girl up' approach and the girls know that they have to be ready when their number gets called.
“Today was a great example of that. Each runner had a race plan today and if each girl did her job, then we would advance to the finals next week. Meadow, Jenna and Marlie ran to lifetime personal records and that surely helped us get the positions we needed. Meadow had not broken 20 minutes all season and ran terrific. Jenna came up huge. It wasn't until two days before the meet that she knew she was even going to run in this race. She took nearly a minute off her season-best time.
“Marlie is learning what she is capable of with each race. Their goal was to get out with Abby in the first mile and find their girl and race from there and they did that. I'm very proud of these three girls. Gabby ran really well, but the top girl from Rockford took the race out in 5:09 for the first mile en route to a school record 17:09 and one of the top times this season in the state. Gabby had a solid race and will be aiming for a top 10 finish at MIS next weekend.
“Abby made sure our pack got out in the first mile and hung tough for the rest of her race. Gina has been solid as a rock all season for us. She's tough as nails and ran that way today beating the girls she needed to beat. Kelsie pushed other team's No. 4 and No. 5 runners back with her finish, which helped our overall score. It was a total team effort today. The girls came to race today which was great to see. The O-K Red has five teams heading to the state finals, and we hope we can improve on our fifth-place finish at the state finals meet next weekend at MIS.”
LAKERS ADVANCE, OLEEN TAKES TOP SPOT
In the Division 2 meet, the Spring Lake boys team scored 76 points to finish runner-up to Grand Rapids Christian with 66 points. Grand Rapids South Christian also qualified as a team with 108 points and a third-place finish.
Junior Andrew Hylen finished fourth overall with a time of 16:04, while his brother, Ben Hylen, finished fifth with a time of 16:12.
Also adding key finishes for the Lakers were: Cameron Thalhammer (16:51), Matthew Vanderwall (17:10), Jack Leech (17:24) and Will Brown (17:40).
“Today's race was really exciting,” said Spring Lake boys head coach Erin Carmody. “We knew coming into it that we might be able to fight for the top spot in regionals, but I'm still very pleased with how we finished. The varsity boys had a phenomenal race today. Jack Leech closed the first five gap, finishing about 15 seconds behind Matthew Vanderwall and guaranteeing our position. Will Brown is back in the 17's, which was an exciting PR today, as well for his continuous hard work and drive all season long.
“State will be an exciting time for us next week. We're going to keep chasing our goals and hoping to end the season on a strong note.”
The Fruitport boys team finished eighth overall with a score of 152, but did qualify two individuals who ran top 15 races.
Senior Cam Oleen took top honors at the event, clocking in at 15:56 to advance to the state finals, while junior Brendan Deneen added a ninth-place overall finish at 16:34.
In the girls’ race, Spring Lake scored 72 points to finish third behind Grand Rapids Christian (48 points) and Allendale (59 points).
Sophomore Julia Bajt finished second overall with a time of 19:07 to lead the Lakers to a qualifying score, while Maggie Cooper added a 12th-place finish at 19:40.
Also adding key finishes for the Lakers were: Chloe Lohman (19:47), Eva Tilton (19:50), Elizabeth Penrice (20:17) and Maddy Windberg (20:22).
The Fruitport girls squad finished eighth as a team with a score of 205, but sophomore Faith Clark (19:40) finished 13th overall to qualify as an individual for this weekend’s state finals race.
WMC BOYS WIN SOME HARDWARE; AARDEMA TAKES FIRST
In the Division 4 events, the Western Michigan Christian boys team scored 54 points to take top team honors, ahead of White Cloud (71) and Bridgman (86).
Junior Eli Rotman finished fourth overall with a time of 17:28 to lead the Warriors, while Andrew Plaisier (18:01), Jack Zuidema (18:07) and Ben Garretson (18:08) each added top 12 finishes.
“We came in knowing that we had the target on our backs, as we had led the regional on paper all season,” said WMC boys coach Greg Gould. “It would not be that easy, as none of our competitors were going to just hand us the victory.
"We were tested right from the start as the lead group containing Eli Rotman opened with a 5:05 first mile. Eli stayed in the fight the whole race coming in fourth. Behind him, the rest of the team raced one of their better races of the season. Just a little over 30 seconds behind Eli, the trio of Andrew Plasier (new personal best time), Jack Zuidema and Ben Garretson, claimed spots 10, 11 and 12 and pretty much clinched the team race for us. Our usual No. 5 runner Brandyn Gould struggled with an ankle issue, but we are very strong at spots six and seven. They stepped up again. Daniel Plaisier was 21st in a personal best, just under 19 minutes and Pierce Newell was 23rd and was close to a personal best as well. In the end it was enough to become regional champions! This is something that a boys team at WMC has not done in a long time.”
In the girls' race, the Western Michigan Christian girls team finished just one spot out of the qualifying mark with a fourth-place finish with 87 points.
Despite not qualifying as a team, the Warriors’ Josie Aardema took top individual honors with a time of 19:31, while Sarah Vanderkooi grabbed an individual qualifying mark with an eighth-place finish at 21:40. Freshman Natalie Riksen finished one spot shy of qualifying with a 16th-place finish at 22:02.
“Today we faced our biggest challenge of the season, defending last year's regional championship. In the end, we came up a little short in a great race, run in challenging conditions against great competition,” said WMC girls coach Kevin Aardema. “There were four teams that were worthy of the three spots in next week's state finals. The girls left it all on the race course, and we have two runners moving on to the finals as individual qualifiers.
"We had some program history made along the way today as well, Josie Aardema was the regional champion! She is the first girl from WMC to win a cross country regional race. Sarah VanderKooi and Josie became the first girls to qualify for the state finals three times in their careers at WMC. They will go for No. 4 next season, as well. Everyone ran great times today, most with the second fastest efforts of the season. Senior Emma Brink added a season-best time in her final high school race.”