The Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Western Michigan Christian cross country teams, along with a few individual representatives from Fruitport, took on the state championship race with lofty goals Saturday, coming away with varying degrees of success throughout the day.
The Grand Haven boys entered the meet hoping to make history, after an O-K Red Conference title and unprecedented unseating of Rockford. The Bucs were hoping to crack into the top 10 team finishers in the Division 1 race.
The boys pulled it off, finishing with 341 points for 10th place, just one point behind rival Rockford.
“Tenth is a respectable spot and proves that we are of the best teams in the state,” Grand Haven boys head coach John Tarr said. “All of our guys ran well and positioned themselves in contention throughout the entire race. They ran very tough under tough conditions.”
After breezing through the Division 3 and 4 races in the morning, and squeezing the girls Division 1 and 2 races in through the rain, lightening derailed the boys races in the afternoon.
The Division 1 boys race was the last of the day, following the Division 2 boys. After two 30-minute delays of the Division 2 race, they finally got the boys around the course before yet another storm cell descended on the track.
As the end of the mandatory 30-minute lightning break approached, 245 boys gathered at the starting line, arranged by team, got set and awaited the blast of the starter’s pistol. Instead, they heard another boom of thunder, delaying the race at the last possible second.
“I was really impressed with our guys, through all of that they kept their composure and handled it remarkably well,” Tarr said. “They were forced to warm up four times, and they held it together mentally to run great races.
“It is proof that the things we teach our kids out here go beyond mere athletics, because for them to persevere over that showed great maturity on their part.”
Senior Jack Nicholson tied a bow on a transcendent career as a Grand Haven cross country runner Saturday. In his third trip to state, Nicholson finished 19th individually to claim his second All-State distinction, running a personal record time of 15:44.7.
“Saturday marked the end of an era for us with Jack’s last race,” Tarr said. “We remarked how quick it all went, but are content with the end results.
“Not only did he put himself in our history books for life, but he lead a lot of boys to success over the last four years with his talent and leadership.”
Nicholson, who became the first Grand Haven boy runner to qualify for three straight state meets, reflected on the weather, his race and a career well run at Grand Haven.
“Rain or shine, cold or warm we will run in it,” he said. “It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s dry it’s this that and the other we just race, that’s all we focus on.
“The second delay when we were right on the line, we just had to stay focused at that point. Focus and make sure you are present for the next lineup. It doesn’t matter we will run fine either way, and I think it worked we came out way stronger than I thought we would today. We have been focusing on that mental strength a lot this year.
“It feels awesome, perfect. Tenth was our realistic expectation. It was there, we just had to go work our butt off to go get it, and we did. Being mentally tough is probably the most important thing people overlook. The team and I learned that this year. It was the hardest, longest, saddest and happiest season of my career, and it seems like the perfect way to go out.”
Following Nicholson was Andrew Ireland in 49th overall with a time of 16:25.2 and Aiden Martin in 69th, clocking in at 16:35.9, battling each other through the pack throughout the race.
“Ireland rand a great race, throwing himself into every step, with Martin trading spots with him several times,” Tarr said. It was great to see those two guys in the competitive mix.
Following the dueling pair of juniors was Dominic Weatherwax, finishing in 94th at 16:52.7, Kyle Eveland in 115th at 17:03.2, Cole Rowden in 136th at 14:14.0 and Nathan Wolffis in 178th at 17:51.0.
Of their top eight runners, the Bucs will lose just Nicholson to graduation this year, seven returning quality runners plus a healthy junior varsity team and a crop of freshman who will make an impact right away, the Bucs seem to be in the top 10 to stay at the speedway.
GH girls take 22nd
The Grand Haven girls team also came into the state meet with top 10 aspirations, but fell short, finishing 22nd with 497 points.
Junior standout Gabby Hentemann led the way with an impressive eighth-place individual finish, clocking in at 17:58.7, earning her All-State honors for the third straight year.
“Gabby executed her race plan to a ‘T’,” Grand Haven girls coach Scott Pryzstas said. “She got out fast, which is what you have to do at MIS, and was in the top five through 800 meters. She ran very tough in the second mile and used her 1,600-meter track legs to hold her place through the finishing mile.”
Hentemann’s 17:58 made her the second runner in program history to break 18 minutes.
The rest of the team dropped off, with Abby Buitenhuis coming in at 19:49.8 for 146th place; Kelsie Bovee at 20:07.5 for 178th; Meadow White at 20:10.1 for 183rd; Givana Marecek at 20:16.6 for 191st; Jenna Ray at 20:43.2 for 214th and Emily Mattson at 21:09.0 for 234th.
After piecing together an inspired performance at the regional, the Bucs couldn’t repeat on the big stage, adding time nearly across the board from their regional runs. At last weekend’s regional, four Bucs clocked in under 20-minutes, just Hentemann and Buitenhuis managed the feat at MIS on Saturday.
“This group had a lot of promise at the beginning of the season, but we got hit by the injury bug and lost some key leaders in our top training group,” Pryzstas said.
“Thankfully, our depth kept us in a lot of races toward the end of the season and helped us qualify for the state finals for the 18th straight year. They have been a resilient group and a lot of fun to coach and I’m proud of their effort.”
While the results were less than ideal for the Grand Haven girls, they provide hope for the future, as Mattson will be the only runner lost to graduation for next year.
Spring Lake just misses
The Lakers had top 10 hopes of their own for the Division 2 races Saturday in their first ever appearance with full boys and girls teams.
The boys fell just short of their top 10 goal, coming in at 13th overall.
Andrew Hylen led the way in 19th individually, earning him All-State honors with a time of 15:59.7.
Ben Hylen cracked the top 50 individually, coming in at 16:28.9 for 41st place. Matthew Vanderwall followed in 127th at 17:11.0, ahead of Cameron Thalhammer in 149th at 17:28.3. Will Brown finished fifth for the Lakers and 164th overall with a time of 17:36.2 to round out the scoring five.
Jack Leech finished 170th with a time of 17:38.7, while Andrew Sellon finished off his cross country career in 224th at 18:37.7.
“Overall, the guys did their best given the conditions and the course conditions out there,” Spring Lake boys coach Erin Carmody said. “They were looking strong and comfortable with their pacing and place rounding the two mile. The finish was not our strongest, but is something our guys will work on in the off-season and into next year for a hopeful return.
“I am beyond proud of our guys for giving it their all through the finish line. It’s an impressive legacy they are leaving behind.”
The girls hoped to crack the top seven and make the front page of the results, but failed to repeat their stellar times from the regional meet, falling back to 12th overall with an overwhelmingly young team of runners.
Sophomore Julia Bajt led the Lakers with a 73rd-place finish overall, coming in at 19:46.0. Junior Kate Gilchrist and Sophomore Maggie Cooper stuck together, finishing 94th in 19:59.7 and 96th in 20:01.0, respectively.
Sophomore Eva Tilton followed in 123rd, coming in at 20:17.7, while Elizabeth Penrice rounded out the Spring Lake top five with a 128th-place finish in 20:20.3. Freshman Chloe Lohman took 135th in 20:28.3, while Maddy Windberg finished strong for the Lakers in 157th with a time of 20:44.4.
The 2017 trip to the state meet was the first in recent memory for the girls, who will undoubtedly be back with a vengeance for the 2018 run.
“This is the first ever appearance at state with the boys and girls teams from Spring Lake,” Carmody said. “It was amazing to see the level of support by our parents and teams out there rooting for each other. This is what cross country is all about. We’re looking forward to what 2018 has yet to hold.”
Oleen takes 13th
The Fruitport boys qualified two individuals for the Division 2 state championship race. Senior Cameron Oleen and junior Brendan Deneen performed well enough at the regional championships to earn a spot on the starting line Saturday.
Oleen hung with the lead pack for his lap around MIS, finishing 13th overall with a time of 15:52.7, claiming All-State honors. Deneen finished in 16:37.6 to take 53rd place.
Faith Clark ran for the Fruitport girls team, finishing 171st with a time of 20:58.2.
WMC finishes strong
The Western Michigan Christian boys cross country team finished 18th as a team in the Division 4 race, putting three runners in the top-100 scorers.
Eli Rotman led the way with a 24th place finish in 17:27.0, earning him All-State honors. Jack Zuidema followed in 74th in 18:23.3, ahead of Ben Garretson in 86th, at 18:26.9.
Senior Andrew Plaisier finished off his career with a 112th-place finish in 18:52.7, while freshman Pierce Newell took 134th in 19:15.5 to round out the scoring Warriors. Daniel Plaisier too 155th (19:44.1), ahead of Payton Anderson in 156th (19:51.0).
The WMC girls team qualified two runners for the Division 4 race. Josie Aardema led with a 12th-place individual finish in 19:41.5, while Sarah Vanderkooi took 105th place in 21:59.3.