Can Grand Haven girls cross country go back-to-back?

With the pain she's had to deal with over the course of the past two cross country seasons, no one can question the dedication put into the sport by Grand Haven sophomore Claire Borchers. Even with the constant agony of shin splints, Borchers has again flourished for the Bucs this season, as she's routinely been their top finisher. It's a testiment to her natural talent in the sport, as her off-season training is often limited in the summer due to her dedication to another sport - soccer.
Nate Thompson
Nov 2, 2011

Regardless, she’s proven that she’s one of the best runners throughout West Michigan, as she took fifth at the talent-filled O-K Red Conference meet on Oct. 20 in Grandville. A week later, she proved it again by running a superb 18 minute, 32 second race at the Division 1 regionals in Allendale — good for fourth overall.

Coaches called the regional the toughest in the state, mainly because of all the state-ranked O-K Red schools competing.

Borchers’ performance at Saturday’s Division 1 state finals at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn will go a long way in helping Grand Haven realize its goal as repeat state champions.

A year ago at MIS, she ran a lifetime best of 18 minutes flat, which earned her All-State honors for her 10th place finish — the best Bucs’ showing on a banner day.

Still, one has to wonder what Borchers would be capable of accomplishing if she ran pain free. She ran down a laundry list of procedures she’s tried to help her deal with the pain.

“A lot of Advil,” she said with a grin. “And I always need a lot of icing. I’ve done physical therapy and I’ve visited the (GHHS athletic) trainer quite a bit this year.

“It is very frustrating,” she added. “It gets to a point where it puts you at the breaking point.”

Borchers shrugs when asked how she’s been able to maintain her quality season.

“I guess I’m just a competitive person,” she said. “I know the team is relying on me and I don’t want to let them down. I think a lot of it is more mental. If you put your mind to it, you can get through a lot of things.”

With all that she’s endured, Borchers said it would be very rewarding to reach her personal best on Saturday.

“We want to end on a good note,” she said. “My p.r. is anything under 18 flat, which I got there last year. So I’m really shooting for the 17s.”

Borchers will be joined at MIS with the rest of the Bucs’ top seven, including sophomore Roxy Glasser, senior Julia Stock, junior Lindie Vallier, senior Priscilla VanHeest, senior Cat Keegin and senior Brooke Spruit.

Stock said the team realized that there would be a certain pressure in trying to duplicate last season’s success. Instead of letting it overwhelm them, they’ve just tried to focus on improving individually week-to-week.

“This is a different group from last year,” she said. “Not to sound like a ‘Negative Nancy,’ but It’s really hard to be state champions back-to-back. But it’s not impossible.

“We do have really talented girls on this team and we could all have a good race on Saturday.”

Stock had an outstanding showing at MIS a year ago, finishing 36th overall, running a personal best time of 18:45.

“I’ve come close to that this season,” she said. “I was two seconds off at (the Michigan State University Invitational). I’m hoping to break it on Saturday.”

A motivating factor to carry the Bucs to the finish line will be the coach that has inspired them throughout their varsity careers. Head coach Greg Russick is set to retire after the state finals, wrapping up an outstanding 30-year career of coaching cross country — 28 of which has come at Grand Haven.

“We want to help him finish his career the best we can,” said VanHeest. “We know he wants us to be successful, so we’re determined to do it for him, and for ourselves.”

Russick’s enthusiasm for Saturday’s big race sure hasn’t died down after 30 years.

“We’re excited as we always are,” Russick said. “At regionals, we had a couple breakdowns that cost us late, and that helped the girls realize we need to run a complete race. But if they put their minds to it, we’ll be in great shape.

“This is a great group of kids and I’ve been very blessed to be able to coach them this season,” he added.

SL HAS TWO QUALIFY

Spring Lake failed to qualify as a team for the state finals, but a pair of Lakers will compete individually at MIS in the Division 2 finals.

Junior Brittany Beeler finished seventh overall at Saturday’s Division 2 regional to earn a trip to MIS, as did senior Cory Cook. Cook finished 15th overall at the regional meet held in Allendale.

It will be a repeat state finals appearance for Beeler, who last season, finished 23rd overall.

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