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Fall sports preview: Girls cross country

Duncan MacLean • Updated Aug 15, 2018 at 12:15 AM

While it is hard to imagine running a cross country race in this August heat, local runners have been at it all summer training for the kickoff of another fall sports season which, unbelievably, is just around the corner.

Local girls cross country runners will have their work cut out for them in order to top a set of quick performances from last season.

Grand Haven will once again be led by Gabby Hentemann, who will look to cement herself as one of the most decorated runners in school history over her senior year.

The Lakers will continue to enjoy a groundswell of young talent now entering their junior and senior seasons ready to take home some hardware, while Fruitport and Western Michigan Christian will look to overcome small roster numbers with some stellar top-end talent.

Here is a closer look at how local girls cross country teams will fare this season:

Grand Haven

Head coach: Scott Przystas

Last year: 22nd at Division 1 state finals

Key returners: Gabby Hentemann, Abby Buitenhuis, Giovana Marecek, Kelsie McManus, Marlie Fraser, Meadow White, Jenna Ray Jr.

Key newcomers: Alex Amores, Halle Bovee

The Grand Haven girls return a bevy of runners with state-finals experience. Most notable is Hentemann, who holds the second fastest time in school history at 17 minutes, 57 seconds, and returns for her senior season with three All-Conference, Region and State honors, each.

Just behind is Buitenhuis, who is a three-year state team member and earned an All-Conference nod as a junior. Also returning with state-team experience is White with two appearances, and Maracek and Ray Jr. with one each.

“This year, we have a very senior-laden team and those are the kinds of teams you want as a coach — four-year program kids leading the way. Our best runners are our seniors and our team will go as they go. They’ve put in the work this spring and summer and I’m really looking forward to watching them lead us. They are kids who have worked their way up to a varsity spot the last couple of tears from putting the mileage in and learning from experience.

“We also have a couple of nice freshmen in Amores and Bovee who I see contributing right away and they may be the difference makers for our varsity team this season.

OUTLOOK

“Last year, we had a sort of fluky season,” Pryzstas said. “We had girls injured from various things at different times through the season, but we really showed our program’s depth by coming through at regional to qualify for our 18th straight state meet. There, we struggled, but had a brand new varsity lineup. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but we learned from it.

“West Ottawa is returning six of their top seven from a runner-up conference team last season. Rockford will always be solid and we have five of our top seven returning, so I expect the girls to give the conference a run for the title, as well.

“We have a tough conference and a tough region, as usual, so we’ll take each race one at a time and focus on improving and getting better every day.”

Spring Lake

Head coach: Aaron Andres

Last year: O-K Blue Conference runners-up, third place at regionals, 12th at Division 2 state finals

Key returners: Lizzy Penrice, Julia Bajt, Kate Gilchrist, Maggie Cooper, Chloe Lohman, Eva Tilton

The Lakers return the bulk of their varsity team from a year ago, including their top six runners from the state finals. Seniors Gilchrist and Penrice, along with juniors Bajt, Coopers, Tilton, and sophomore Lohman all finished between 50th and 91st at Michigan International Speedway last year and are expected to run well again this year. Bajt led the way, securing a runner-up finish at the regional championships.

Key newcomers: Jaynie Seylhower, Anna Fedewa, Allie Baker, Avery Hoekstra

OUTLOOK

This group has the potential to do special things,” Andres said. “We have a great blend of veteran runners and a great group of new runners. If we do all the little things in practice and grow as a group, we will have a lot of good things happen.

“With six of seven returning runners from our state qualifying team last year along with a lot of promising returners from the regular season and a few freshmen runners. Our goal is to win the O-K Blue, as we finished in a close second last season.

“Our regional field was switched up a bit for this season, making it, in my opinion, the toughest regional in Division 2. We will have to work hard and train our best to get through to the state meet.

“I feel we have a legitimate top-10 team in the state.”

Fruitport

Head coach: Randall Johnson

Last year: Fourth in O-K Black Conference, third in City

Key returners: Faith Clark, Taylor Burke, Analiza Sanchez

Key newcomers: Abby Sykes, Kristen Lord

The Trojans look to be struggling with roster numbers once again in 2018 with just nine runners out for their girls cross country program.

The team will be led by junior standout Clark, who finished as an All-Conference honoree last season and qualified individually for the state meet. Seniors Burke and Sanchez will run in the No. 3 and 4 positions, while sophomores Sykes and Lord will line up at Nos. 2 and 5.

OUTLOOK

“Things are looking a bit small again for the girls with just nine runners,” Johnson said. “Faith Clark will lead the way and is sure to be one of the top runners in the area and conference. Sykes, Burke, Sanchez and Lord will round out our top five. Some of the girls on the team are using the season to get ready for track in the spring.”

Western Michigan Christian

Head coach: Kevin Aardema

Last year: Third in Lakes Eight, fourth at regionals

Key returners: Josie Aardema, Sarah Vanderkooi, Emma Visker, Natalie Riksen

Key newcomers: Ava Rottman, Abby Vanderkooi

The Warriors fell just shy of a state-meet bid last season with their fourth-place finish at the Division 4 regional championships. They return four varsity runners as seniors Aardema and Sarah Vanderkooi rejoin the ranks, along with junior Visker and sophomore Riksen.

Last season, Aardema and Vanderkooi both individually qualified for the state meet, with Aardema finishing 12th overall for All-State honors.

Rottman and Abby Vanderkooi also serve as two promising freshmen looking to spring into varsity action.

OUTLOOK

“Our main goal is to qualify for the state meet,” coach Aardema said. “Ludington will be the team to beat in our conference. We are a small but hard-working team and look forward to competing throughout this fall.”

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