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Pack mentality

Duncan MacLean • Sep 26, 2018 at 11:58 PM

ALLENDALE — Teamwork makes the dream work. At least, according to the Spring Lake girls cross country squad, who have proved so far this season that you don’t have to win the race as long as you steal half of the top 10.

The Laker girls finished runner-up at their second O-K Blue Conference Jamboree on Wednesday at Allendale High School, totaling 35 points. The host Falcons took top honors with 27 points, while Sparta finished third with 90, West Catholic took fourth at 111, Catholic Central fifth at 118, Coopersville sixth at 161 and Comstock Park seventh at 224.

The Lakers ran well, using their now trademark pack-running to squeeze five runners into the top 10 of the 5,000-meter race.

Elizabeth Penrice paced the group, finishing fifth overall in 19:50.09. Maggie Cooper followed in sixth at 19:57.13 ahead of Julia Bajt in seventh at 20:04.66, Allie Baker in eighth at 20:06.49 and Anna Fedewa in ninth at 20:09.06, rounding out the scoring Lakers.

Photo Gallery: Spring Lake girls cross country at Wednesday’s jamboree

Allendale took the win with a sweep of the top three, along with 10th and 11th place overall with four of their top five runners recording season or all-time best times.

Chloe Lohman and Jaynie Seylhower were close behind the lead group for Spring Lake, finishing 13th (20:42.77), and 14th (21:01.16).

“There were a lot of good things today,” said Spring Lake head coach Aaron Andres. “Every week we just have to get a little bit stronger.

“We knew Allendale would be here gunning for it on their home course and we knew they would run well. Our strength is in our group. We ran well, but Allendale ran better as a group today.

After winning the first of their three conference jamborees, the Lakers are absolutely in the hunt for a conference title after finishing runner-up last season. The secret to taking that next step is growing the lead group.

“We just have to keep focusing on sticking together,” Andres said. “We don’t have a girl that is sub 18 (minutes), and we know that. One person in our group can make the difference.

“Everybody looks at the top, Maggie Cooper ran a great race there today, but girls are stepping up all over. Isabella Padula ran in the 22s today, which is fantastic. Sophia Tilton was around 21:30, which is very good. Those are the girls that could make some moves a little bit here and there.

“It is the seven through 10 positions who really need to push us. There are about 10 girls on this team that could push into the top seven, and we just need to get them to do that in the race.

“It is a matter of just continuing to train together and work together and focusing on staying close. We had some girls who were sick this past week and Julia (Bajt) is just getting her feet wet in her second race of the year, so there is more to come.”

The same holds true for the regional finals, where the Lakers hope to better their 2017 third-place finish. Luckily, it is on a familiar course. Allendale’s course is speed friendly and has become a favorite for the Spring Lake squad, as it has been the site of their regional championship race for near a decade.

“It’s a fast course, the kids love it,” Andres said. “All the girls circle this date on the calendar. The biggest thing when we come is getting a good idea how to run it so we can come back and be fast at the regional.”

The Lakers till have some time to round into form and pack a few more runners into their lethal lead group. The O-K Blue will be decided Oct. 16 at the Sparta Jamboree, before the Lakers return home to host their Mel Hall Invitational on Oct. 20. The regional meet waits just one week later, where Spring Lake hopes to secure another team trip to the state finals.

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