BROOKLYN – Runners at Hunter Jones’ level don’t get racing advice from just anybody.
In the days leading up to his bid for history at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final, the Benzie Central senior chatted with the most legendary distance runner to compete at the Michigan high school level.
Jones’ coach thought it would be a good idea for him to talk with former Rockford star Dathan Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian whose time of 14:10.4 at Michigan International Speedway in 2000 has never been approached.
“I had a phone call with him a couple days ago,” Jones said. “He just kind of coached me through what to do. It’s pretty cool we have that connection and we are 1 and 2 in the state.
“He just told me don’t worry about time. His advice was just go out and red-line the whole time, just go hard the whole time. I did that. My legs were pretty tired in the middle. I couldn’t push as much as I wanted to.”
Jones hoped to make a run at Ritzenhein’s course record, but strong winds at MIS threw that pursuit out the window. He had to be satisfied with putting his name in the record books as the first boy to win the overall championship in his division four times during his career and breaking the Division 3 record of 14:52.8 set by Ovid-Elsie’s Maverick Darling in 2007. He also became the third runner to win four MHSAA Finals boys titles and second in Lower Peninsula history, following only Central Lake’s Ryan Shay and his four Class D championships from 1993-96.
Jones’ time of 14:46.50 surpasses the time of 14:49.62 by Hartland’s Riley Hough in 2020 as the No. 2 performance all-time at MIS.
Jones was aware of Ritzenhein’s legend well before he began targeting some of his times.
“I’ve known about him since I was probably in seventh or eighth grade,” Jones said. “Just looking at his times, that’s crazy. To get this close, I’m extremely happy.”
Jones comes from the same part of the state as Shay.
“To have that up-north connection with Ryan Shay, it’s great because there’s not a lot of people up there compared to a metro area like Detroit and Grand Rapids,” Jones said. “It’s great that someone where maybe they don’t have as many advantages as other people is doing well.”
Jones cleared the field by more than a minute. The race for second place was considerably more dramatic, as Clayton Ackey of Hart outleaned Parks Allen of Ithaca by three hundredths of a second with a time of 15:52.14. Jones was already in the middle of an interview when they battled to the line.
Jones never lost to a Division 3 or 4 runner during his four seasons racing in a Benzie Central uniform. He won all 11 of his races this year and 51 of 54 races during his career. His only career losses were to top Division 1 and 2 runners.
“I only had two races this year that I really had any competition,” he said. “The rest of the time, it was me winning by 40 seconds-plus. It is what it is. Hopefully my time holds up as the fastest today so I can get the Mr. Cross Country award.”
Hart won the team championship with 116 points, beating runner-up Traverse City St. Francis by 31. St. Louis was third with 161. The team title was Hart’s first and came after the Pirates finished runners-up in 2020 and 2021.
Hart had three runners crack the top 12 overall and the top seven in the team race. Following Clayton Ackley were senior Wyatt Dean in eighth in 16:20.05, senior Seth Ackley in 12th in 16:27.51, senior Caleb Bitely in 44th in 17:17.71 and senior Easton Vander Zwaag in 116th in 17:58.80.
St. Francis had its five scoring runners crack the top 74 overall, with its first runner 23rd-place Josh Slocum.
PHOTOS (Top) Benzie Central’s Hunter Jones throws up the customary four fingers to symbolize his four championships as he crosses the line at MIS on Saturday. (Middle) Hart’s Clayton Ackley, right, and Ithaca’s Parks Allen run stride for stride together toward the finish. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)
Join Jonathon Kidd and Brian Salyers as we take a look at all of the action from the 2022 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals.
Division 1 Boys - Northville
Division 1 Girls - Holland West Ottawa
Division 2 Boys - East Grand Rapids
Division 2 Girls - Otsego
Division 3 Boys - Hart
Division 3 Girls - Traverse City St. Francis
Division 4 Boys - Wyoming Potter's House
Division 4 Girls - Johannesburg-Lewiston