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 LP championship four times under the MHSAA Divisional format and breaking the Division 3 record of 14:52.8 set by Ovid-Elsie’s Maverick Darling in 2007. He is 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.)
BROOKLYN — On the same day Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein set a course record at Michigan International Speedway that has never been approached, Kurtis Marlowe of Richland Gull Lake had a performance that was overshadowed.
But Marlowe’s winning time of 15:02.5 in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in 2000 also stood the test of time.
Freeland junior TJ Hansen eclipsed the Division 2 record with his winning time of 14:52.8. Runner-up Solomon Kwartowitz of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood also nearly broke the previous record, finishing in 15:03.3.
Even though it was apparent from earlier races Saturday that perfect conditions made fast times possible, Hansen didn’t set out to break Marlowe’s record.
“No, my goal was to go out and win,” he said. “Play strategy from the front, let others do the work, then just push it. Whatever time I got, I was gonna get. I knew it was going to take a time like that to win it today.
“I usually run close to a (personal record) every year at this meet. It’s one of my favorite courses. It’s definitely unique here at the speedway, so I really like the course, I really like to run it.”
Hansen went through the mile mark tied for 11th in 4:54.3, but you could’ve thrown a blanket over the top 12 runners at that point.
It was a three-man race between Hansen, Kwartowitz and 2022 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea when they reached the two-mile mark in 9:46.
Hansen made sure there would be no drama coming down the stretch.
“I was just trying to stay calm, let them do the work, just sit back,” he said. “When I needed to go, I was gonna go. My goal was to stay relaxed.”
Kwartowitz had no complaints with his race.
“It felt really smooth,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t get a chance to race these guys a bunch this year. I did at Spartan (Invitational, in September). I was really hoping to end it with a victory.”
The boys Division 2 team championship was a toss-up between four teams for the second year in a row, with Ada Forest Hills Eastern coming out on top with 134 points. Pinckney was second with 156, East Grand Rapids third with 175 and Allendale fourth with 176.
Last year, 32 points separated the top four teams.
Junior Henry Dixon led Forest Hills Eastern, placing sixth in 15:16.0. Senior Liam Hinman was 29th, senior Brendan Hoving was 30th, senior Cooper Jacobsen was 38th and junior Tyler Endres was 82nd.
It was the first MHSAA championship for Forest Hills Eastern, which had a program-best finish of fourth in 2007.
PHOTOS (Top) Freeland's TJ Hansen approaches the finish of his record run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)