BROOKLYN — Hunter Jones isn’t running against his peers on the current MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 cross country scene, because he’s actually without peer at that level.
The Benzie Central junior is actually in pursuit of a legend from the past.
Jones is one victory away from becoming the first boy to win four outright MHSAA individual championships after another dominant performance Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Jones crossed the line in 15:08.39, the third-fastest time in Division 3 history.
Only Ovid-Elsie’s Maverick Darling (14:52.8, 2007) and Erie Mason’s Nick Raymond (15:05.1, 2012) have run faster in Division 3.
The only boys to win four races at an MHSAA final meet is the late Ryan Shay of Central Lake. Shay won his races every year from 1993-96, but his time in the 1993 individual race wasn’t the fastest in Class D that day back when there were separate races for individual and team qualifiers.
Jones has beaten all comers in Division 3 for three years in a row.
“Ryan Shay is a big inspiration for me,” Jones said. “I look up to him very much. He was the only guy who won four times in a row. That’s my goal, to be like Ryan Shay. He was an NCAA champion; I want to get to that level.
“We’re about an hour-and-a-half from (Central Lake). I met their family. It’s really cool.”
The only runners to beat Jones this year were Division 1 stars Riley Hough of Hartland and Peter Baracco of Farmington, as well as Connor Ackley of Hilliard Davidson in Ohio. All three finished ahead of Jones in the Spartan Elite race at the Spartan Invitational, while Hough also won a showdown with Jones in the Pete Moss Invitational on Benzie’s home course.
“I raced Riley a couple times,” Jones said. “I was pretty disappointed with how I did. It is what it is. I’ve just got to concentrate on my own race and try to get faster; that’s all I can do.”
As Jones crossed the line, runner-up Noah Morrow of Manton was just coming into view down the long home stretch at MIS. Morrow finished in 15:49.09.
Morrow was also second at Regionals to Jones, who ran 14:44.4 that day.
St. Louis repeated as the Division 3 team champion, scoring 104 points to outscore runner-up Hart by 42.
Senior Nate March was eighth in 16:17.70, sophomore Ben March was ninth in 16:19.23, senior Aaron Bowerman was 24th in 16:40.99, junior Dylan Marr was 43rd in 17:13.15 and freshman Landon Pestrue was 63rd in 17:21.89 for St. Louis.
PHOTOS (Top) Benzie Central’s Hunter Jones cruises through the final stretch of Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final. (Middle) St. Louis’ Aaron Bowerman (1113) leads a pack toward the finish. (Click for more from 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.)