By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN — It would've made things easier for Abe Visser had James McCann not improved so much this year.
But Visser isn't interested in taking the easy path to success.
Visser, a senior at Grandville Calvin Christian, became the school's first MHSAA cross country champion by posting a time of 15:34.8 on Saturday in the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final at Michigan International Speedway.
He won a duel with McCann, a senior at Holland Black River, who took second in 15:48.4. The two battled it out until Visser pulled away late in the race.
Visser has always finished considerably higher than McCann at the MHSAA Finals. In 2013, Visser was 15th and McCann was 104th. Last year, Visser was third and McCann was 26th.
"I raced McCann four times this season," said Visser, who won all four matchups. "Each time, he's given me quite a run. He really came out of nowhere this year. It was unexpected, but I'm glad he made that jump, because it pushes me. It helps me run well."
Visser also lamented the absence of Zac Wright-Fisher of Scottville Mason County Central. Wright-Fisher is a three-time all-stater who was second last year, but an uncharacteristic third in the Regional last Saturday in 16:33.27.
"My main competitor, who would've been here this year, I think is injured," Visser said. "That's not good. That would've been fun to race him really hard."
Winning the title is the culmination of a dream Visser didn't believe was possible when he finished 51st as a freshman.
"A couple years ago, I never thought this would happen," he said. "But after last year at state, I realized I might be able to do it. You never expect to win state, at least not that young. That's just insane."
Despite lacking the star power of its most recent teams, Lansing Catholic won an MHSAA championship for the first time in 13 trips to the Finals, edging two-time defending champion Benzie Central by a 124-127 score. Holland Black River was third with 149 points.
Lansing Catholic had individual champions in Zachary Zingsheim (2011) and Keenan Rebera (2013 and 2014) in recent years, finishing second twice and third once in the last five seasons. The Cougars finally got to the top, despite not having a runner finish among the top 19.
Junior Ethan Markey, running in his third MHSAA Finals, placed 20th in 16:25.1 to lead Lansing Catholic. Also scoring for the Cougars were freshman Will Peters (26th, 16:32.1), sophomore Ryan Schroeder (28th, 16:33.5), freshman Erin Warriner (46th, 16:59.1) and sophomore Sammy Migaldi (72nd, 17:10.0).
Benzie Central had two runners cross before Markey in third-place Brayden Huddleston (15:55.3) and 15th-place Jake Williams (16:16.2), but didn't have Lansing Catholic's depth.
Benzie Central was trying to match the three-peat of its teams from 1984-86. The Huskies have eight MHSAA championships.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grandville Calvin Christian’s Abe Visser makes his way toward the finish and the school’s first individual cross country championship. (Middle) Lansing Catholic’s Will Peters came in 26th to help the Cougars to their first MHSAA team title.
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.)