By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN — Grant Fisher's only competitors in Michigan are ghosts from the past.
While the state currently has a strong crop of cross country runners, they can't even stay close to Fisher, the Grand Blanc senior who ended his MHSAA cross country career Saturday with one of the fastest times in Finals history.
The only question heading into the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 meet was whether Fisher could threaten the seemingly untouchable Michigan International Speedway record of 14:10.4 set by Rockford legend Dathan Ritzenhein in 2000.
High winds — the only thing that could touch Fisher on this day — ruled out that possibility before the race started. It would take perfect conditions for such a quest to be plausible.
Those hoping to see history had to "settle" for a dominating 14:52.5 effort by Fisher, well off the record but still one of the greatest performances the state has ever seen. His time ranks third in the 19-year history of racing at MIS behind Ritzenhein and former Rockford teammate Jason Hartmann, who ran 14:51 in 1998.
Ritzenhein is a three-time Olympian who once held the American 5,000-meter record. Hartmann finished in fourth place as the first American at the 2012 and 2013 Boston Marathons.
"Dathan is Dathan," Fisher said. "He's the best high school runner ever. For people to compare anything I've done to him, in my mind I shouldn't be compared to him ever, as nobody should. Dathan's in a class of his own.
“You can look at his professional career and it speaks for itself. I've met him a few times. He's a great guy and definitely someone I look up to."
Ovid-Elsie's Maverick Darling (14:52.8 in 2007) and Saline's Dustin Voss (14:54.45 in 2003) are the only other runners to break 15 minutes at MIS.
It was only the second time Fisher has broken 15 minutes. The first time came under ideal conditions in the Portage Invitational on Oct. 4, when he came within a second of Ritzenhein's course record with a time of 14:43.
"To do it at this venue means a lot," Fisher said. "You can look back, as everyone has recently, at some of the fast times people have turned in here. You see some of the big names that have gone on to do some pretty incredible things. To do it on this course with so much history and to do it with my teammates next to me means a lot."
Here's the scary part: Fisher still had at least one more gear in him.
His race plan was to cruise through the first mile, go hard in the second, cruise through a downhill stretch, then go hard down the final stretch. He took a look back while going around a curve just after the two-mile mark. He couldn't see anybody approaching, so he followed through with the plan.
"If someone was right on my heels, the race plan would've gone out the window and I'd have gone into race mode," said Fisher, who also is the reigning Foot Locker national champion after defeating a field in San Diego last winter.
The race for second place was much more exciting, with only 10.6 seconds separating the next eight finishers. Saline senior Logan Wetzel emerged from the battle as the runner-up in 15:19.2, 26.7 seconds behind Fisher. Anthony Berry of Traverse City Central was third in 15:21.1. Waterford Mott's Ryan Robinson, who was in second much of the race, took fifth in 15:25.4.
Junior Isaac Harding of Rockford was fourth in 15:23.2, leading Ritzenhein's former school to its first team championship since 2002.
The Rams won a tight three-way battle, scoring 140 points to edge White Lake Lakeland by six. Mott, the runner-up the last two years, was third with 148.
Rockford didn't have a senior in its lineup last year when it finished 12th in LP Division 1. Five of those seven runners were in the lineup Saturday, with one noteworthy addition. Freshman Cole Johnson was the team's No. 2 runner, placing 16th in 15:40.9. That's faster than Ritzenhein ran during his freshman year at Rockford, though his 16:22.3 was good for fifth place on a slow, muddy course in 1997.
Also scoring for Rockford were Paul Burke (57th, 16:13.2), Grayson Harding (58th, 16:13.5) and Grant Gabriel (102nd, 16:30.1).
Lakeland and Mott had five runners cross before Rockford, but the strength of its top two runners carried the Rams.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Blanc’s Grant Fisher finishes his second MHSAA Finals victory Saturday all alone on the final stretch. (Below) Saline’s Logan Wetzel and Traverse City Central’s Anthony Berry lead a tight pack racing for second place. (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.)