By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Team and individual history is waiting to be made at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Boys Cross Country Finals at Michigan International Speedway.
A year ago, the final state rankings predicted all four champions – and if they’re accurate again, Plymouth will celebrate its first title in this sport. Meanwhile, Caro’s Yami Albrecht will try to lead the Tigers to their first title in four decades, while becoming just the 15th boys runner to win a third individual Finals championship.
A total of 977 runners will take to the course at MIS for the boys races, which begin the day with Division 4 at 9:30 a.m. Below are some of the teams to watch and a glance at each of the individual fields. Click for all Finals qualifiers, a map of the course and links to buy tickets and watch the Finish Line camera on MHSAA.tv, and come back to Second Half later Saturday for coverage of all four meets. (NOTE: “Rankings” of individual runners below are based on data at Athletic.net, which orders runners based on the single fastest times they’ve run this season.)
Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2017 runner-up: Plymouth
2018 top-ranked: 1. Plymouth, 2. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 3. Clarkston.
Plymouth’s runner-up finish in 2017 was its highest ever at an MHSAA Finals, and the Wildcats are predicted to take the next step Saturday after finishing second last year by a mere three points. Five of last season’s top six runners return this weekend, led by junior Carter Solomon (fifth in 2017). Plymouth took three of the top four places at its Regional, with Solomon the individual champ in 14:59.4. His 14:59 flat on Oct. 13 is tied for the fastest time in the state this fall. Pioneer brings back three of its top six from last season’s championship team, led by individual champ Nick Foster – his season best of 15:03.1 ranks him third fastest in the state this fall. Clarkston finished eighth last season but with one senior and none in the top five – the other six all return, and senior Brendan Favazza’s 15:16.2 on Oct. 17 ranks him as the eighth-fastest runner statewide.
Individuals: In addition to Foster and Solomon, six more from last season’s top 20 will run this weekend. White Lake Lakeland senior Harrison Grzymkowski should contend again after finishing third in 2017, while Romeo junior Jack Wilson (ninth) also is back from the top 10. Birmingham Seaholm senior George Nummer (10th), Lake Orion junior Andrew Nolan (14th), Brighton junior Zachary Stewart (15th) and Holland senior Sam Martens (20th) also return. Stewart’s 15:08 on Oct. 18 makes him the fourth-ranked runner regardless of division.
Reigning champion: Chelsea
2017 runner-up: Corunna
2018 top-ranked: 1. Chelsea, 2. Fremont, 3. Corunna.
Chelsea broke through for its first championship in this sport a year ago, and four of the top six from that team return – and all four rank among the top 20 runners in Division 2, led by senior Jensen Holm (11th in 2017). Fremont was runner-up in 2016 and 2014 and won the title in 2015, and finished sixth last season with four freshmen among its top five. They’re sophomores now, and Nathan Walker’s 15:34.3 to win his Regional ranks him sixth in the division. Corunna senior Ben Jacobs is another standout, and his 15:34.7 personal record run Oct. 6 puts him seventh. He finished third overall last season and is among four of Corunna’s top six from the runner-up finish who will try to carry the team to its second championship in three seasons.
Individuals: Otsego senior Alex Comerford has finished 13th, ninth and last season second at the Finals, and his 14:59 on Sept. 29 is tied for the fastest time in the state this fall. He and Jacobs are joined by Linden junior Tyler Buchanan (sixth) and Dearborn Divine Child juniors Michael Hancock (eighth) and Anthony Hancock (ninth) as half of last season’s top 10 are back. Grosse Ile senior James Gedris (15th), Grand Rapids South Christian junior Micah VanderKooi (18th) and Spring Lake senior Andrew Hylen (19th) also are top returning placers. Grant senior Colten Covington was 12th in Division 3 last year.
Reigning champion: Hanover-Horton
2017 runner-up: Caro
2018 top-ranked: 1. Caro, 2. Pewamo-Westphalia, 3. Hanover-Horton
Caro missed its first championship in this sport since 1980 by six points last season, but is the favorite this time with all seven runners back from the runner-up finish. The Tigers are led by senior and reigning two-time individual champion Albrecht – his 15:28.7 on Sept. 29 ranks him second among Division 3 runners this fall and 15th regardless of division – and senior Aaron Hurlburt was 20th individually at last year’s Final. Pewamo-Westphalia finished 10th last season after winning the Division 4 title in 2016 and returns four of last season’s top five led by junior Hayden Germain (23rd in 2017, ranking 11th this fall). Hanover-Horton graduated three of its top four from a year ago but returns its other four runners from the championship team.
Individuals: Albrecht will face strong competition as he runs for the three-peat. Harbor Springs senior Jeremy Kloss finished second to Albrecht both of the last two seasons after running seventh as a freshman. Dundee senior Colin Kane was sixth a year ago and has the fastest time in Division 3 this season, 15:25.9 to win his Regional. Morley Stanwood junior Aiden McLaughlin (seventh), Ithaca senior Ransom Allen (eighth), Holland Black River senior Sam Sharnas (11th), Stockbridge junior Micah Beauregard (14th) and Bad Axe senior David Knarian (17th) also are back from last season’s top 20.
Reigning champion: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart
2017 runner-up: Potterville
2018 top-ranked: 1. Saugatuck, 2. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 3. Breckenridge.
Two top-10 individual finishers led Saugatuck to a 12th-place team finish in Division 3 in 2017, and total three of the top five from that team return. Senior Corey Gorgas was fourth in Division 3 the last two years and has the top time in Division 4 this season at 15:13.3, while sophomore Nik Pettinga took 10th in Division 3 a year ago. Sacred Heart isn’t going to just give the title back, of course; the team’s top four (and five of the top seven) are back. Breckenridge is running for its first Finals championship since 1976, and after missing the Finals completely last season. Freshman Mason Sumner ranks fourth among Division 4 runners with a 16:02.8 run Sept. 19.
Individuals: Plymouth Christian Academy senior Luke Pohl finished runner-up last season and ranks second among Division 4’s fastest this season. He is joined by Walkerville junior Shane Achterhof (fifth) and Johannesburg-Lewiston sophomore Carlos Gascho (seventh) among top-10 finishers back from a year ago. Beal City senior Alex Taylor (12th) and Ellsworth senior Isaiah Romeyn (19th) also could be in the mix again.
PHOTO: Caro’s Yami Albrecht (415) and Harbor Springs’ Jeremy Kloss (466) run as part of the lead pack during a stretch of last season’s Division 3 championship race at Michigan International Speedway. (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.)