By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Cross Country frequently sees the same top programs show best when championships are decided at the annual MHSAA Finals at Michigan International Speedway.
But the return of all four individual champions from a previous season is certainly rare – and could make Saturday’s races as a set among the most noteworthy in some time as all four run for the final time at the high school level.
Click for a full list of competitors plus additional information on Saturday’s event, which will see 1,002 boys at the start line. Read on for more of the run-up to the team and individual competitions in all four races.
Reigning champion: Milford
2013 runner-up: Waterford Mott
2014 top-ranked: 1. Waterford Mott, 2. Northville, 3. Rockford.
Milford’s three-season run atop Division 1 will end after the team graduated five of its top six – only one runner qualified for this weekend. Mott, the runner-up the last two seasons, would be happy to take the next step. The Corsairs return their top three and four of their top six from last season’s runner-up team, including fourth-place senior Ryan Robinson and 14th-place senior Sam Albaugh. Northville will look to jump from fifth returning four of its top five from 2013 including 21st-place senior Nick Noles, and Rockford should make a nice move after coming in 12th last year while running five underclassmen – the Rams’ top five are back, and freshman Cole Johnson was their second-fastest and sixth overall at the Regional win last week.
Individuals: In addition to Robinson and Albaugh, eight more of last season’s top 10 are back – but they’ll have their work cut out trying to catch reigning champion Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc. He won last season’s race by 18 seconds in 15:13.7, the 10th-fastest time in LP Division 1 Finals history. Warren DeLaSalle senior Mickey Davey finished ninth last season and joined Fisher, Robinson and Portage Central senior Connor Wuori (12th in 2013) among top-20 Finals placers from last fall who won Regionals last weekend.
Reigning champion: St. Clair
2013 runner-up: St. Joseph
2014 top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Christian, 2. Fremont, 3. St. Joseph.
Grand Rapids Christian just missed its first top-two Finals finish last season since 1978, and is favored to claim its first title with six of seven runners from 2013 back including ninth-place senior Benny Briseno. Fremont’s tradition is more storied – the Packers’ seven MHSAA titles are tied for fourth-most by Lower Peninsula programs – and despite not making the Finals as a team in 2013 are returning after placing four among the top eight in winning their Regional. St. Joseph has finished runner-up two of the last three seasons and brings back four of its top six from last fall including its top two finishers, seniors Erik Edwards (15th) and Nick Jewell (28th). Two-time reigning champion St. Clair made the Final again despite no seniors in the lineup after graduating its top six from last season’s victorious team.
Individuals: There should be some turnover among the lead packs, with 11 of last season’s top 20 graduated. But five of the top 10 return, beginning with reigning champion and Cedar Springs senior Austin Sargent. Third-place junior Blake Watson from Corunna is back to make another push, joining St. Johns senior Codey Cook (seventh), Briseno and Chelsea senior David Trimas (10th) among the top returning finishers. Sargent had the fastest Regional time last week in Division 2, 15:46.2, followed by Briseno (15:48) and Corunna sophomore Noah Jacobs (15:59.2), who beat teammate Watson by 25 seconds and finished 56th at last season’s Final.
Reigning champion: Benzonia Benzie Central
2013 runner-up: Stockbridge
2014 top-ranked: 1. Lansing Catholic, 2. Benzie Central, 3. Hanover-Horton.
Reigning individual champion and senior Keenan Rebera leads the favored Cougars, who bring back four of their top five from last season’s third-place team. But reigning champion Benzie Central is far from being out of the conversation – the Huskies have four of their top six back from 2013 including top-30 finishers senior Kyle Bailey (23rd) and sophomore Brayden Huddleston (27th). Hanover-Horton finished sixth last season with three sophomores and a freshman topping the lineup – four of the top five are back, and the team’s top five this season all finished among the first 13 at their Regional.
Individuals: Rebera won last season’s race by just under 30 seconds, in 15:31, and won his Regional last week by 33. But Michigan Center senior Ben Utz also was a Regional champ, by 29 seconds, after finishing third at the 2013 Final. Mason County Central junior Zac Benham (fifth) and Comstock senior Zack Richards (ninth) also are back from last season’s top 10. Grandville Calvin Christian senior Abe Visser (15th in 2013), Hesperia senior Damien Halverson (18th) and Calvin Christian senior Logan Jurgens (13th) all cleared 15:51 on Saturday in taking the top three places, respectively, at the fastest Regional in this division.
Reigning champion: Saugatuck
2013 runner-up: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart
2014 top-ranked: 1. Saugatuck, 2. Concord, 3. Bear Lake/Onekama.
After breaking Concord’s two-year hold on Division 4 last season, Saugatuck is expected to extend its streak to two on the strength of four of its top six from 2013. Joe Brown is the only senior; the Indians’ other six runners are sophomores. But Concord will try to take the title back with its top six from 2013 including two-time individual champion Jesse Hersha and last season’s sixth place Jacob Hall, both seniors. Bear Lake/Onekama graduated three of its top four from last season’s fourth-place team, but junior Jordan Anderson was the team’s second-fastest runner at last season’s Final, finishing 19th overall. Freshmen Gary McBride and Kaiden Hejl finished behind Anderson and among the top five at their Regional as the team won with 27 points.
Individuals: Half of last season’s top 20 will run this race Saturday, but Hersha will be tough to chase down. He won last season’s title by 44 seconds, and his 15:32.3 winning time in 2012 is the sixth-fastest in LP Division 4 Finals history. Ellsworth senior Winter Romeyn (ninth) and Beal City senior Nick Pung (10th) join the Concord pair among returning top-10 finishers. Harbor Beach senior Luke Anderson, 13th last season, joined Hersha (15:46) in breaking 16 minutes at last week’s Regional, winning by a minute over Ubly senior Adam Grifka (17th in 2013) in 15:52.
PHOTO: Grand Blanc’s Grant Fisher, running the final stretch during last season’s LP Division 1 Final, will look to repeat as champion. (Click to see more this weekend 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.)