Preview: Set to Launch New Contenders

November 1, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Four individual cross country champions who had won a combined seven MHSAA Finals titles finished their high school careers at Michigan International Speedway last year.

That means there’s plenty of opportunities for the next wave of runners at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula boys cross country championship races, and plenty of candidates ready to take the lead both individually and in what looks on paper to be wide-open team competition in at least two divisions.

A total of 995 runners will take to the course at MIS on Saturday for the four boys races, which begin with Division 4 at 10:50 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 live broadcast on, and come back to Second Half later Saturday for coverage of all four meets.

Division 1

Reigning champion: Plymouth
2018 runner-up: Walled Lake Central
2019 top-ranked: 1. Brighton, 2. Dexter, 3. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek

Brighton is favored to win its first boys cross country championship since 1995 bringing back its top three finishers from last year’s 10th-place team. Senior Zacahry Stewart was fourth in 2018, senior Jack Spamer was 18th, and Spamer is an individual contender with the state’s second-fastest boys time (14:48.1) this season. Stewart’s 15:07.1 season-best ranks eighth statewide covering all divisions, and senior Scott Spaanstra also returns from last season and could make a run at the individual top 20. Dexter is led by senior Owen Huard, whose 15:04 season best ranks seventh statewide after he finished 16th at last year’s Final. He’s one of four Dexter runners back from the team that finished third last season, and senior Nathan Larson was another top individual coming in 22nd. Stoney Creek finished 16th as a team last year with only one senior in the lineup, its fifth finisher. The other six all are back, with senior Sam Tarling last year’s top individual placer at 52nd.

Individuals: Plymouth senior Carter Solomon has three top-18 finishes at past Finals and came in second, five seconds off the lead, a year ago. He’s undefeated this fall and at his Regional ran the state’s fastest time of the season, 14:42.7. Total, four of last season’s top eight Finals finishers are back. Stewart, Clarkston senior Brendan Favazza (fifth) and Fraser senior Joey Tavalieri (eighth) join Solomon, and nine more of the top 20 placers in 2018 also are back in the field. Hartland sophomore Riley Hough has been another of the top runners in Division 1 this fall after placing 27th a year ago.

Division 2

Reigning champion: Chelsea
2018 runner-up: Fremont
2019 top-ranked: 1. Fremont, 2. Otsego, 3. Haslett.

Chelsea has won the last two Division 2 championships and is ranked No. 4 this week, having graduated its top two from last year’s team but returning its other five runners including senior Will Scott (14th individually in 2018). Last season’s team runner-up Fremont posted nearly a perfect score at its Regional last weekend and returns its top six runners from last year’s Final, led by juniors Nathan Walker (fifth) and Ben Paige (25th); Walker’s 14:52.8 at the Regional is the state’s third-fastest boys time this season regardless of division. Otsego graduated last year’s individual champion from the team that finished fifth, but returns five runners led by senior Hunter Zartman (21st in 2018). Haslett placed now-seniors Joseph Ecklund and Danny Ezzo 38th and 40th last season, respectively, in finishing eighth as a team, and total its top six runners are back this weekend.

Individuals: With four of the top six, six of the top 10, and 9 of the top 19 back from the 2018 Final, this also should be a fast race to the finish. East Grand Rapids senior Evan Bishop was the runner-up a year ago and he’s won every race this fall but one, finishing second to a runner from Ohio at the Spartan Invitational Elite Race at Michigan State. Bishop’s personal record (PR) of 14:56.4 from last weekend’s Regional was the fourth-fastest time in the state this fall. Dearborn Divine Child senior twins Anthony and Michael Hancock have the fifth and sixth-fastest times in the state this fall at 14:59.1 and 14:59.4, respectively, and they came in fourth and sixth at last year’s Final. Linden senior Tyler Buchanan (ninth) and Zeeland West senior Ethan Senti (10th) also are back from the top 10.

Division 3

Reigning champion: Caro
2018 runner-up: Pewamo-Westphalia
2019 top-ranked: 1. Hanover-Horton, 2 Charlevoix, 3. Hart.

Hanover-Horton was the team champion in 2017 and finished fourth a year ago. Four runners from the 2018 team will be back this weekend, with senior Garrett Melling (49th) the top returning finisher. Charlevoix brings back its top two and six of its seven runners from the team that finished 10th a year ago, with Blaise Snabes (64th) the top individual placer from that bunch. Hart was sixth last year and brings back four runners including junior Alex Enns, who came in 11th individually. He and his teammates are bolstered by a trio of freshmen who all finished among the top 19 as Hart edged No. 7 Benzie Central for last week’s Regional title. Saugatuck, last season’s Division 4 champion, is running in Division 3 this weekend and ranked No. 6.

Individuals: Benzie freshman Hunter Jones has been the talk of northern Michigan as one of the state and nation’s fastest in his grade, and his PR of 15:24.8 is nearly 22 seconds better than anyone else’s best in Division 3 this season. Saugatuck junior Nik Pettinga also joins the pack after finishing third in Division 4 last fall. There’s room for new contenders as the top six placers at last season’s Final all were seniors. Pewamo-Westphalia senior Hayden Germain (seventh) is the highest returning finisher, and he was edged by senior teammate Ashton Walker (14th) at last week’s Regional. Jonesville senior Carson Laney (eighth) and Morley Stanwood senior Aiden McLaughlin (ninth) also are back from the 2018 top 10, and New Lothrop junior Carson Hersch could make a big jump. He came in 44th at last year’s Final but has the second-fastest time in Division 3 this fall at 15:46.4.

Division 4

Reigning champion: Saugatuck
2018 runner-up: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart
2019 top-ranked: 1. Breckenridge, 2. East Jordan, 3. Unionville-Sebewaing.

With Saugatuck in Division 3, there will be a new champion – and Breckenridge is seeking its first title since 1976. The Huskies were fourth last season without a senior in the lineup. All seven runners are back, with sophomore Mason Sumner coming off a sixth-place individual finish and posting the fastest time (15:43.4) in Division 4 this season. East Jordan was third last year with just one senior, and five of the top seven are back including seniors Ethan Nachazel (18th) and Ben Hardy (19th). USA was fifth last season with only one senior, and junior Bentley Alderson (12th) leads six returnees back at MIS.

Individuals: Although Carson City-Crystal junior Coleman Clark is the top returning placer after coming in fifth a year ago, half the top 10 and 11 of the top 20 will race again this weekend. Walkerville senior Shane Achterhof (seventh), Johannesburg-Lewiston junior Carlos Gascho (eighth) and White Cloud senior Reginald Richmond (10th) all are back from the first group. Webberville sophomore Nathan Lott ran the fourth-fastest time (16:20) in Division 4 this fall in winning his Regional after coming in 27th at last year’s Final.

PHOTO: Breckenridge’s Mason Sumner pushes the pace during the Shepherd John Bruder Classic earlier this fall. (Click to see more from

Freeland's Hansen Smashes Longstanding Record, FHE Claims 1st Finals Victory

November 4, 2023

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.

Until Saturday.

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.

Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship.“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.

Click for full results.

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/