By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Over the past nine days, Nick Raymond has replayed his best high school cross country race over and over in his memory.
He starts from the beginning and goes right through the finish line – while enjoying especially his surge during the second of the 3.1-mile Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final on Nov. 3 at Michigan International Speedway.
“If I hadn't done that, it could’ve been a difference race,” Raymond admitted Monday.
Instead, it was one of the best Division 3 races run in MHSAA history.
The Erie Mason senior received a Second Half High 5 after claiming his school’s first overall individual championship in 15:05.1, the second-fastest Division 3/Class C Finals time behind only that of Ovid-Elsie’s Maverick Darling in 2007. Raymond's also was the second-fastest time run at the Finals this fall.
And it was a redeeming way to finish his high school cross country career. Raymond found himself at the front of the Division 3 pack as a junior in 2011, but finished fourth. But he started this race with a speedy 4:39 mile and then kicked into another gear halfway home, which was his strategy all along.
“I've just been doing that all year, and it seemed to be working time-wise,” Raymond said. “If I do it then, and I can pull away, it gets into (my opponents') minds that they could get beat.”
Erie Mason has a solid running tradition. It finished 16th as a team this fall and won Division 3 in 2006. Matthew Waldfogel took first among individual finishers in the 1994 Class C Final, when team and individual qualifiers ran separate races, although his time would've tied for only second if both had been run together.
Raymond’s final season puts him at the top of individuals who have come through the program.
He finished his freshman year as the team’s number two runner, and “just progressively got faster,” Erie Mason coach Alison Meisner said. By the end of last fall, Raymond had the school record with a best of 15:59, his time at MIS.
But the best was yet to come.
"He had lots of natural talent, but he has a really good worth ethic," Meisner said. "He's very goal-oriented. He's just a little more driven to work at goals he sets for himself."
When he opened this season at the Ottawa Lake Whiteford Invitational by running 15:59 again, Meisner knew her standout might show more than just the usual improvement that comes from going from junior to senior.
Raymond’s moment of realization came two weeks later when he ran a 15:26 at the New Boston Huron Invitational.
“I realized I could go much faster,” he said. “I was pretty tired, because it was the first time I ever went that fast. But whenever I get a p.r. (personal record), I feel like I could go faster.”
Raymond ran 15:16 a week later at the Oregon Cardinal Stritch Invitational near Toledo, and then 15:15 or better three times before cutting 10 more seconds at MIS.
Oddly enough, the subject of Darling – now a standout at the University of Wisconsin – came up after Raymond beat the field by more than a minute with a 15:15 at his Regional.
An opposing runner quipped that Raymond might have dominated, but he wasn't Darling just yet.
But he’s getting closer. And Raymond too hopes to continue running at the highest level next fall.
“They were dogging me that I wasn't as good as Maverick Darling was,” Raymond said. “But my friends said it was sweet that I was even mentioned in the same sentence as him.”
PHOTO: Erie Mason senior Nick Raymond charges down the home stretch on the way to winning the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship at Michigan International Speedway. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.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.)