Saugatuck Racing Toward New Challenge

October 18, 2016

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

SAUGATUCK It’s tough enough for a team to defend an MHSAA Finals championship. 

It might be even more difficult to do it in an unfamiliar division.

The Saugatuck boys cross country team will be presented with that challenge after a slight change in enrollment bumped the Indians up to Division 3 this fall.

The Indians had solidified themselves as a state powerhouse in Division 4 the past three years, with two MHSAA Lower Peninsula championships and a Finals runner-up finish.

However, Saugatuck’s enrollment increased, and this season the team will compete in Division 3, beginning with its Regional on Oct. 29 at Redbud MX in Buchanan. 

“My guys were actually excited about it, and they were pumped when they heard,” Indians coach Rick Bauer said. “Not that they thought they were going to win (again), but they knew they would get a chance to run faster and against better competition and that’s really what they wanted.”

Saugatuck breezed to its second MHSAA title in three seasons last year at Michigan International Speedway,  putting five runners in the top 15. 

Senior Zachary Pettinga, who placed runner-up as an individual last year, said the team is thrilled to see how it stacks up against a new crop of competitors.

“I was very excited because I knew it was a new challenge for the team,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of competition for us last year with the guys in Division 4, and so this is an exciting change. Our team likes challenges, and we wanted to move up.”

The Indians didn’t graduate anyone from last year, returning their entire top seven. They would’ve been the heavy favorite to repeat this season in Division 4, but now have their sights set on reigning Division 3 champion Lansing Catholic and perennial power Benzonia Benzie Central.

“Coming into this season, I didn’t look at it as we were defending state champs because we’re in a new division,” Bauer said. “It’s really Lansing Catholic, which is the team to beat. That’s been our thing. Lansing Catholic is the champs, and if we want to win we have to beat them and a host of other really good teams. That has been our main focus since we found out we were going up.”

Saugatuck certainly has the talent and depth to challenge for the top spot in Division 3.

It boasts a bevy of experience with 13 seniors. Sophomore Corey Gorgas also is back, and has vastly improved his times from a year ago.

Other key returnees include seniors Nick Butch, Orlando Carrion, Eldon Garvelink, Jacob VanderRoest, Evan Hotary, Sam Putzke and junior Keegan Seifert.

“It’s a whole different level for us, but we’ve put in the work and hopefully we’ll be ready for it,” Gorgas said. “There are so many different teams and individuals so the competition is a lot better. I was hoping for this because I wanted the extra competition. We’re looking forward to the state finals and having them all at the same meet.”

The Indians got a taste of Division 3 when they competed in the recent Portage Invitational.

Bauer said there are differences between Division 3 and Division 4, and his team was forced to adapt to running conditions to which they were unaccustomed.

Still, Saugatuck won the Division 3 race at Portage with 81 points, 59 fewer than runner-up Lansing Catholic. Gorgas was third (15:50) individually, with Pettinga seventh (16:11) and Butch 13th (16:38). 

“Division 3 is a different world, and the kids had to adjust accordingly at Portage,” he said. “They’ve been able to run pretty clear in Division 4 and there isn’t a lot of bumping and pushing. You go up to Division 3 and there’s a lot more physical racing going on, so that’s been the biggest difference.

“There are also many more guys who can run the same kind of time that we are running.”

The Indians dominated its most recent race, the Southwestern Athletic Conference meet on Oct. 11, placing the top four and 10 of the events top 12 runners.

Obviously all can’t be in the starting lineup as the team moves deeper into the postseason.  But Bauer said the unselfishness of his squad has been impressive to witness.

“We go pretty deep, and the thing about our team that is great is no one gets mad about it,” he said. “They all have the same goal in mind, and all of them want to be one of those seven, but also want the best seven out there. That’s refreshing to have kids who can think about the big picture and what’s best for the team.”

The Indians have experienced success this season in preparation for the Nov. 5 Finals. Despite a few injuries, they’ve set themselves up to make their mark in a new setting. 

“We’ve been able to stay healthy for the most part,” Bauer said. “We’ve won some meets where I thought we ran terrible, and we’ve had other meets where I thought we’ve run really well. We’re trending in the right direction.”

Added Pettinga: “We’ve competed well, but I still think we can do better. We’re working hard every day, and we still have that main goal. We want a state championship ring with Division 3 on it, and we want to maintain the success we’ve built up here."

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Saugatuck's Corey Gorgas (right) stays just ahead of Whitmore Lake's Trey Cucuro to finish third at the Portage Invitational on Oct. 8. (Middle) Nick Butch (918), Orlando Carrion (919) and Keegan Seifert (behind) run in a pack on the way to finishing 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively, at last season's LP Division 4 Final. (Below) Saugatuck's Zach Pettinga runs toward a seventh-place finish at Portage; he was the LPD4 runner-up a year ago. (Photos by John Brabbs & Carter Sherline/

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/