Second Half reports
BROOKLYN — When Samantha Saenz of Concord needs training partners or racing advice, she leans upon the school’s boys team.
“I don’t have many girls on my team, so I train with the boys, so that helps,” she said. “They’re fast.”
So is Saenz.
Moving through the pack for four years, she found herself alone in front throughout the entire race Saturday on her way to the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 individual championship at Michigan International Speedway.
She became Concord’s first female Finals champion since Jenny Franssen won Class D in 1982.
The school has produced nine boys individual titles won by six runners. Saenz knows two of them, 2009 champion Kyle Stacks and three-time winner Jesse Hersha, who was a senior in 2014 when Saenz was a freshman.
“Jesse Hersha gives really good advice,” Saenz said. “I learned that pain is temporary and pride is forever. Kyle Stacks also helps with our team.”
Saenz ran a solo race up front, posting a time of 18:16.8. She has been all-state all four years, improving from 22nd as a freshman to seventh as a sophomore to third as a junior.
“It feels so good,” she said. “I’ve been working for it for four years. I finally got it. I’m so happy.”
Finishing second for the second year in a row was Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior Bailley McConnell, who finished in 18:44.1. Teammate Scout Nelson was third in 18:46.6.
McConnell and Nelson led Sacred Heart to its third straight team championship with a score of 39 points. Ubly was second with 138 and Lansing Christian took third with 141.
There were four McConnell sisters on last year’s championship team. Alexis McConnell graduated and junior Cammie McConnell was injured Saturday, so it was just Bailley and sophomore Desiree McConnell representing the family this year at MIS.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Bailley said. “This year it was a little different, because last year I had my two sisters actually run with me the whole time for most of it, whereas this year I ran with different teammates because I wasn’t able to run with my younger sister as much.”
Completing the scoring for Sacred Heart were Desiree McConnell (eighth, 19:21.0), Lauren MacDonald (19th, 19:56.3) and Rowan Fitzpatrick (23rd, 20:01.8).
The Irish’s score was the 10th-lowest by a girls team champion in any division or classification since the MHSAA began sponsoring a girls meet in 1978. Last year’s Sacred Heart team set a Division 4 record that ranks sixth all-time with a score of 34 points.
“It’s really nice,” Bailley McConnell said. “Working together, we’re able to stay pretty consistent, and we try to work with each other to know what we’re supposed to do.”
Junior Haili Gusa led Ubly to its runner-up finish, placing seventh in 19:15.6. It was Ubly’s best team finish, surpassing a fifth-place showing in 2004.
PHOTOS: (Top) Concord’s Samantha Saenz pulls away from the field in winning Saturday’s Division 4 race. (Middle) Sacred Heart’s Scout Nelson, left, and Bailley McConnell led the Irish to a third straight team championship. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
Rachel Forsyth ♦ Ann Arbor Pioneer
Senior ♦ Cross Country
The latest in a long line of Pioneer distance stars, Forsyth began her final high school cross country season with a nearly 26-second victory in the big-school race at the Benzie Central Pete Moss Invitational on Saturday. She ran a personal-record 17:09.24, which says a ton considering her past work; Forsyth was the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final champion in 2021 as a sophomore and the 2020 runner-up in her first trip to Michigan International Speedway. What's more, she was followed in this Benzie race by reigning Division 3 champion Jessica Jazwinski of Hart in second and last year's Division 4 champion Aiden Harrand of Buckley in third as Pioneer finished second as a team against an elite field.
An injury delayed the start of Forsyth's junior season last fall until the end of September, and she ran only 62nd at the LPD1 Final five weeks later. But she was clearly back to unstoppable during track season, setting personal records in the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and 400 while going undefeated in individual events for the spring and winning LPD1 Finals championships in the 800, 1,600 and as part of the 3,200 relay. She and her siblings have enjoyed an incredible run of success over the last decade; older sister Anne Forsyth was a four-time top-15 cross country finisher at LPD1 Finals and runner-up as a junior in 2016, and sister Sarah Forsyth twice finished among the top 10 individually and as a senior with Rachel in 2021 helped Pioneer to the team title.
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(PHOTOS by Run Michigan.)