POWERS — Student-athletes from Bark River-Harris have waited a long time for their opportunity to participate in cross country.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to start a program at BR-H, a handful of its students are finally getting their chance to run this fall by combining forces with neighboring North Central through a co-op venture.
Wes Knauf, a sophomore at BR-H, led the Jets by placing sixth in the Munising Invitational on Aug. 23, covering the hilly 3.1-mile course in 20 minutes, 37 seconds.
“During the fall, our biggest sport is football,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to have cross country. I wanted to run cross country because I want to get better. This gives me more conditioning for track. I enjoy it. I started a little nervous, but now I feel more comfortable with it.”
And the BR-H students were welcomed with open arms.
“Overall, I’m happy with the way the teams have progressed, and we’re happy to have a full girls team,” second-year North Central coach Mike Jenkins said. “We have only three boys, but we couldn’t ask for a better three.”
Three of the team’s five girls are from BR-H, including junior Julia Olson and sophomore Hope Varoni, who also play volleyball for the Broncos and were big contributors as the girls track & field team won the Upper Peninsula Division 2 championship in June.
“(Cross country is) pretty busy and demanding on my body,” said Olson. “At first I was pretty nervous, but now I’m enjoying it.
“I enjoy running through the woods. It was really hot (Sept. 7) at Manistique. It reminded me a little bit of last year’s track Finals (at Kingsford) because of the heat. This definitely helps for other sports because you’re better conditioned.”
Varoni led the Jets at Munising by placing 15th.
“I was pretty nervous, but I’m also pretty competitive,” she said. “I’m a middle distance runner in track, so this helps my conditioning for sure.
“It feels great to have this opportunity. We’re like a little family. When we go on road trips, it’s a great time. That gives us a chance to bond as a team.”
The North Central girls team finished second at Saturday’s Superior Central Invitational, with Varoni finishing third in the individual standings. Knauf was third in the boys race.
“It’s great to have Wes,” said North Central sophomore Alex Pipkorn. “We don’t have a full team, but it’s great to compete anyway. Anything helps. The more runners we have, the better it is.”
North Central sophomore Ella Riley also plays volleyball for the Jets.
“It feels real good to have a full (cross country) team,” she said. “I enjoy having the girls from Bark River-Harris with us. … I think our team has lot of potential. I think we can do a lot with that.”
BR-H junior Faith Javurek needed a little bit of convincing prior to joining the team.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’ve been running at home because I couldn’t make it to many of the practices, but it’s exciting.”
Sophomore Madelyn Corrigan, who joined the team last week, was set to make her debut at Superior Central.
“It was kind of hard on the first day,” she said last week. “I’m kind of nervous going into the first meet, but I’m doing it to get in shape for basketball.”
Senior Jesse Sampson said he’s more of a middle-of-the-pack runner, but also sees the wide-view benefits of running with the team. He finished 32nd at last season’s UPD3 Cross Country Finals, when the Jets had four racers – one short of getting to compete as a full team.
“I’m mostly competing with myself,” he added. “Three miles isn’t crazy long.
“The most rewarding part of cross country is meeting different kids and making friendships. It’s a benefit having Wes on the team. Competition-wise we don’t have enough for a team score, but it’s light-hearted and fun.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) Powers North Central’s Jesse Sampson (283) runs during last season’s UPD3 Cross Country Finals. (Middle) Julia Olson runs a leg of the 1,600 relay for Bark River-Harris this past spring at the UPD2 Track & Field Finals. (Photos by Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.)
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.)