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By Andrew Johnson
After the team failed to qualify for state as freshmen, they finished second in the state in their sophomore year, then finally broke through with a Class B state title as juniors last fall.
On Saturday they will try to become back-to-back champions and earn a permanent part in the storied history of the Fremont cross country program.
Their accomplishments have been important, because they restored the program to its former greatness. After being a perennial state power for years, the Packer boys team failed to qualify for the state finals from 2011 through 2013.
“They’ve been huge, they’ve been a huge part of the turnaround at Fremont,” said head coach Cliff Somers about his seniors. “This group of seniors will be remembered for a long time.”
Leading the senior group is Matthew Zerfas, who averages a time of 16:05. Sam Kaastra averages 16:25, Sam Stitt averages 16:30 and Cole Hamilton averages 17:15.
Average times for the non-seniors are Ben Schmidt at 16:15, Carter Moon at 18:10 and Ben DeVries at 18:20.
Six of the seven Packer runners raced on the 2015 state championship team, and Somers loves the combination of experience and previous success that his team will bring to the state final.
“We didn’t have hardly any seniors last year, so these guys have had to lead for a few years,” Somers said. “It’s been a learning process and a good life lesson. They’ve kept the attitude to work hard and stayed focused, even when things may not be going their way.”
The Packers have only lost to two teams in 2016 and are ranked first in the state in Class B. They won their third straight Central State Activities Association Gold Division championship this fall and won the Class B regional last weekend in Gaylord.
The senior Packers have been motivated for three years by their failure to make the state finals in 2013, particularly since they came so close. Fremont finished fourth overall in the regional and needed to place in the top three to advance.
“We just missed going on, and on the bus ride home we talked about what had happened during the prior summer and what could have been if guys had run more during the summer,” Somers said. “They said they were not going to miss out again because they didn’t work hard enough.”
There has been no letdown in effort this season, even though the Packers could have rested on their accomplishments after winning the state title last November.
“They’ve continued to have the attitude of working hard, and that if they don’t achieve what we want, it won’t be because they didn’t train hard.”
While another state title would be great, Somers is convinced his senior group has already cemented its legacy at Fremont, no matter the results on Saturday.
“To go as sophomores and be runners-up, and then champions as juniors, they’ve made a legacy,” the coach said. “We’ve never won back-to-back state championships, and if that doesn’t happen we’re still proud of what we’ve done, and they’ll be cemented as one of the best groups to go through Fremont.”