By Jason Goorman
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – Friday may be the biggest day in the history of cross country in Muskegon County.

Hundreds of runners from several age groups – middle school, high school and college – will converge on University Park Golf Course to test their speed and endurance against strong competition.

Of course the main event will be the annual Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Cross Country Meet. Runners from 13 area high schools will be competing for team and individual titles in boys and girls divisions.

But that won’t be the only attraction.

The Muskegon Community College cross country teams will be hosting the Jayhawk Invitational on the same course, with 21 college teams in the running.

The event will also feature a brand new wrinkle – a “Junior City Meet” cross country race for area middle school runners.

Muskegon Community College Cross Country Coach Dan Fishel can hardly wait for the big day to arrive.

“It’s a nice opportunity for kids to see the levels they can run at,” said Fishel, regarding the many different ages of runners who will be competing. “There are going to be hundreds of runners out there. It’s going to be a fantastic day for cross country.”

Boys and girls teams from Fruitport, Calvary Christian, Holton, Montague, Muskegon, Mona Shores, Oakridge, Orchard View, Reeths-Puffer, Western Michigan Christian, North Muskegon, Ravenna and Whitehall will all be competing in the city meet.

Whitehall returns as the defending boys team champion and will again be a top contender. Six other teams are also expected to be in the running – Mona Shores, North Muskegon, Montague, Orchard View, Reeths-Puffer and WMC.

Whitehall senior Keaton Smith, the defending individual champion, will try to top last year’s winning time of 16:50. His best time this season thus far is 16:10. If Smith turns in that type of performance on Friday, he’ll break the University Park course record of 16:21 set by North Muskegon’s Jacob Chovaz in 2012.

Fishel thinks new records are a definite possibility on Friday.

“Our course is pretty solid,” he said. “Other than a few hills, you can run a good time on it. It’s very good footing.”

Seven other local contenders have broken the 17 minute mark this season and could challenge Smith for his title. They are Whitehall’s Alex Dennis and Roger Champion, WMC’s Braxton Snuffer, Orchard View’s Sam Dueling, Muskegon’s Jose Hernandez and Calvary Christian’s Brendon Hamilton.

The girls race is expected to feature tight competition for the team title. Defending champion Reeths-Puffer, Whitehall and Mona Shores are considered the early favorites.

Jessica Harris of Whitehall and Maryassa Depies of Reeths-Puffer could very well compete for the individual title. Depies’ best time this season is 18:31 while Harris’ is 18:45.

With cooler temperatures anticipated, the girls course record of 18:31 could very well be in jeopardy.

Other contenders for the girls individual title are Whitehall’s Maya Hector and Avley Hentschel, North Muskegon’s Avery Lowe, Mona Shores’ Jackie Seward, Reeths-Puffer’s Jayme Brantsen and Montague’s Kenadee Schugars.

“It should be a good running weather day,” Fishel said. “It’s expected to be in the low 50s, and the colder the weather, the hard they run.”

The Jayhawk Invitational starts at 1:30 p.m. with the men’s race and 2:15 p.m. for the women’s race. The high school race starts at 3:15 p.m. for the boys and 3:50 p.m. for the girls.

The middle school race, a two-mile run, will start at 5 p.m.