By Greg Gielczyk
Anything can happen once you get to the state championship meet.
At least that’s what several area cross country teams are counting on Saturday when the regional champions, and other top finisher, convene for the final meet of the season.
Teams which won regional titles are carrying high expectations as they prepare for the major event, but all the qualifying teams know they have just as good a chance of bringing home the trophy.
Competing on the course at the Michigan International Speedway puts everyone on an even playing field, so to speak, since it’s a flat course which, on a good day weather-wise, usually yields fast times.
Naturally, all eyes will be on the Hart girls’ team which is shooting for its fifth straight Division 3 state title. The Pirates won their fourth straight regional title last weekend.
Hart’s leading runners are freshman Jessica Jazwinski, and sisters, sophomore Alyson Enns, a sophomore, and Audrianna Enns, a senior. Last week, they finished 1-2-3.
“We work on trying to stay group tight,” said Hart head coach Terry Tatro. “Everybody working together and working off each other. Just trying to stay as close as we can and as tight as we can.”
Meanwhile, the boys’ team is eager for another shot at the title after finishing second a year ago and came close to giving the school a sweep of the Division 3 titles.
Hart junior Clayton Ackley, a regional champion, has been the leader of the pack all year and will be counted upon to do the same this weekend.
The boys also count on having a tight group and hope their depth translates into success. Last week, the Pirates had three runners finish in the top five.
A lot of attention will also be focused on the Division 4 state final race, where the Western Michigan Christian girls expect to be contending for the title.
Ranked in the top 5 for most of the season, the Warrior girls’ possess the necessary talent to reach their goal. Led by All-American and nationally ranked senior Abby VanderKooi, who is a senior looking to win the state title again.
Vanderkooi is favored to win again, but the Warriors possess solid depth behind her, including her sister Grace. However, Grace is hampered by an injury and it will be determined mid-week if she will be able to compete.
Competition will be stiff this weekend, though, with so many talented tems and individuals looking to overtake Vanderkooi.
But great athletes thrive off good competition, and WMC coach Greg Gould doesn’t expect anything less from VanderKooi.
The Warrior boys don’t have quite the resume the girls do, but it would be a mistake to count them out. With a break or two, they could finish near the top of the standings.
Fremont’s boys team is looking for a three-peat, having won the state title in 2019 and 2020 in Division 2. The Packers are led by senior Connor Somers, who comes in as regional champion.
Kent City’s girls team defeated Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in the Division 3 regional championship last weekend, proving they can run, and beat, anybody despite what the state rankings may say.
This is the fourth consecutive trip to the state final for the Eagles.
“We’re a really deep team,” coach Jill Evers said. “We just try to keep everything the same. We’re going to give it our best. We just do our normal race plan.”
Kent City is paced by freshman Lila Volkers, but senior Alysha Linsley and senior Kierra Flegel also consistently finish in the top 10.
Grand Haven’s boys cross country team is coming into the Division 1 state final off a major high after winning the regional championship last week.
The regional champion Buccaneers were led by sophomore Seth Norder, who brought home the individual top honors with an impressive time of 15:24.10.
Mason County Eastern’s boys team is happy to be competing for the Division 4 state title. The Cardinals are coming in under the radar and a break or two could push them close to the top of the final standings.
Eastern junior Nate Wing took third place and senior teammate Eli Shoup was fourth.
Spring Lake has both its boys and girls teams in the Division 2 state championship meet, as both finished second in the regional competition.
The Lakers did come away with the individual champion as senior Ian Hill won the title.
Several individuals will be vying for All-State honors in their portion of the race.
Pentwater had two runners qualify for the state finals in Mitchel Daniels and Abe VanDuinen. Ludington qualified two girls for the individual state final, sisters Summer and Autumn Browers.
Newaygo will be represented in the individual final by sophomore Remington Arney, who finished ninth at the Division 2 regional.
Reeths-Puffer is sending senior Klay Grant and sophomore Jaxon Allen as individuals in Division 1. Fruitport sophomore Levi Glynn qualified in Division 2, while freshman Valerie Pollock punched her ticket to the individual final for the girls. Mason County Eastern sophomores Olivia Wing and Elizabeth Logan qualified in Division 4.
Holton junior Vanessa Peltoniemi and freshman Aubrey Goyings also will be running in the individual state race in Division 4. Shelby junior Emma Soelberg qualified for the Division 3 individual girls final.
Also qualifying as an individuals were Whitehall junior Andre Richmond, senior Riley Buys and junior Carter McIlroy, along with freshmen Peyton Ruel and senior Max Remondino of Muskegon Oakridge.