By Greg Gielczyk

HART — Hart’s girls cross country team is attempting to do something no other team, regardless of division, has done in history.

That is to win a sixth straight MHSAA Division 3 state championship. Three teams – the Charlevoix boys (1987-91), the Rockford girls (1998-2002) and the Dexter boys of 2002-06) — are  the only ones to win five consecutive titles prior to Hart’s current streak.

None of the previous teams made it to six.

But the Pirates’ path to the prize is strewn with potential obstacles, any one of which could derail their hopes, including unforeseen injuries to key runners. Injuries can happen in the blink of an eye.

The Pirates overcame injuries last year with Alyson Enns struggling with hip problems and Lauren VanderLaan suffering a stress fracture.

Don’t ever count out the Pirates. But it’s certainly not a given that they’ll be able to do it.

“It’s a lofty goal, that’s for sure, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to get there,” said Pirates’ long-time coach Terry Tatro. “It’s there for the taking, though.”

Linda and Terry Tatro (Photo/Leo Valdez)

Hart is attempting to fill the gaps in its lineup left in the wake of the graduation.

VanderLaan, who usually runs in the Pirates’ top five, showed her grit and determination by gutting through a stress fracture and finished 193rd at the state final last year.

“We don’t quite have the depth that we’ve had,” noted Tatro. “But, I have my two frontrunners back, and we’re pretty good in third.

“However, we have some work to do to fill the gaps. We’re hoping we can do that, and make that transition. We’ll see.”

At this point, Jessica Jazwinski is the Pirates’ leader. She was one of Hart’s top three last year in her freshman season and Tatro says that she’s among the top runners in the state in Division 3.

Also returning from last year is Alyson Enns, who was second at the state finals despite having to deal with injuries that plagued her through last year’s track season.

“She was working on that through the summer, doing a lot of cross training and stuff, so she’s kind of on her way back,” said Tatro. “She’s running very well, but she’s not up to where she can be when she’s completely healthy.”

The third runner in the Pirates’ pecking order currently is sophomore Lexie Beth Nienhaus, who ran her best time ever (19:36.7) at the state meet last year and came just one place short of earning all-state honors.

After that, there are question marks.

Right now, there is a 5-minute spread between the Pirates’ first and fifth runners, which Tatro says is way too big. He said the Pirates need to narrow that down to just a couple minutes if they have any chance of competing for the state title.

But, the top three runners are expected to place high at state.

Jessica Jazwinski (Photo/Leo Valdez)

“Jessica is mentally tough, and I’ve told her, and I’ve told others, I don’t think there’s anyone that trains harder than she does,” Tatro said. “I mean, she is just exceptional. She goes at it 100 percent every day — almost to the point where you’ve got to pull her back a little bit.”

Enns has been swimming and biking in addition to running, as she rehabs from the stress fracture.

She needs to cut a minute off her current time, which is in the mid 18-minutes, in order to return to her previous form before the injury.

Alyson Enns (Photo/Leo Valdez)

Tatro recently viewed a film on the importance of a team’s fifth runner, and he has spoken with the Pirates about it to emphasize how everyone has to pull together.

“It’s so true,” he said. “It starts one, two, three and four — but if you have a weak number five, it just sinks the team. Everybody just plays such a major role. No matter what position you’re in, first or seventh, everybody’s got to be in sync, and everybody’s got to be pushing and working just as hard as the top girl.

“And, they know that.”

With five straight state titles in hand, what is left unsaid is the fact that none of the Pirates want to be the ones who were on the team that failed to continue the streak.

“I know that’s in the back of their minds, and they know that of all the times I’ve had, this is probably the one that’s going to have to work the hardest to get there,” said Tatro. “And they know that.

“We talk about the things that they do have control of, like their sleep, their nutrition, and hydration,” Tatro said. “When it’s hot, I tell them that that’s stuff you have to prepare for not just the day before, but days before.

“Making sure you’re totally hydrated is important when you’re dealing with the heat when you’re starting a meet at two or three o’clock in the afternoon and it’s 80 degrees. You’ve got to prepare for that.”

Lexie Beth Nienhaus (Photo/Leo Valdez)

The Pirates don’t discuss winning that sixth straight state title a whole lot.

“It’s on our minds, and it’s mentioned every once in awhile, but it’s not something that we dwell on, because I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on them so early in the season,” said Tatro.

“They put enough pressure on themselves to have them worrying about the state finals right now,” he said. “We take it day by day, and meet by meet, (and) try to improve every day.”

It’s just business as usual for the Pirates.