By Greg Gielczyk

HART — Going into the season, the Hart girls’ cross country team expected to be contending for what would be an unprecedented sixth straight state championship.

Fast forward ahead to the present time and the Pirates find themselves in the MHSAA Division 3 state finals.

But accomplishing the feat, something no team – boys or girls – in any division has ever done, isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

The state meet will be at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn on Saturday.

If the Pirates can pull it off, it will be something this group of athletes can reminisce about 10, 20, 30 years from now when they’re gathering for reunions of the 2022 team. They can tell their children, and their children’s children, how they were members of a historic team that left an indelible mark on the sport.

But, there is no question this one will be the toughest one yet.

“The competition is going to be a lot tighter this year than it’s been the last five,” said Hart coach Terry Tatro. “I told them here the other day ‘All the work is done. It’s a mental game now. You have to come to run, and we’ll see what happens Saturday.’ We had a good regional, both boys and girls (winning titles). So far, it’s been a good week. Everybody’s upbeat, and feeling pretty good, and anxious to go.”

In preparation for the meet, the training has been done is unseasonably warm temperatures.

“We’re ready,” Tatro said. “We’ll just see how it all plays out. I always tell them that the state final is different than anything else, because everybody wants it. You’ve got to bring everything there.”

Jessica Jazwinski (Photo/Leo Valdez)

Hart is led by sophomore Jessica Jazwinski, the state’s top runner in Division 3 and the favorite to take the No. 1 spot, and junior Alyson Enns.

Enns cross-trained all summer and didn’t do a whole lot of running, according to Tatro, but has come back strong and posted some outstanding races.

They finished first and second at the regional meet.

But it’s been the grouping of the three, four and five runners — even six and seven — that has been the most impressive to Tatro.

Alyson Enns (Photo/Leo Valdez)

Running behind Jazwinski and Enns for the Pirates are Lexie Beth Nienhaus, Savanna Owens and Abigail Pretty … in that order.

“Most all of them were within several seconds of each other,” Tatro said. “They’re grouped really tight. If I can just get them to move up in the pack, it’ll be interesting. Our motto is to not look too far forward, and take each race as they come up, and run your best. We’re training hard and staying injury-free.”

Lexie Beth Nienhaus (Photo/Leo Valdez)

Hart has been ranked anywhere from second to fourth all season, depending on which rankings you follow.

Traverse City St. Francis has been No. 1 in the rankings all season by a wide margin, and is just one of the major challengers the Pirates will face Saturday. Elk Rapids, which finished second to the Gladiators at East Jordan last week, and regional champions Pewamo-Westphalia and Jackson Lumen-Christi are all running well at the right time.

Obviously, the Pirates go in with a huge target on their back. Literally, and figuratively.

“Our uniforms have a great big ‘1’ on the back, because our motto has always been ‘We Run as One,'” Tatro said. “It stands out in a race. You can see them coming from a half-mile away. I’m sure the girls are going to have people keying on them throughout the race. That’s what it’s all about.”

So far, the Pirates have succeeded in beating all comers to keep that No. 1 on the leaderboard.