By Steve Underwood
Nationally top ten-ranked Julia Bos and Erin Finn, and US#8 Grosse Pointe South’s girls, will be among those trying to defend 2011 titles when the MHSAA Lower Peninsula State Finals take off Saturday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.
Overall, all eight 2011 state team champions will be trying to retain titles, as well as three returning individual grls. But the most drama at an elite scale will involve Bos, Finn and GPS.
Unfortunately, US#4 Bos (Grand Rapids Christian senior) and #7 Finn (West Bloomfield senior) will not clash, since they run in different divisions. But fans will no doubt be comparing their times as they compete in the final two races of the day at 2:30 p.m. (D2 girls) and 3 p.m. ET (D1 girls). Finn ran 17:22.6 for 5k last November in taking D1, while Bos hit 17:24.7 in D2. They would go on to finish second and 10th, respectively, in the 2011 Foot Locker Finals.
Bos defeated Finn in their only meeting this season, the Spartan Invitational in September, 17:20-17:35, keeping Finn from defending her title there and nearly topping her course record. Bos also finished second to Finn’s third at Foot Locker Midwest last fall. Finn, on the other hand, has beaten Bos on other occasions, owns a faster set of distance track PRs, and is known for her stunning indoor US record 16:19 5,000 meters last March at New Balance Nationals Indoor.
Conditions are expected to be cool (40s), but sunny and with moderate winds. More on each division, both girls and boys, below:
Since her loss to Bos in September, Finn has been unbeaten, but through early October her performances were not quite up to her 2011 standard. Then her iron levels were tested and she was found to have a deficiency. In her final league jamboree and then in last week’s regional race, she returned to her sub-18:00 form of the past. Whether or not she will still be the fastest of the day, that will likely put her in a good position to defend her title in D1.
Or will it? Finn’s toughest challenger will likely be Grosse Pointe South senior Hannah Meier, who finished third in both 2010 (beating Finn) and 2011 (17:24.1, less than two seconds back). Meier was 15 seconds behind Finn in third at the Spartan meet in September. Meier is best-known for her miling skills – she made Team USA for both the 2011 World Youth and 2012 World Junior 1500s, and has won two New Balance Indoor mile titles – but is a fine overland runner, as well.
Other top D1 girls’ individual contenders? Hartland senior Avery Evenson has finished 2nd, 11th, and 5th in her three years at state, and seems fitter than ever after winning the big Portage Invite (D1 race). Meier’s twin sister, Hannah, and other teammates Kelsie Schwartz and Ersula Farrow, are capable of running near the front. Brooke Kovacic (Oxford), Gabby Thivierge (Rochester Adams), and Claire Borchers (Grand Haven) are some other names to watch for – but it’s likely everyone else is running for third behind Finn and Meier.
The team battle, on the other hand, could definitely go any of three ways – at least. The defending state champs from Grosse Pointe South are loaded with the big four mentioned above, all returnees, and have the depth to close it out. But they will be severely challenged by Saline, which won the 2009 title, was second by five points last year, and is deeper than ever – even if they aren’t quite as front-loaded. However, it’s Birmingham Seaholm, 4th at state last year, which has comes in as the #1-ranked team by michigancrosscountry.com, having beaten Saline and GPS in late September (though GPS was missing the Meiers in that meet, reportedly on a recruiting visit).
Defending state champ Highland-Milford has been ranked #1 in the state since early in the season, and return four of the top five that netted them a 44-point margin last November. Junior Brian Kettle was 2nd at state last year (top returnee) and his 15:21 led a 25-point effort in a very tough regional as H-M had five run 16:00 or faster.
Second-ranked Romeo, just 15th last year, has risen impressively with a very deep squad. They were a close 3rd at the Spartan Invite behind Waterford Mott and Saline, won the Coaching Legends Invite, then had their top four finish within four seconds in a strong regional at Algonac. #3 Saline was 4th at state last year, 2nd at Spartan, 2nd behind Hilliard-Davidson at Portage, and won the Woodhaven Region. Then there’s #5 Waterford Mott, which was the upset winner at Spartan, and 3rd at state last year. Rockford, Grand Blanc, and Ann Arbor Pioneer could be in the mix, too.
Individually, it’s pretty wide open, with Kettle and senior teammate Cody Snavely (5th last year), Lake Orion senior TJ Carey (4th last year, 5th at Spartan, regional champ), Waterford Mott senior Nathan Burand (6th last year, Spartan champ), and Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills senior Jeff Bajema (8th last year, Portage Champ, 3rd at Spartans) looking like the top contenders. Also watch for super sophs Ben Hill of Royal Oak and Mickey Davey of Warren DeLaSalle Collegiate.
The unbeaten Bos has had an amazing year, starting with the victory over Finn at Spartans. She’s been under 17:40 eight times, including an epic course record 17:19.1 at Portage and a new PR 17:18.21 at her regional race. It’s very likely to be her against the clock Saturday as she shoots for very low 17s or better.
Expect Bos to have company in the early going, however. The Cedar Springs duo of sisters Kenzie and Katie Weiler, especially Kenzie, are likely to go out hard. Kenzie was second in D2 last year, 2nd at Portage in 17:47, and has beaten pretty much everyone in D2 besides Bos. Chippewa Hills junior Megan O’Neil (9th last year, 2nd at region behind Weiler) and Hamilton senior Molly Oren (5th last year, has only lost to Bos this year) are among those who will challenge for 3rd place.
The team battle will be much closer. Forest Hills Eastern is ranked #1 behind senior Clara Cullen and a deep group, having won Portage and its region. Rising power #2 Spring Lake didn’t have a full team at state last fall, but was 2nd at Portage and their region. Bos’s GR Christian team took down Spring Lake in that regional race and while they were just 3rd at Portage, they’ll be in there, too. Then there’s defending state champ #3 East Grand Rapids, 4th at Portage and a point behind Spring Lake at regional, and the Weilers’ #7 Cedar Springs team, among others. In the past nine state meets, EGR has won five and GRC three.
The fastest boys’ runner in the state Saturday could come from Cedar Springs, which with the Weilers certainly has the best combo of boys and girls elites. Senior Connor Mora was 3rd last year and the top non-senior. An off day at Spartan was his only loss this year. He won Portage in 15:18 (just two ticks off Bajema’s D1 time) and rolled to a 14:54 in his regional meet. No one else in the state has his 4:10.72 miler’s chops.
Mora’s toughest competition should come from Mason senior Tanner Hinkle, who was 4th last year, 2nd at Spartans, and has a 15:05.6 best – not to mention a 9:14.69 3,200 PR, best among current runners in Michigan. Big Rapids senior Clark Ruiz, 5th last year and 2nd behind Mora in his regional, will be tough, too.
Team-wise, #6 Mason has a great first four, but probably not the depth to retain its 2011 title. So #1 St. Clair, just 7th last year but Portage Invite winners and dominant regional champs with a balanced top seven, will be favored. #2 St. Joseph, 2nd in 2011 and 2nd this year at Portage, will have the best chance of challenging. #3 GR Christian, #4 Linden, and Mora’s #5 Cedar Springs will be in there for podium spots.
Grandville-Calvin Christian has a chance at a sweep this year, but it’s their #1-ranked girls (8th in 2011) that may have a better chance of winning than their defending state champ boys. With six of the their top seven back, GCC has been on a roll, with a Portage victory as the major highlight. But defending state champ #2 (tie) Benzie Central, just eight points behind them at Portage. Jackson Lumen Christi, the other #2, should be right there, too.
Individually, 2011 runner-up Rachel Serna of St. Louis is the top returnee. Manistee soph Annie Fuller, 9th last year, beat many of the division’s best at Portage and will be another main threat. Also watch for Ida soph Ashley Sorge (3rd last year, Woodhaven region champ), Shepherd junior Kayle Rhynard (5th last year, 2nd behind Serna at region, sister of former state champ Caleb – a Foot Locker Finalist), and Charlevoix soph Amber Way (9th last year, close second behind Fuller at regional).
Defending state champ Grandville Calvin-Christian suffered significant graduation losses (three of top four), but is still ranked #2 and senior Zac Nowicki (5th in 2011) is an individual favorite. The team ranked ahead of them, #1 Marlette, is also led by an outstanding senior. Their Andy Bowman (11th in 2011) edged Nowicki at Portage, 15:30.7 to 15:31.7.
Marlette, which has never finished higher than 7th at state, is one of the year’s feel-good stories. Bowman, one of three triplets, leads the team with brother, Jacob (7th in 2011). Coach Chris Titus had three runners when he took over the program at his tiny alma mater six years ago; now he has 25.
#3 Benzie Central, #4 Jackson Lumen Christi, and #5 Freeland (2nd at Portage) are other key team contenders. #7 Lansing Catholic, a close 2nd last year in a runaway two-team battle with GCC, also was hit hard by graduation (four of top five). Individually, two unbeatens – Mason County junior Chase Barnett (2nd last year) and Erie Mason senior Nick Raymond (4th last year) – and Hanover-Horton sr Bryce Stroede (6th last year, 3rd at Portage) are the top runners to watch.
Individually, Breckenridge junior Kirsten Olling will likely give the big school girls something to shoot for. She’s the defending champ in the smallest class, and was also a record-breaker at Portage last month. She ran 17:59.6 there, though she was runner-up to Lauren Benstead, a senior at Charyl Stockwell Academy, a school competing outside the MHSAA. Olling won D4 by 38 seconds last year and it might be the same story Saturday.
2011 team champ Hesperia had three seniors at the top, so the door is open for a new champ and #1 Harbor Springs and #2 Bear Lake should have a good battle. They were separated by just a point at Portage and both are vastly improved. Bear Lake was 12th last year and Harbor was 5th in D3. #4 North Muskegon, 2nd last year (4th at Portage), will also be in there, as will #3 Mt. Pleasant-Beal City
Concord has won two of the last three titles in this class and 2012 should add to the total. Despite losing state champ Spencer Nousain, the nearby school has been #1 all season. Soph Jesse Hersha is one of the state’s most improved runners, which showed when he won Portage in 15:43. Hersha will be pushed by the 2-3 runners at Portage – Fremont Providence sr Nick Vanderkooi (11th at state last year) and Saugatuck senior Sean Kelly (2nd last year) – and Evart senior David Zinger (3rd last year). Vanderkooi, Kelly and Zinger are all from the same region and they finished in that order last week.
#2 Pewamo-Westphalia (8th in D3 last year, 2nd at Portage), #3 Saugatuck (11th last year, 3rd at Portage), and #4 Breckenridge (2nd at Portage) are the other teams to beat.