BROOKLYN — The Northern Michigan runners announced their presence with authority at the MHSAA Cross Country State Championship Finals on Saturday.
Benzie Central’s Hunter Jones left Brooklyn with his record fourth state title. He also set the fastest Finals time in Division 3 history with a 14:46.5, was the fastest runner on the day to win the Mr. Cross Country and set the second best performance in the final behind Dathan Ritzenhein’s 2000 mark of 14:10.4.
Buckley’s Aiden Harrand joined Jones in winning individual gold, doing so in Division 4. Traverse City St. Francis women’s team won their first state championship since 2016, and Johannesburg- Lewiston won the tag team title for the first time on the program. the story.
Jones’ time surpassed Hartland’s Riley Hough time of 14:49.62 set in 2020 for second place all-time in the final, and the senior Huskie joined Austin Plotkin of Brimley from 2016-19 in Division 3 and Central Lake’s Ryan Shay from 1993-96 in Class D as the only other cross-country racers in state history to win four individual state championships.
Jones said all his hard work paid off in his four years.
“I was really nervous. I feel like there was a lot of stress on me to win that fourth title,” Jones said. “I felt quite stressed, but it was still exciting to know that was the last time I was there representing Benzie Central in cross country, it was awesome and really special.
Jones has won his 11 races this year and 51 of 54 races in his career. His only career losses have been against top runners in Divisions 1 and 2.
“It’s been a terrific four years,” Jones said. “I feel incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.”
Benzie’s head coach, Asa Kelly, said Jones’ potential was evident from an early age.
“You really need to go back to college with Hunter. State record holder in the mile and 2 mile in eighth grade. We knew he was special even when he was in second grade and destroying sixth graders,” Kelly said. “We knew he had a crazy future ahead of him.”
That future culminated on Saturday in what most took for granted before the race.
“Going into today, I have nothing against anyone else on the court, but we knew he was going to win,” Kelly said. “There was no doubt in our minds.”
With his victory almost certain, the race came down to what other goals Jones would pursue.
“He came out with crazy wind and crazy time for the second fastest time in state history,” Kelly said. “The ultimate goal was to break Ritzenhein’s record, but the day just didn’t give him that opportunity. With this wind it just wasn’t going to happen, but not because of lack of effort.
Hart won the Tag Team Championship with 116 points, beating second-placed Traverse City St. Francis by 31. St. Louis finished third with 161. St. Francis saw its five runners score the top 74 overall, with its first runner 23rd place Josh Slocum to earn All State Honors.
The St. Francis girls came out of a close battle to claim their first title since 2016 with 134 points. Pewamo-Westphalia was second with 142 and Lansing Catholic was third with 165.
“Obviously, that was our expectation. That’s what we thought we could do,” St. Francis head coach Julie Duffing said of the win. “We feel complete gratitude for what they have done. Our key words this morning were, ‘Let go and let God’. The hay was in the barn this morning. They knew what they had to do and they did it. did.
Sophomore Betsy Skendzel led the Gladiators, placing seventh in 18:48.33. Senior Sophia Rhein was 26th (19:43.27), second Grace Slocum was 33rd (20:07.95), junior Rylee Duffing was 60th (20:44.82) and junior Margot Hagerty was 63rd ( 20:45.78).
Duffing said the girls’ individual times were “not great,” but that was more because of the bad weather and difficult conditions that affected all of the riders on Saturday.
“It was a little windy,” Duffing said, adding that it rained intermittently throughout the races. “The gusts of wind were a bit harsh. It was like they were going 30, 40 miles an hour.
Duffing said the race edged closer to the three-mile mark as she watched the live score come and go between her Gladiators and Pewamo. St. Francis’ fourth, fifth and sixth runners finished within five seconds of each other to cement the win.
“It was huge for us,” Duffing said. “Having our first three low sticks also really helped. The next three held on and carried us through.
“We told the kids, boys and girls, going to the races this morning that it had nothing to do with the weather today. It was all about the location,” she continued. just beat those people around you, and every person counted today.”
The boys’ second place is the best in program history. No men’s team at St. Francis had ever stood on the podium before.
“It’s amazing to see these kids and their love of going out and competing,” said Duffing. “It’s a question of gratitude today to be able to coach them. We are very lucky to be able to train these young people. We wouldn’t want it any other way. We are blessed to be with them.
In Division 4, Harrand fought his way to a state title for Buckley as a junior. People in Harrand’s support system saw potential in her before she saw it in herself.
“My freshman year, I had all the people around me saying, ‘You could win the state in your freshman year,'” Harrand said. “I didn’t really believe it. Well, I started looking at the leaderboards and stuff, and I really could. But I had a rough morning that year. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to. It ignited something in me like, ‘I want this done. I want that to be my main focus.
It took two years, but Harrand delivered on the promise her coaches and teammates had given her, winning on Saturday with a time of 19:05.89 on a windswept course at Michigan International Speedway.
Harrand was a contender her first two years, placing fifth in freshman year and second last year. This year, it all came together.
“Mentally it’s a lot better to have a team, because you’re not just racing for yourself, but you’re racing for the people that are with you,” she said. “It’s just better.”
Harrand has won 11 of his 12 races this year, finishing second in the Sparta Invitational to Kent City runner-up Lila Volkers, who finished fifth in the Division 3 race. Harrand won her regional competition with a season-best time of 6:11 p.m., but MIS was not going to give personal bests on Saturday.
“I wish it had gone a little faster, but due to the wind and weather it was a bit difficult to get through,” she said. “It’s always madness here.”
Johannesburg-Lewiston won their first team championship, scoring 118 points to beat the best sixth-place finish in last year’s schedule. Hillsdale Academy was second with 151 and Whitmore Lake third with 192.
Sophomore Allie Nowak was third in 19:20.80, rookie Yolanda Gascho was seventh in 20:04.18, junior Madalyn Agren was 49th in 21:17.05, senior Adelaida Gascho was 54th in 21:26.87 and junior Rosalinda Gascho finished 58th in 21:32.23 for Johannesburg-Lewiston.
On the Division 1 boys side, Traverse City Central finished second with 196 points behind inaugural champion Northville. The Trojans placed Joe Muha (ninth) and Micah Bauer (10th) in the top 10; his next finishers were 47th, 110th and 134th overall. Traverse City West’s Jonah Hochstetler took all-state honors with a seventh-place finish at 15:48.72.
Central’s second place tie for best team performance of all time. The last Central crew to take second place was in 1996, a year before the high school split into Central and West.
“We are thrilled,” said TC Central boys head coach Bryan Burns. “As a team we couldn’t have raced much better than we did. From our one to our seven the guys just ran a very well controlled and smart race. They didn’t let the great atmosphere get to them at all.
Burns said the D1 run started slowly and saw Bauer and Muha take the lead. It also allowed their other four runners to stay in the race without getting “too excited or anxious.” The Trojans were in first place and on pace for a state championship after the first mile, but champion Northville quickly took over.
Burns said the Boys at Troy 2022 pride themselves on their depth and team chemistry
“You run for the other six guys on the course, and they really believe in it,” Burns said. “It was a fantastic day for the children.”
In girls D1, Traverse City West finished 12th and Traverse City Central 18th. Neither school had runners from all states in the top 30. Central’s Alexis Ball was the zone’s top finisher in the 40th (19:15.28). Abby Veit was West’s top runner in 61st with a time of 19:30.23.
MHSAA contributed to this report.