Romeo appears to be the clear favorite. Last season, they went into their championship season as the #1 team in the State and fell flat, bested by Stoney Creek at Regionals and by quite a few teams at MIS. This time around, the Bulldogs were able to capture the regional crown. Their top 5 is clearly above each and every team. The one drawback to their team would be their depth beyond Jack Wallace. On one hand, they have very little security, but on the other hand, they’ve ran so consistently that they haven’t needed that security.
Caledonia is the one team in the field that brings depth beyond their 5th man. Brett Guzman is the steady one, Donavan Mattson and Caden Dixon have both run some of their better races in October. As a team, they faced pressure every week in that tough OK Red. Seemingly every dual meet in that conference was a battle between low-16 types, and through that gauntlet, Caledonia came out unscathed.
Each succeeding team will have strength up front and varying amounts of weakness on the back end.
The one team at the Division 1 level that was able to give Caledonia a test was Rockford. In their first dual of the season, the Rams were narrowly defeated, 27 to 28. But that result is a major what if, as Colin Graham was healthy. If he’s available here, Rockford is in contention. He’s not, but even in his absence, Rockford possesses one of the better 5th men in the field.
Salem is another team that faced an arduous schedule this year. The KLAA also competed via duals, and the Rocks raced against the likes of Hartland, Plymouth, Brighton, Novi, and Northville. All of those listed are state qualifying teams, and many in the argument for a top-10 place. Again, Salem emerged victorious in all, and in the KLAA Final, Evan Wheeler ran his best race of the season.
Highland-Milford is the toughest team to judge in the field. They bested quality squads such as Novi and Stoney Creek at Oakland County. The Mavericks have made it here, although it doesn’t appear they’ve raced with the same vigor in the past few meets. At their best, Milford was around 6 sec./runner better than Stoney and 8 sec./runner better than Novi. Romeo has been 15-18 sec./runner better than Stoney and Salem has been 12 sec./runner better than Novi.
In order for any of these teams to pull off the upset, they’re going to have to place runners between Joseph Rinke and Owen Sharnas/Jack Wallace. If my ratings are accurate and Freedom Hill is around 15 seconds slower than MIS, that will take 16:35 and below. A tough task.
Unfortunately, the race between Hobbs Kessler and Riley Hough will be split into two separate time trials. (side note, I wonder if next year, the MHSAA would consider splitting the field in half based on time or rating). Riley Hough has time trialed the entire year. His 14:48 at Willow was on an unseasonably warm day in early October, similar to the predicted conditions for Friday. Kessler has selectively picked when to go to the well, but when he has, he’s produced similarly great performances. Head to head, Kessler holds a victory and I think that reigns supreme (yes, this doesn’t jive with the ratings).
Other names to watch are:
Drew Seabase – under quarantine for the past two weeks. Multiple 210+ performances this year, but due to the 14 days out, not much lately. I wouldn’t doubt Traverse City Central’s ability to adapt though.
Koby Fraaza – High quality, little talk. Undefeated this year, 5th in the State last year.
Patrick Byrnes – Big race experience and 800m speed. Watching him at Pre-Regionals, he appeared to be battling some nagging injuries. One last race…
Carson Nicoletti – Big believer in hot streaks and he’s on fire. Comeback wins at Regional and Macomb County, narrowly defeated Brandenburg at Pre-Regionals. Surely satisfying after a disappointing end to his junior year.
Tristan Brandenburg/Jack Kelke/Zander Cobb – Flip a coin between any of these three.
Charlie Frank – Exhibited much strength in the final 1000m at Lake Erie, disposing of quality Pioneer/Saline opponents. Could be a factor when battling the surprisingly deep MIS infield grass.
Far and away, Traverse City Central is the queen of the girls’ field. Due to contact tracing, their top runner, Julia Flynn, has been sidelined for a few weeks. Even if she wasn’t able to go this weekend, the Trojans could likely absorb her loss and still emerge with a trophy. The team battle may have been close at the beginning of the season, but the late progress of girls such as Ella Kirkwood and Madisyn McLean has pushed the gap between the TCC girls and the rest of the field. Consistent 130+ ratings for the above two in October.
Ann Arbor Pioneer and Saline have been trading blows all season. Saline came out on top in the SEC Red, Pioneer at Regionals and Pre-Regionals. Sarah Forsyth has been a recent addition to the Pioneer girls, and although she hasn’t been as quick as in past years, she’s been there before. Saline has the strongest 6th girl of anyone left, which gives greater odds of finding someone that can step up. Madison Stern and Madi Wood are names that we’ve seen before, but even a freshman such as Laney Alig was able to drop down to the 19:20’s in October.
In Coach Barnes second year at Holland West Ottawa, he’s proved that expectations need to be on the rise. Arianne Olson is an exceptional talent, but beyond her, not much was thought of their team. The Bonnema twins have steadily progressed throughout the year, neither settling at the 20:00 mark. And it’s not even just summer improvement, an athlete like Kaia Denhof has shattered her season bests in the past few weeks.
Similar to the boys’ side, the individual competition will feature two superstars in separate races. Julia Flynn has always been a stud, but she’s taken it to another level this fall. Multiple sub-17 performances, and blowing away high-quality fields in each instance. She gets there by ratcheting up the pace early and it’s highly likely that no one in the first race can hang with her. Audrey DaDamio could hang with her, and I know that’s something she was aiming to do. Audrey has performed well in pressure-filled races, qualifying for FootLocker in 2019. There’s little doubt that she’s aiming to replicate that performance on Friday.
Some other names to watch are:
Jennie Line – By now you should know that I love improvement and Jennie is a great example of that. Mid-19’s and a staple on the lower end of Northville’s varsity squad as a sophomore, she’s been able to turn that into Northville’s leader this year. Hasn’t been ABOVE 19:00 in 2020.
Lauren Kiley – The girls’ version of Koby Fraaza. Twice an All-Stater, sub-18 at Monroe Jefferson.
Clara James-Heer and Rachel Forsyth – Freshman sensations.
Lisa Luecke – MIXCSR hometown favorite. She’s lost only once this year (to Kiley).
Allie Arnsman – Another show of progress. 20:49 PR last year, one indoor mile in 6:06. Friday, 18:33 on a legitimate Portage course.