Now we’re gettin’ into the real races. All the team races from the Saturday sessions will have multiple contenders and varying storylines. The Boys Division 3 race will be among the most chaotic.
Caro enters as the favorite. The boys took home the crown in 2018, rebuilt last year, and established themselves early in the season. The largest buoy to their ascension has been freshman Matthew Pattullo. Matthew has brought his marks down to that high-16/low-17 range in this late fall period. Perhaps their most impressive team performance came in their October 3rd Meet against the likes of St. Clair and Breckenridge. At Wagener County Park, a course that is traditionally slightly faster than MIS, they placed 4 boys under 17:00, and their 5th not far above the mark. An issue with the Tigers is since that meet, their results haven’t lived up to that high standard. Are they holding back or have they opened the door for teams such as…
Grandville Calvin Christian – who, with the addition of Luke Witvliet, find themselves with the ability to compete. Luke’s return could bolster the Squires from hanging around the 10th place mark to contending for the medal stand.
Traverse City St. Francis – Having depth works in two ways. You get cushion from bad races, only 70% of your runners need to run solid (of course it helps if they all do). But you also get a higher chance of a runner stepping up. The Glads had an afternoon like that at Bluejay, where Bryson Ellalasingham, Conner McIntyre, and Connor Donahue all brought SR’s. That Bluejay performed led to TCSF besting both Ithaca and St. Louis (and a Witvlietless GCC)
Hart – who brings what St. Francis does, but through six runners. Their shining moment came at Allendale Falcon, where Spencer Vander Zwaag and Seth Ackley (there’s more Ackleys?) brought their best efforts of the season. Hart finished at the top there, ahead of a number of quality Division 1 teams.
St. Louis – a team that has been battling Ithaca the entire year for mid-Michigan supremacy. Ithaca had the upper hand early, but St. Louis has put their foot down. What’s especially impressive is that it’s not just one guy with a breakthrough, their entire top 7 has steadily improved.
Ithaca – which has the best top-3 of any team in this field. Ithaca will benefit from their heat being cut in half. Their 4th-7th runners would likely be caught behind the bubble in a crowded 250+ athlete field, with 126 runners, they have more room to race and maneuver through the course. When I watched their race at Allendale, the Yellowjackets were flying in the last mile. They have four candidates to step up, with Hector Sanchez being the most likely.
The individual side is much less confusing.
Hunter Jones is the clear favorite, earned through the sophomore’s many impressive performances. He’s been a Michigan sensation ever since his 4:30/9:30 MS track marks made many take notice. Captured a state title and has shown progress even since then. His lone blemish this year was a loss against Nathan Walker, but in that defeat, he ran his highest rating of the season, one that’s at least 30 seconds better than anyone in Division 3 has thrown down.
He’ll actually be matched against Carson Hersch, as we’re seeing, the top 2 runners in the same race is a rarity. Carson, like Fraaza and Frens, slips past most Michigan XC minds. I should mention he’s run 15:3x twice this year and finished 3rd here last November.
Braxton Lamey will be battling in the top team tier. He’s a product of an Ithaca system that steadily develops (see Allen, Ransom and his Wayne State times). He finally broke 16:00 early this year. He hasn’t been bringing it as hard lately, but I have little doubt he’ll be outside the top 3.
Nick McArdle will be an interesting test of the viability of these ratings. The effects of COVID on racing schedules probably hurt teams more in areas where running isn’t as much of a concentration. The Thumb has produced some studs through the years, but competition is a bit scarcer than in other regions of the state. Nick has won every physical race he’s entered, and hasn’t faced much of a challenge either.
Other individuals to watch are:
Dean Reynolds – a week off blasting his way through Sharp Park. That course is usually fair, but ran curiously fast. If he can replicate that performance, he has the potential to find himself in the top three.
Alec Shaw – a recent commit to Coach Wilson’s up and coming squad at Rochester University.
Tyler Mcclure – who exhibited major progress last winter as a miler, running 4:30 indoors. Can he flash that speed in the final stretch here?
Garrett Winter – a junior with multiple low-16 efforts and a regional victory at Portage
Hart is here yet again. The Pirates have dominated the Division 3 scene for what, 3-4 years? It hasn’t even been close. But this year might! It might not, either. Lauren VanderLaan is the key, along with how low their first 4 can place. But VanderLaan has found considerable improvement from September to October. Her September ratings averaged 86, her October ratings 91. As we’re taking the top half of a runner’s ratings, she ends up a bit higher than the October total, but either way, her improvement has solidified their standing.
Grandville Calvin Christian provides the most serious test. If I were Hart, what would scare me is their polling, err, rating error. A girl such as Jonathah Bouwman didn’t strike my radar last year and finished All-State. Can they find a peak that’s similarly as strong? The Squires certainly have a number of runners that could impact their team scoring, but also place above Hart’s 5th.
Ithaca is the other contender. What I’ve liked about the Yellowjackets is how as the season has progressed, different girls have moved up. First it was Grace Weburg, busting through 20:00 at Allendale. Then it was Rachael Sierakowski the other week. Finally, we know Abi Whitford wants another All-State honor and her recent progress shows she can reach that level again. Can they find one more girl to bring along?
For the individuals, we’re back to separate races.
Abby VanderKooi is Abby VanderKooi. Winning all races, aggressive from the gun, giving maximal effort, and winning FootLocker even though there’s no FootLocker this year.
Lani Bloom is so freakin’ competitive and I know she wants another crack at Abby, which will have to wait a week.
Rylee Tolson is the defending champ in this race. Her and Bloom, along with Allison Chmielewski entered MIS in a pack, and Rylee was the only one left standing in a race of attrition. This is sure to be a battle between the heart of a champion and finding revenge.
Some other individuals to watch are:
Faith Smith – gifted with a Hall of Fame coach that’s brought about major progress in her running. Faith finished in the 19’s much of last year and has steadily moved into the 18’s.
Kailee Sandoval – the track girl who has brought Grass Lake to levels I haven’t seen. They withstood a COVID contact tracing challenge, and thanks to her leadership, they’re still here.
Mylie Kelly – the coach’s daughter who took it upon herself to make her name known. I received this note from Coach Kelly over the summer:
I showed my daughter Mylie the northern and D3 rankings You did, and she was intrigued and used them as motivation. She has worked exceptionally hard since last fall, and as an 8th grader PRd in 21:14 at our PROM race. Today she cracked off an 18:45 in a little time trial we did with our kids.”
I’m glad that I can motivate, but Mylie doesn’t know that her actions give me that same motivation.