2020 Previews

Division 4: The Preview

BOYS TEAM

Division 4 keeps with the theme of Saturday’s madness. 

In any week or time period this fall, I had a different opinion on who would be the Boys Team Champ.  Going into the season, it looked as if Saugatuck and Carson City-Crystal would compete for the crown.  After a wonderful morning at Happy Acres, Webberville looked to move past those two.  On September 19th, The/GR/Wyoming Potter’s House (seriously, they’ve changed their name on athletic.net three times in two years) faced off against Division 3 contender Grandville Calvin Christian and beat them 24-31.  Meanwhile, Concord was finding its stride, Breckenridge was getting kids back from a listless summer, and Saugatuck was struggling to find a 5th runner. 

Fast forward to early November and Kurtis Bronz has made the necessary improvements to be there for Saugatuck.  He’s made about a 0:30-0:45 jump in terms of his ratings and is consistently running in the high-18’s. 

Carson City-Crystal put forth their best performance of the year at Regionals.  They handily beat Webberville, largely because Calvin Clark stepped up as their 5th runner and Jared Shepler ran one of his better races of the season. 

Breckenridge is your defending champ.  Their top three of Colttion Vine, Trent Carter, and Mason Sumner have all came in clutch on this stage.  But such a question for their 4th-6th.  All freshmen.  Perhaps they are able to absorb all their training and PR.  Perhaps they are stunned by the moment and it’s a learning experience. 

Concord is Division 4’s version of Caro.  In the middle of the season, I felt they were slept on.  But their regional performance comparatively wasn’t as impressive.  When they were on, boy were they ever on.  Their absolute best day was at Stockbridge, taking home the trophy over teams such as Fowlerville, Leslie, and Stockbridge. 

Webberville’s 3rd-5th runners have been very reliable all year.  Brendan Peckens, Liam Wilder, and Lucas Bliesner will be able to pack up and finish before many of their competitors’ 4th/5th.  I believe this is Coach Diener’s 2nd year with the Spartans and while this may not be the year, they’re a team to watch in the coming years. 

Lezawe/Moses Osterink is curiously missing from Potter’s House’s roster for Saturday.  By this point, we all can assume why.  Unfortunately, he’s their top runner and is coming off a 16:34 (PR) at Regionals. 

BOYS INDIVIDUAL

This boys individual race should be a doozy as well.  An experienced field that’s all been here.  I can’t even try to explain, but I want to give a shoutout to Nik Pettinga.  Nik didn’t have the greatest closing stretch of his 2019 season, which resulted in him barely nabbing an All-State spot, when he had the potential to achieve much more.  I had him ranked #9 coming into the season and he’s greatly exceeded that expectation, breaking 16:00 for the first time ever a few weeks back.

GIRLS TEAM

In my research over the winter, I noticed that Lansing Christian was going to add a freshman, Hope Tebben.  The Pilgrims needed that one runner, in 2019 they had an outstanding top four and nothing behind that.  I mean, literally, nothing behind that.  Fast forward to this season, they’ve added Hope and multi-sport star, Mia Judd.  Mia began the year in the 23’s, then has steadily moved into the high-20’s/mid-21’s. 

Kalamazoo Christian can really pack up.  In their victory in Region 32-4, the gap between their 1st and 5th runners was under 0:45.  In the 20-21:00 range too, at Portage, which is a fair course. 

Beal City is the mystery here.  Dave King’s magic looms large in Division 4 lore.  If you took just the ratings from their regional meet, they’d place between 100-110 points.  A negative aspect of these ratings is they probably underrate teams that peak extra hard at the end of the year.  There is a reason for that, as one race brings in a ton of variability and I’d rather grab a season worth of data.  Expect less than 170 points from the Aggies. 

GIRLS INDIVIDUAL

Madison Volz has brought herself back from a difficult junior year.  She’s re-learned her love for competition, and she sure has competed.  Multiple sub-19 efforts, once at Turkeyville, and twice at DeWitt, a legitimate course.  Regional champion, winner of her Greater Lansing race, and just a striking consistency.  She’s in line for her fourth straight top-5 finish. 

Makenna Scott is in line for her 2nd straight top-5 finish.  Makenna has truly been peaking at the right time, dipping under 19:00 for the first time ever on October 13th at Benzie, then smashing that time at Regionals. 

Sara Spalding and Aiden Harrand are both in their first years of running at the high school level.  Okay, Spalding is a senior and Webberville record holder, and Harrand is a freshman and Buckley record holder. 

Harrand was a middle school sensation, running 5:14 on the track and mid-11’s in her 8th grade cross country.  That’s beginning to translate to cross, where she’s followed Makenna Scott into the 18’s.  Spalding is a bit behind, but should be a clear 3rd here.  Hopefully she’s found a sport that will be there for her throughout her life. 

Other girls to watch are:

Skylar Thompson – I know Scott Hubbard loves to announce how many times a runner has been All-State and he sadly won’t be able to this year.  I’ll fill in a bit here:  Skylar learned under Samantha Saenz how to run at the elite level and she’s taken that knowledge to three consecutive All-State finishes.  She’s right in line for another.

Riley Hacker – perhaps the biggest fan of this website.  If I’m ever feeling down, I’ll tweet and Riley will like it a second later.  Seriously though, she put in mega miles this summer, upholding the Sacred Heart tradition.  That’s resulted in a season full of PR’s and the ability to do something special on Saturday. 

2020 Previews

Division 3: The Preview

BOYS TEAM

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. 

BOYS INDIVIDUAL

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

GIRLS TEAM

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? 

GIRLS INDIVIDUAL

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.

2020 Previews

Division 2: The Preview

Should’ve trademarked the slogan, Shepherd!

BOYS TEAM

Fremont may be the best team in the state, regardless of division.  I’d like to mention a few of their runners that may get overlooked.  Adam Ward, Ben Paige, and Joshua Zerfas have all spent time in the 16’s in every single year of their careers.  Ward and Paige were both All-State last year, and while Zerfas was not, he’s shown every indicator that he’ll be able to accomplish that feat this year. 

As with the individual side of things, the Bulldog Elite race should be an indicator of how teams will stack up.  Of the teams in the running for second, Pinckney beat out Otsego and Chelsea.  Pinckney is a bit weaker in their 3rd – 5th men than Chelsea and Otsego, and an 8-team field doesn’t exacerbate the weakness of the latter runners as much as a 27-team field. 

St. John’s appears to be the safest bet of any in the remaining competitors.  Their spread is minimal, at the most 0:45.  They’ve risen to the occasion in championship meets, claiming an easy victory over East Lansing at the Greater Lansing Meet. 

St. Clair was more of a shocker.  The Saints took on the big boys at Benzie’s Pete Moss and came away with a 1st place trophy, defeating the likes of Traverse City Central, Lowell, and Traverse City West. 

Many of these teams have been dominant with very little chance of competing against one another. 

BOYS INDIVIDUAL

Nathan Walker is about as clear a favorite you’ll find.  The #1 returner in the 50 Tickets to Brooklyn series, he’s done everything to hold up that honor.  Undefeated, sub-15, and has annihilated any competition.  His success will go down in Fremont lore, as his 16:11 at Branstrom Park (perhaps the toughest course in the state) will likely never be broken. 

The main focus then becomes: who finishes second?

We have a number of main candidates, and a few even beyond this group. 

Many here were in Otsego’s Bulldog Elite field and boy did they blaze.  Conor Somers, Caleb Jarema, and Colin Mulder all ran in the low 15:30’s. 

Ben Clason finished slightly behind that pack at Bulldog Elite, but a week later at the Bengals Invitational, he was able to keep with Somers.  Other than that, not too much common ground between athletes. 

Jack Pennewell has been tested this year, albeit against different runners.  He beat out the Romeo boys and Carson Nicoletti at Romeo’s MAC Red Jamboree.  In late August, St. Clair traveled north to Benzie, where Jack ran a 15:48, the 3rd best time of the day. 

Jarema and his teammate, Gavin White, have been interchangeable for most of the year.  White doesn’t have the outstanding Bulldog Elite finish, but has three 200+ performances.

Joe Gilbert beat both Jarema and White at the Linden Regional. 

Ian Hill and Hayden Rhodea have both battled against Clason.  Rhodea bested Ben at their Pre-Regional, and Hill beat Rhodea at the OK Blue Conference Meet (but lost on a reportedly questionable DQ). 

Are you confused yet? 

GIRLS TEAM

The girls team race is much clearer and will be another dead heat between Petoskey and East Grand Rapids.  Petoskey has the clear edge up front.  Emma Squires is a state title contender, but Cambrie Smith, Noel Vanderwall, and Sarah Liederbach should all be in the upper reaches of the All-State arena.

East Grand Rapids gets it done with a polarizing combination of youth and experience.  Drew Muller has been a frontrunner capable of a top-5 finish.  Natalie Dwortz has saved their team in a few meets with clutch performances as their #5 girl.  And in the middle, you have former All-Staters in Ainsley Workman and Hannah Bodine. 

Each team has a path to winning, but one here’s a factor that could help either:

Petoskey’s 5th-7th girls.  Caroline Farley, Paige Harris, and CamBrie Corey have all been consistent, but also capable of an above average day.  Both Corey and Harris had that at Shepherd, while Farley stepped up at their Pre-Region. 

Workman and Bodine.  Both girls ran above their projections at the 2019 State Meet.  Can they channel that same energy again?

There are other teams, of course.  Cadillac may be vastly underrated by these numbers.  They’ve been greatly enhanced by the re-emergence of Kendall Schopieray.  Grand Rapids Christian has reloaded behind Frens with freshman such as Natalie VanOtteren.  And finally, Otsego came out of nowhere last year to finish 3rd.  The Bulldogs have taken pack running to an extreme this year and have the ability to place 5-6 girls in front of many rivals’ 3rd or 4th

GIRLS INDIVIDUAL

Emma Squires had been mentioned earlier and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded female athlete in this state.  She’s going to Purdue (as is Walker), she juggles high school and college classes, and she uses her platforms to help other runners achieve their goals in a healthy manner.  With all that on her plate, she’s found her way to the top of Division 2.  She’s had two races that give a glimpse into her condition, a 17:47 opener at Pete Moss and 17:26 at Shepherd. 

That Shepherd race featured her main contender, Meghan Ford.  Meghan is one of the few freshman girls that made the 50 Tickets list, and as the season has wore on, she’s been able to justify that inclusion.  Like Emma, she’s thrown down two outstanding performances, a 17:36 at Shepherd and a 17:47 at Greater Lansing.  The question becomes, does Ford have improvement in her as a true freshman or has Squires accumulated enough experience to pull through?

Some other names to look at are: 

Madelyn Frens – Can you believe I wrote this preview, had her listed 3rd, went to go hit submit, and 100% forgot about her?  That’s unfortunate and it speaks to her reliability.  She’s always been at the top, so much so that it doesn’t stand out.  What does stand out is her ability to run low-18 efforts in every race lately.  She’s battled with James-Heer (Division 1), she’s beaten Muller.  And she’s got a chip on her shoulder, to avenge her day here last November. 

Mary Richmond – Another freshman.  Took her awhile to get into gear, but by October, she obtained Frankenmuth’s school record. 

Chloie Musta ­– Chloie has steadily improved throughout her time at Cadillac.  In her first two seasons, she was a contributor, but above 20:00.  At the tail end of last year, she made a leap into the low 19’s.  She’s continued that this year and has the capability of getting into the top 10. 

Lilly Evans ­– one step back, two steps forward.  As a junior, Lilly didn’t have the greatest finish to the season..  She was coming off an All-State honor as a sophomore, but barely cracked the top-50 in 2019.  She’s put herself in much better position this time around, with several sub-19:00 efforts.