DIVISION 1 CROSS COUNTRY STATE FINALS: Milford defends crown; Seaholm girls finally have moment in the sun
BY DAN STICKRADT
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Please excuse Jeff Devantier if he was a little bit edgy, almost nervous to an extreme point at around 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Less than a half an hour following of the completion of the Lower Peninsula Division 1 cross country state finals, Devantier stood anxiously near the results room before he found out that Birmingham Seaholm had claimed its first state title in girls cross country.
Devantier celebrated with his band of athletes and received a line of congratulatory hugs and handshakes from coaches around Oakland County.
“I don’t even know what to say,” grinned Devantier, in his 24th season of coaching cross country for the Maples. “We finally did it.”
Seaholm, which had not lost a race since early September, had been on fire in recent weeks with Oakland County, OAA Red Division and regional titles claimed in convincing fashion.
The Maples followed that upon the big stage, scoring an impressive 63 points Saturday at Michigan Speedway with their top five runners all finishing in the top 34. Aubrey Wilberding (fourth), Tess Wilberding (12th), Marissa Dobry (15th), Rachel Dadamio (20th) and Aubrey Belf (33rd) led Seaholm.
“We couldn’t have run much better, except the girl that has been our No. 1 runner the last month was our No. 5 finisher. We just had so many others pick it up,” offered Devantier. “I knew we had a chance today. But it’s nerve-wracking because you have to wait so long to know for sure.”
Defending champion Grosse Pointe South was second with 88 points, while Saline (101), Traverse City Central (24), Northville (265), Sterling Heights Stevenson (273), Brighton (277), Plymouth Salem (297), Grand Haven (306) and Rockford (313) rounded out a competitive top 10 in the 27-school field.
Seaholm became the eighth team of the OAA over 20 seasons to win a state title in girls cross country. Clarkston, Rochester Adams and Rochester combined for five straight crowns from 2003-2007 with Troy and Troy Athens winning titles back in the 1990s.
“It was our turn,” laughed Devantier. “We’ve waited a long, long time to be able to have the group of runners we have now.”
West Bloomfield’s Erin Finn won her second straight D-1 title, sandwiched around a state crown in the 3,200 meters last spring during track season. She has battled an iron deficiency this season but picked up the pace the past couple of weeks.
“I knew something was wrong,” she recalled. “I found out the day of the Oakland County meet that I had a something wrong with me. But I made some changes.”
Finn clocked 17:07.9, the fourth-fasted time ever recorded at M.S., all coming in the past four years.
“That’s quite an honor,” said Finn. “It’s a blessing from God. I owe it all to him for me to be able to come here and win with a time like this. I couldn’t be happier.”
Hannah Meier of Grosse Pointe South was second in17:34.5, while Rochester Adams’ Jamie Morrissey (17:48.7), Seaholm’s Aubrey Wilberding (17:55.9) and Adams’ Gabrielle Thivierge (17:56.2) also broke 18 minutes.
“My previous best was 18:13, so running 17:48 I’m really excited about that,” admitted Morrissey, a four-time all-stater. “I hadn’t run all that great at some meets this season. I really wanted to do well today.”
Milford defended its boys state title, also in convincing fashion. The Mavericks scored just 83 points to win by 84 points over the nearest competitor. Mott finished a distant second with 167 points, with Rockford (186), Romeo (189), Ann Arbor Pioneer (211), Saline (223), Pinckney (271), Dexter (286), Hartland (296) and Traverse City Central (305) wrapping up the top 10.
“We’ve talked so much about our legacy. This is our fourth state title and we’ve been here 15 straight times and I think we’ve been in the top 10 16 times in 17 seasons,” explained Milford coach Brian Saylers. “We came here and ran so well again today. We have been very fortunate with the group of runners we’ve had over the years. This group stepped up this season and kept the tradition alive.”
Milford junior Brian Kettle emerged as the state champion in the 1,600 meters in June and followed that up with as sizzling finish Saturday to win the individual state crown. Kettle in 15:07.3.
Running in a tight pack, Kettle pulled away during the final 400 meters, only two seconds ahead of Lake Orion’s TJ Carey (15:09.7).
“I felt if it came down to a sprint, that I could do it,” smiled Kettle. “I knew it was going to be a good race because so many of those guys I see all season. I beat a lot of them at Oakland County, so I thought that I had a chance. I just had to stay with the front pack and then go after it at the end.”
Waterford Mott’s Nathan Burnand (15:!4.8), Milford’s Cody Snavely (15:16.7) and Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills’ Jeff Bajema (15:21.1) followed in a tight heap that featured seven of the top 10 runners hailing from Oakland County.
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)