DIVISION 1 CROSS COUNTRY STATE FINALS: Northville wins first title; Milford defends crown as underdog
BY DAN STICKRADT
BROOKLYN — Grant Fisher had to make a choice last November. Then a sophomore at Grand Blanc, Fisher had to choose between the boys soccer state finals or the boys cross-country state championships.
Being a two-sport in the same-season athlete, fisher was caught in a pickle. The Bobcats reached the Division 1 state title game against East Kentwood, while Grand Blanc had qualified the previous weekend for the cross country championships.
Same day, same time conflict.
Fisher headed to Troy Athens for the soccer finals that day, leaving Michigan Speedway and his cross country dreams behind. East Kentwood defeated Grand Blanc, 1-0, for the soccer title that day.
This season, Fisher decided before the state tournament that he would attend the cross country state meet, regardless of his soccer team’s postseason success. As it turned out, Grand Blanc was upset in the boys soccer district finals by Clarkston, 1-0.
“I knew before the season that I was definitely going to (the) cross country (state meet),”said Fisher, who was second in the 1,600 meters last spring. “I really wanted to do well this year, especially missing last year.”
Fisher finished second in that mile race to Lake Orion’s TJ Carey by one one-hundredth of a second, giving him plenty of fuel to the fire for this season.
Fisher capped an unbeaten season against Michigan runners Saturday at Michigan Speedway, cruising to the Division 1 title in 15:13.7 despite the chilly temperatures around 45 degrees and solid mud at certain points of the 3.1-mile course.
Locked in a tight race with Milford’s Brian Kettle at the two-mile mark, Fisher pulled away, Kettle, the defending state champion, ran 15:31.7 and finished second. Royal Oak’s Ben Hill (15:41.2), Waterford Mott’s Ryan Robinson (15:42.6) and Okemos’ Daniel Kroth (15:43.5) followed suit in the top five.
“This is my first state title in cross country. This is what I trained for,” added Fisher. “I knew I it would be close. I had to keep pushing. I really picked it up after the two-mile mark.”
A total of 22 runners broke 16 minutes in the unfavorable conditions. Milford, the defending champs, only had one runner in the top 30 but came through in the clutch with four in the top 61 to win the team crown again with 165 points.
Ranked third in the polls going in, the Mavericks prevailed despite their No. 5 runner, Clinton Caddell, fighting through an injury.
“It’s nice considering the adversary we had to face,” noted veteran Milford coach Bryan Saylers, whose team captured their fifth state crown since 2003. “Clinton was just coming back and was not at full strength. We had to have other runners step up and we did. In a wide-open, high-scoring race, we had enough to win it again. Anything can happen. We were five points better today and only 15 better than the third place team.”
In the team race, Kettle (second), Jeffrey Field (28th), Sean Noone (31st), Kevin Black (34th) and Caddell (70th) led Milford to the title.
Waterford Mott finished second with 170 points, while Traverse City Central (180), Saline (196) and Northville (202) followed in the top five in the 27-school standings.
In the D-1 girls race, Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Belf, who was only 33rd last season, rose to the top to win convincingly in 17:31.1 — the fastest time in the four girls races on the day.
“I saw how good (Rochester grad Megan) Goethals and (West Bloomfield grad) Erin Finn were and knew that’s how I wanted to be,” said Belf of former state champions. “They were great motivators for me.”
Belf had a dynamite season where she was unbeaten against in-state opponents and wore the heavy tag of being the favorite.
“Oh yeah, there was pressure. I never had that much pressure on me,” offered Belf. “I stopped using the internet this week. I didn’t want to see anything. I didn’t want a reason to psych myself out. I wanted to go into the meet confident but not with a big head.”
Following Belf, Rockford’s Lauren Brasure (17:40.8), Grandville’s Valerie Wierenga (17:57.7), Saline’s Elinna Shwayder (18:06.5) and Midland Dow’s Jordan Storer (18:09.0) finished in the top five.
Northville captured its first team title with 107 points. Saline (139), Hudsonville (164), defending champion Seaholm (165) and Rockford (169) were next in line in the final team standings.
“We’ve had some good teams before, but we never had eight runners who could put it together in the same season and at the same state finals,” smiled Northville coach Nancy Smith. “We did today. I thought the girls all ran well. We had four girls earn All-State and we had five girls in the top (61). We couldn’t have asked for a better day for us.”
In the team race, Northville’s Rachel Coleman (10th), Lexa Barrott (13th), Taleen Shahigian (14th), Cayla Eckenroth (21st) and Nicole Mosteller (49th) all contributed to the Mustangs’ title run.
Seaholm was missing its No. 3 and No. 5 runners to injury and fell back to fourth this season after winning the first state title last season.
“I am still proud of how they ran,” said Seaholm coach Jeff Devantier. “We were missing two key runners and I had four runners in there that didn’t have any state meet experience. We still had a good race and were only a point out of third and not that far out of second really if you think about it. If we had everyone here, I think we would have contended.”