Before the starting pistol is fired for the MHSAA State Finals at Michigan International Speedway on Nov. 5, you can expect plenty of Battle Creek area runners to be standing at the starting line.
How many local runners advance to the Finals remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain – there will be no shortage of thrilling races and impressive times along the way.
Maggie Farrell, a 2015 Division 1 state qualifier, leads a talented Lakeview squad that is aiming to repeat as All-City and Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference champions. Farrell has already recorded the best time in Lakeview history earlier this season, finishing the Portage Early Bird Invite in 17 minutes, 39 seconds. The Spartans’ No. 2 runner, Logann Haluszka, was the 2014 All-City champion.
St. Philip is led once again by Ava Strenge, the 2014 Division 4 state champion and 2015 state runner-up who owns the school 5K record (18:02). Strenge will look to defend her individual city title before another chance at winning a state championship.
Harper Creek returns the bulk of its 2015 lineup, as the Beavers hope to improve on their third-place finish in the Interstate Eight Conference.
Pennfield also returns an experienced team, and the Panthers expect to make a big jump in the conference standings after finishing last in the Interstate Eight Conference a year ago.
Around the area, Gull Lake figures to contend for the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference East Division title along with Lakeview, while Marshall expects to make a push for the Interstate Eight Conference crown.
Here’s a closer look at the 2016 area girls cross country teams:
Coach: Missy Hamilton (17th season)
2015 results: Sixth in Big 8 Conference; Fourth at Division 4 Regionals
Top returners: Corra Hamilton, jr. (state qualifier); Skylar Golyar, sr.; Miranda Brubaker, sr.; Alicia Holm, sr.
Outlook: “This team has bonded and is motivated to compete at the next level,” Hamilton said. “Lost many seniors. To accomplish great things, you need to set the bar high and have high expectations.”
Coach: Ron Hart (31st season)
2015 results: N/A
Top returners: Brandy Mathewson, sr. (state qualifier); Brenna Huggett, so.
Outlook: “As we don’t have a team, our main goal is improving individual times,” Hart said. “I expect Brandy to make it to the State meet.”
Coach: Ken Broom (second season)
2015 results: N/A
Top returners: Megan Vahan, jr.
Outlook: “Looking to build a competitive girls team,” Broom said.
Coach: Jim Bilsborrow (40th season)
2015 results: N/A
Top returners: None
Outlook: “We did not have enough girls to field a full team last year. We return three varsity letter winners,” Bilsborrow said. “We have enough girls this year for a full team. We still have a rebuilding job to do. We look forward to some ‘middle of the pack’ finishes, unlike last year.”
Coach: Brad Polnasek (second season)
2015 Results: N/A
Top Returners: None
Outlook: “While we currently have a small number of athletes, we are looking to make progress throughout the year and hopefully have a couple of runners under the 20 minute mark for the 5K distance by the end of the year,” Polnasek said.
Coach: Dale Grimes (21st season)
2015 results: Fourth in SAC; Second at Division 3 Regionals; 25th at Division 3 Finals
Top returners: Danielle Cole, sr. (state qualifier); Maranda Donahue, jr. (state qualifier); Ana Elliott, jr. (state qualifier); Claire Hoeberling, jr.; Noelle Vroegop, jr.; Hannah Austin, so. (state qualifier)
Outlook: “Maranda Donahue is the defending regional champion. She is intensely competitive and is very intent on once again earning All-Conference honors and qualifying for the state finals for the third consecutive year,” Grimes said. “Being led by (Danielle) Cole and Donahue, this team is eager to once again ‘make a run’ at qualifying for the state finals. By combining the leadership of these two veterans, – who know full well the kind of work and preparation needed to be successful at big meets – and the depth of newcomers on this team, we are hoping that the team will develop into a highly motivated group that is focused on improving on the team’s finish in the SAC from last season and once again contend for a trip to MIS.”
Coach: Randy Hunt (first season)/Robin Blackburn (first season)
2015 results: Second SMAC East; Fifth SMAC; Third at Division 2 Regionals; 13th at Division 2 Finals
Top returners: Claire Halpin, sr. (state qualifier); Helen Foldenauer, sr. (state qualifier); Kadie Alpers, sr. (state qualifier); Jessica Wakely, sr.; Grace Hess, sr.; Maria Rochow, sr. (state qualifier); Maddie Salvato, jr.; Sarah Grimes, so. (state qualifier); Makenzie Wank, so. (All-State)
Outlook: “The team will have about 19 runners: 10 seniors, one junior, five sophomores and three freshmen. Twelve of them surpassed 50 days of training and 250 miles by the first day of practice on Aug. 10,” Hunt said. “We return a super nucleus, we have an experienced team with talented and high-ability runners to build around. Developing underclassmen runners, avoiding injuries, moving our middle of the pack runners up from last year and keeping our hard training kids from having tired legs will be the keys to our success.”
Coach: Ryan Renner (15th season)
2015 results: Third in Interstate 8 Conference; Fifth at Division 2 Regionals
Top returners: Allegra Baird, sr.; Emma Berning, jr.; Hannah Berning, sr.; Dani Stewart, so.; Julianna Adams, so.; Morgan Ramsdell, so.; Savannah Shifflett, jr.; Morgan Phillips, so.; Lexi Campbell, so.; Alyssa Cutter, sr.
Outlook: “We return six of our top seven from last season and hope that they combine with some solid newcomers to put together a strong season,” Renner said. “Several of the girls have put in decent miles this summer and hope to see the times come down as we work through the season.”
Coach: Rebecca Willis (16th season)
2015 results: Sixth in Big 8 Conference
Top returners: Anna Willis, sr.; Abby Himbaugh, so.; Kayla Bryant, jr.; Devin Willis, jr.; Jessica Lance, jr.
Outlook: “We have a good mixture of upper and lower classmen this year, with very little experience as a whole,” Willis said. “Looking forward to what the newcomers can bring to our three front-runners that have potential to run in the 21 minute range.”
Coach: Becky Pryor (21st season)
2015 results: First in SMAC East; Fourth in SMAC; Fifth at Division 1 Regionals
Top returners: Maggie Farrell, sr. (state qualifier); Logann Haluszka, jr.; Maggie Wood, jr.; Avery Truex, so.; Taylor Watson, jr.; Taylar Coyer, sr.
Outlook: “We have a great combination of older and younger athletes on this team who are looking forward to improving in the conference standing this year,” Pryor said. “We are looking for a 16th straight All-City title. This team has a very strong desire to be the best they can be and an outstanding work ethic. I am looking forward to a great season.”
Coach: Steve Wissink (18th season)
2015 results: Second in Interstate 8 Conference; Fourth at Division 2 Regionals
Top returners: Rachel Schoepke, sr. (state qualifier); Abby St. John, so.; Ava Klein, so.; Meagan Schoepke, so.; Olivia Hancock, jr.; Hannah Delmotte, sr.; Olaide Olapade, so.
Outlook: “We are excited for another outstanding season. Returning state qualifier Rachel Schoepke logged hundreds of miles this summer and is set for a great season,” Wissink said. “Ava (Klein), Abby (St. John), and Meagan (Schoepke) had outstanding freshmen seasons and are stronger, tougher, and have a year of experience… With 16 returners and eight new girls our goals remain what they’ve been for the last 18 years – have fun, work hard, get faster, win some invitationals, compete for league and regional championships, and make it to the state meet.”
Coach: Rick McKire (11th season)
2015 results: Eighth in Interstate 8 Conference
Top returners: Torey Fischer, sr.; Julie Miklusiak, jr.; Lindsey Hawthorne, jr.; Mallorie Haaksma, so.; Savanna Gregory, so.; Ashley Morales, sr.; Chelsea Riechel, jr.
Outlook: “Our girls’ team should be greatly improved from last year,” McKire said. “Our girls have more experience and some additional talent to make us a better and competitive in the I-8. We are anchored by Mallorie Haaksma, Savanna Gregory, Torey Fischer, Julia Miklisiak and Lindsey Hawthorne. They were our best runners last year and look to be stronger at the start of this season. We have set our goal to be in the top three of our conference. It will be tough but doable.”
Coach: Ray Yager (first season)
2015 results: 18th at Division 4 FInals
Top returners: Ava Strenge (All-State); Maddi Elliott; Meagan Casterline; Hannah Stevens; Mae Dustin; Emily Pearl; Lily Schulz; Emily Cutshall
Outlook: “St. Phil returns the most gifted female runner the school has ever seen in senior captain and All-City Champion Ava Strenge, who won State as a sophomore and runner-up last year as a junior, looks to continue her winning ways,” Yager said. “She continues to give her all in practice and in races with no exception and sets the tone of excellence for the whole team. Losing Riley Rutherford is a huge hit for the girls team who won conference last year. That still isn’t enough to hold these lady Tigers back from aiming high and looking to achieve that feat in back-to-back years.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley