By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Runners-up from 2014 are poised to make moves at Saturday’s MHSAA Boys Cross Country Finals at Michigan International Speedway.
Fremont, Lansing Catholic and Saugatuck all finished second in their respective races last season – but were ranked No. 1 in the state coaches poll this week.
An individual runner-up from a year ago also will run this weekend to move up one more spot.
Below are some of the teams and individuals to keep an eye on in all four divisions, and click for a full list of qualifiers for each and information on Saturday’s event – which this fall includes 988 boys.
Reigning champion: Rockford
2014 runner-up: White Lake Lakeland
2015 top-ranked: 1. Rockford, 2. Northville, 3. Novi.
Rockford edged Lakeland by a mere six points last season, but not surprisingly is the favorite again with four of the top five back from last season including fourth-place finisher Isaac Harding, now a senior. All seven Rams finished among the top 20 at last week’s Regional; sophomore Cole Johnson was runner-up to Harding and finished 16th at his first Final. Northville finished fourth last season with four seniors, but put all seven runners among the top 24 last week despite finishing second to Novi. The Wildcats were 15th at MIS a year ago led by then-junior Joost Plaetinck in 13th place; he finished first as all five Novi runners placed among the top 18 in that Regional win.
Individuals: Total, six of the top 15 from last season will run again this weekend. Finishing two seconds ahead of Harding in third place in 2014 was Traverse City Central now-senior Anthony Berry, who followed Harding and Johnson at the Regional where all three crossed within two seconds of each other. Salem senior Chaz Jeffress was ninth at the 2014 Final and finished only a tenth of a second behind Plaetinck at the Regional. Alpena junior Mitchell Day was 14th last season and won his Regional nine seconds ahead of Fenton senior Jacob Lee, another contender. East Lansing senior Jacob Stanton ran the fastest Regional time in the division, 15:27.4, and Rochester junior Kyle Johnson edged a strong Regional field that included Lake Orion senior Andrew Lorant, who finished 10th at the Final last year.
Reigning champion: Grand Rapids Christian
2014 runner-up: Fremont
2015 top-ranked: 1. Fremont, 2. Grand Rapids Christian, 3. Corunna.
Grand Rapids Christian and Fremont were opposites last season, Christian with five seniors and Fremont with five sophomores. Fremont would appear to have a leg up this time after placing four among the top seven at its Regional led by junior Matthew Zerfas, who won in 15:55.42 and finished fourth at last year’s Final. Junior Sam Kaastra, ninth last season, also is back. Junior Justin Varineau was the Eagles’ second-fastest runner at that Final, finished 13th overall, and won last week’s Regional with four more of his teammates placing among the top 11 (and none of the team's seven runners is a senior). Corunna should make a move from eighth last season after graduating only one of its top five and with fifth-place now-junior Noah Jacobs again leading the way. He paced five Cavaliers runners who finished among the top six at their Regional last week.
Individuals: The race for the individual title is loaded, led by reigning champion Morgan Beadlescomb, now a senior at Algonac. He won his Regional last week in 15:14, more than 16 seconds faster than his MHSAA championship time from 2014. Sturgis senior Daniel Steele finished only fifth at his Regional but was third last season at the Final; teammate Shawn Bell was 14th and finished two spots ahead of him at the Regional. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior Nathan Mylenek, seventh last season, was second at his Regional to teammate Brendan Fraser. St. Clair senior Jack Keais finished 33 seconds back of Beadlescomb at the Regional despite running a 15:47. A number of others ran Regionals in the 16:15-16:25 range, with Coldwater sophomore Shuaib Aljabaly notable finishing ahead of the Sturgis pair.
Reigning champion: Benzonia Benzie Central
2014 runner-up: Lansing Catholic
2015 top-ranked: 1. Lansing Catholic, Benzie Central, 3. Hanover-Horton.
The Cougars graduated the reigning individual champion and three of its top four finishers from last season’s runner-up effort, but is expected to take another step up after also running a sophomore and three freshmen in 2014. Junior Ethan Markey won their Regional last week and sophomore Ryan Schroeder was second, with another sophomore and two freshmen also finishing among the top 13. Two-time reigning champion Benzie Central had only one senior among its top six last season. Four of those top five will run this weekend led by junior Brayden Huddleston, ninth individually in 2014. Hanover-Horton is seeking its first top-two finish after finishing third last year with only one senior among its top five. The other four and a new starter finished among the top eight at their Regional.
Individuals: The top spot is open after graduated Lansing Catholic standout Keenan Rebera won the last two championships. Grandville Calvin Christian senior Abe Visser, Cass City senior Bransen Stimpfel and Grand Rapids West Catholic senior Bobby Haskin finished third, fourth and sixth in 2014, respectively. Visser won his Regional in 15:23.8 ahead of two others who broke 16 minutes, Holland Black River senior James McCann and Grant senior Jesse Saxton. Stimpfel won his Regional by two tenths of a second ahead of St. Louis junior Evan Goodell, who was 15th at the 2014 Final, and eight seconds ahead of Hemlock senior Ryan Hilbrandt, 12th last year. Also watch for Caro freshman Yami Albrecht, who broke 16 minutes at that Regional, and Shepherd senior Walker Priest, who won his Regional just ahead of Hesperia senior Arik LaFave, 11th at last season’s Final.
Reigning champion: Beal City
2014 runner-up: Saugatuck
2015 top-ranked: 1. Saugatuck, 2. Bear Lake, 3. Mendon.
Saugatuck finished second last season with five sophomores and a senior and comes back to MIS with five juniors, a sophomore and a freshman – with all seven having placed among the top nine at their Regional. Junior Zachary Pettinga was the top Finals finisher last year, at 15th, and he won the Regional title. Bear Lake placed five among the top 12 at its Regional after finishing third at the Final a year ago. Senior Jordan Anderson and sophomore Gary McBride finished 14th and 18th, respectively, last season, and second and first, respectively, last week. Mendon ran only one senior last year in finishing sixth and won its Regional with five among the top 11 and senior Dylan Plummer fastest coming in fourth. He also was fastest for the team at MIS in 2014, coming in 42nd as one of four who crossed among the top 75.
Individuals: In addition to Anderson and Pettinga, four more from last season’s top 10 are back led by Evart senior Santana Scott, the reigning runner-up. He won a Regional by 15 seconds that also included Beal City senior Ethan Schafer, seventh at last year’s Final. Sand Creek senior Aaron Peters, ninth last season, was a Regional champion this year, and Buckley sophomore Denver Cade will run again after coming in 12th in 2014. The Saugatuck runners paced the fastest Regional in the division, and Holton junior Jacob Tanner was runner-up in that group. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior Logan Moyle finished between Scott and Schafer at their Regional, and Ubly sophomore Alex Grifka also was impressive breaking 17 minutes and winning his Regional by 32 seconds.
The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTO: St. Joseph’s Skyler Arthur (433), Cedar Springs’ Austin Sargent (463) and eventual champion Morgan Beadlescomb of Algonac (456) were fastest off the start in LPD2 in 2014; Beadlescomb returns this weekend. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)