By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
If the projections are correct, two Michigan high school boys cross country teams will be celebrating MHSAA championships for the first time this weekend.
Chelsea and Hanover-Horton are the top-ranked teams in their divisions, and both are seeking to win Finals titles for the first time. Four more boys teams ranked among the top three in their respective divisions also could contend for their first championships in this sport at Saturday's championship races.
A total of 989 runners will take to the course at Michigan International Speedway, with the first boys race at 10:50 a.m. – the girls start the day with their Division 4 at 9:30. Below are some of the teams to watch and a glance at each of the individual fields. Click for all Finals qualifiers, a map of the course and links to buy tickets and watch the Finish Line camera on MHSAA.tv, and come back to Second Half later Saturday for coverage of all four meets.
Reigning champion: White Lake Lakeland
2016 runner-up: Saline
2017 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Plymouth, 3. Romeo.
A yearly contender especially during the 1990s, Ann Arbor Pioneer is expected to claim its first MHSAA championship since 2008 after finishing fifth a year ago. The Pioneers have five of their top six back from last year’s Final and placed five of the top six and six of the top nine to take last week’s Regional, which also included No. 5 Saline. Neither Plymouth nor Romeo made the MHSAA Finals as teams last year; combined they sent three individual qualifiers. Senior Ethan Byrnes and sophomore Carter Solomon finished 10th and 18th, respectively, in 2016 for Plymouth, while Romeo sophomore Jack Wilson was 37th and returns to lead a team challenge. Romeo won its Regional last week ahead of honorable mention Clarkston, while Plymouth won its Regional putting six runners among the top nine as well to finish ahead of No. 11 Novi and No. 15 Salem. Neither Plymouth nor Romeo has won an MHSAA title in this sport. And don’t forget about last year’s contenders: Lakeland and Saline could figure into the mix again too, coming in ranked Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.
Individuals: Last year’s champion and runner-up graduated, leaving White Lake Lakeland junior Harrison Grzymkowski the highest returning finisher after coming in third. Ann Arbor Skyline junior Tristan Williams was eighth last year, followed by Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern now-senior Abdi Ahmed and Byrnes. Pioneer’s Nick Foster, Ahmed and Rockford’s Cole Johnson have the fourth, fifth and sixth-fastest times in the state this season, respectively. Johnson finished ahead of Ahmed at their Regional and was third at the 2015 Final. Other Regional champions last week were Foster, Grzymkowski, Alpena junior Aden Smith, Holland junior Sam Martens, Ann Arbor Skyline senior Anthony Giannobile, Novi senior Gabriel Mudel (ahead of Solomon and Byrnes), Birmingham Seaholm junior George Nummer and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Harrison Steen.
Reigning champion: Corunna
2016 runner-up: Fremont
2017 top-ranked: 1. Chelsea, 2. Corunna, 3. Lansing Catholic.
Chelsea has never won an MHSAA boys cross country championship but finished ninth last year with only one senior. Five of last year’s seven runners will return to MIS coming off a Regional title that saw five place among the top nine as the team finished ahead of No. 13 Dearborn Divine Child. Corunna graduated last season’s champion Noah Jacobs, but junior Ben Jacobs (Noah’s brother) came in eighth in 2016 and is one of four back from that winning team. The Cavaliers won their Regional last week with Jacobs the individual champion and three more teammates among the top eight against a field including No. 8 Flint Powers Catholic. Lansing Catholic was runner-up in Division 3 last season and moves into Division 2 this weekend paced by its top four from the 2016 Final and five of its top six off that team. The Cougars placed five runners between fifth and 12th in winning a Regional that included No. 11 St. Johns and honorable mention Haslett.
Individuals: Coldwater senior Shuaib Aljabaly and Otsego junior Alex Comerford have the fastest boys times in the state this season, both breaking 15 minutes at the Otsego Invitational on Sept. 30. They finished third and ninth, respectively, at last season’s Final, and Aljabaly is unbeaten this fall. The third fastest time statewide belongs to Fremont senior Ben Schmidt, who is coming off a 10th-place Finals finish a year ago. Joining those three and Jacobs from the top 10 are St. Johns senior Dillan Haviland (seventh) and Grosse Ile junior James Gedris (fifth). Schmidt, Aljabaly, Comerford, Haviland and Gedris joined Jacobs as Regional champs last week, as did St. Clair senior Brendan Parr, Linden sophomore Tyler Buchanan and Fruitport senior Cameron Oleen.
Reigning champion: Saugatuck
2016 runner-up: Lansing Catholic
2017 top-ranked: 1. Hanover-Horton, 2. Caro, 3. Hart.
Hanover-Horton is predicted to take the jump from third last year to win its first championship in this sport with a lineup returning six of seven runners to MIS including 2016 sixth-place finisher Landon Melling. Now a senior, Melling won last week’s Regional followed by senior teammate Bo Shepherd as the Comets placed six of the top 12 individuals. Caro is paced by reigning individual champion Yami Albrecht, who led the Tigers to a fifth-place team finish at last year’s Final. He’s joined by three more returnees off that team, and he also won his Regional last week as Caro placed three of the top five while fending off No. 8 Shepherd and No. 13 Montrose. Hart didn’t make the Finals last year as a team, but now-sophomore Hunter Tubbs raced as an individual qualifier. He and his teammates put five among the top 20 to win their Regional ahead of No. 9 Clare, and they also come into this weekend seeking their program’s first MHSAA title.
Individuals: Junior Corey Gorgas is one of two returnees for reigning champion Saugatuck, which as a team is ranked No. 4. He finished fourth individually a year ago in leading the title effort, but actually finished second at last week’s Regional to freshman teammate Nik Pettinga. Holland Black River senior Joshua Fink joins Gorgas, Albrecht and Melling as returnees from the top 10 after coming in 10th in 2016. Harbor Spring junior Jeremy Kloss, the Division 4 Final runner-up last season whose team is now in Division 3, also was a Regional champion last week as were Clare junior David Good, Kent City senior Fraser Wilson, Ithaca junior Ransom Allen, Bad Axe junior David Knarian and Blissfield senior Casey Reed – Wilson in a field including Fink.
Reigning champion: Pewamo-Westphalia
2016 runner-up: Harbor Springs
2017 top-ranked: 1. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 2. Potterville, 3. Battle Creek St. Philip.
Pewamo-Westphalia and Harbor Springs both moved to Division 3 this school year, and Sacred Heart could join with its girls team for a Division 4 sweep after the boys finished 10th last season with only one senior. All five placers from 2016 are in the lineup again after the Irish placed six of the top 16 to win a Regional that included No. 8 Beal City and No. 13 Carson City-Crystal. Sacred Heart is running for its first MHSAA title since 1977. Potterville is seeking its first team title since claiming back-to-back in 2007 and 2008, and after placing 12th a year ago. Four of the top five are back from that team, and they placed five among the top 18 to win a Regional that included No. 5 Plymouth Christian Academy and No. 14 Dansville. St. Philip is seeking its first MHSAA title in this sport, having finished runner-up in 1969. The Tigers were 18th last year bringing three freshmen to MIS. All three are back along with two others from that lineup, and they followed senior Kenny Wojcik to a Regional win last week as he came in first and five more finished among the top 15.
Individuals: Even with Kloss running in Division 3 this weekend, four more from last year’s top 10 are back for this race led by Cass City senior and reigning champion CarLee Stimpfel. He’s joined by Ubly senior Alex Grifka (fifth), Bear Lake/Onekama senior Gary McBride (eighth) and Lansing Christian senior Davis Tebben (10th). Expect to see plenty of new names fill out the top of this year’s list. Stimpfel did win his Regional ahead of Grifka last week. But others to watch are Fairview senior Tylor Ross, Walkerville sophomore Shane Achterhof, Whittemore-Prescott senior Zane Aldrich, Bridgman senior Drew Dow, Plymouth Christian junior Luke Pohl, Sand Creek senior Travis Carson and Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest sophomore Ethan Rice. All won Regional titles last week, Achterhof ahead of McBride.
PHOTO: Coldwater’s Shuaib Aljabaly (center), holds off Novi’s Gabriel Mudel (left) and Chelsea’s Tom Oates to win the Spartan Invitational “elite” race on Sept. 15. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)