Girls Cross Country

Sacred Heart, Strenge Surge Again

November 5, 2016

Second Half reports

BROOKLYN – Ava Strenge and Bailley McConnell both got what they came for Saturday.

Strenge, a Battle Creek St. Philip senior, reclaimed the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 individual cross country championship with a powerful front-running performance at Michigan International Speedway.

McConnell, a distant individual runner-up, helped her Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart team post another record-breaking point total en route to the team championship.

Strenge led from start to finish, winning the race in 18:27.2.

McConnell was second in 18:55.6, leading a dominant Sacred Heart team that had six all-state runners and a seventh who missed by one place.

The Irish broke the Division 4 record of 52 points they scored last year by scoring 34, beating runner-up Pewamo-Westphalia by 82. Sacred Heart’s total ranks sixth all-time in any division and is the lowest since Rockford won Class A with 25 points in 1998.

“It’s awesome,” said McConnell, a junior. “It’s good to be a team and work together, cheer each other on and be really close to each other. Sometimes we get to run with each other during the race.

“We were hoping to make another record. We’ve had some injuries and sicknesses, so we were just hoping to maintain that.”

There have been some great sister acts in MHSAA cross country history, but nothing like the McConnells.

Not only was Bailley second, but senior Alexis McConnell was fourth in 19:09.1 and sophomore Cammie McConnell was fifth in 19:10.6.

“I went out with my sisters,” Bailley said. “They like to pace me a lot and I like to pace with them, so we just kind of stayed back. Each mile, we’d see the time and I’d push harder so I could keep a constant pace.”

Also scoring for Sacred Heart were sophomore Lauren MacDonald (11th, 19:41.0) and sophomore Scout Nelson (20th, 20:09.8). No. 6 runner Desiree McConnell’s place didn’t count in the team score, but she was still all-state with her 26th-place showing in 20:14.2. Even No. 7 runner Rowan Fitzpatrick almost made all-state, missing by one spot by placing 31st in 20:28.0.

Strenge was the Division 4 champion two years ago. She led most of last year’s race before being run down by Tessa Fornari of Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes.

“It was kind of a shock to me,” Strenge said. “I was disappointed, but I still had next year.”

Strenge was determined not to be caught again, charging to the front and pushing a hard pace. The way she pumped her arms was more in line with a middle-distance runner on the track than a cross country runner.

“I like to get out in front of the pack,” Strenge said. “Our start was way in the far corner. I wanted to get in the front as soon as possible. I’m not really a good sprinter, so I wanted a lead before they could pass me on the straightaway.”

Click for full results.

The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Sisters Alexis McConnell (1857) and Cammie McConnell run to top-five finishes in the Division 4 girls race Saturday. (Middle) Battle Creek St. Philip’s Ava Strenge sprints the final stretch to win her second individual title in three seasons. (Click to see more from