From the St. Clair boys cross country team earning its 22nd straight trip to the MHSAA State Finals to the North Branch girls cross country team earning its first-ever league title, last season brought many exciting moments, gritty races, and personal-best times.
On the boys side, Division 2 should be interesting and certainly competitive. Last fall, Armada’s Camden Khon, St. Clair’s Carter Boullard, and Yale’s Lukas Kriesch crossed the finish line within less than 8 seconds of one another in the regional final. In recent history, returning the region’s top three runners has never happened, but this year, all three are back as seniors.
Yale returns all of its varsity runners this fall except for Braxton Shutko, meaning the Bulldogs will be well-equipped on their quest to defend their BWAC title and win the region. Joining Kriesch is a trio of juniors: Blake Ferguson, Acer Campbell, and Giovanni Pardo-Keegan.
For the Saints, Carter Boullard, David Harris, and Joe Edgemon return for their senior seasons along with Dylan Distelrath, a junior. Head coach Tom Brenner said senior Jax Giannosa might surprise competitors as well.
“I wouldn’t say I’m personally surprised by anyone in our training…but I think people will probably be surprised by what [Giannosa] does this year,” Brenner said. “He joined cross country last…and he got hurt a little bit and missed most of the season…but he’s in really good shape and he should finish high for us in the scoring.”
Armada will look to qualify for the State Finals for the fifth consecutive time this fall. The Tigers have the defending regional champion to lead the way along with their entire varsity lineup: Riley Andrews, Jack Zagaiski, Luke Nawrocki, and Tyler Buckland.
The reigning MAC-White champion, Port Huron Northern, will be back this season stronger than last as its entire varsity roster returns with another year of experience and training. This includes Glen Davis, Luke VanderHeuevel, Michael Paoletti, Matt LaFreniere, and Luke Maher.
“We’re only in week two, and we don’t do a whole lot of workouts in the summer, so we’ve only had a couple of them so far,” head coach Paul Nevado said, “but the kids have worked really hard and are doing well. I can’t complain.”
The Huskies live up to their mascot’s name, truly competing as a pack. In last year’s regional – in which they finished third to qualify for the State Finals – the top five runners finished in a 22-second spread. This will be key to their success again this fall.
“As long as the guys can work together and stay together, I think we have a really good shot at coming away with a regional title,” Nevado said.
The girls races should prove just as competitive this year, starting within the BWAC. Last year, North Branch edged Croswell-Lexington by two points to clinch the conference title – its first-ever in school history.
And this year, the two teams will not only battle for a league title, but they’ll also be in the same region for the first time. With Karlie Schlaud, Isabelle Hunt, and Rowan Conley back, Broncos head coach Jason Castle said his team is still carrying momentum.
“We’ve still got a shot to win the league and we got put into a little bit weaker region, so I said we’ve still got an outside shot to qualify as a team for the state meet,” he said.
Cros-Lex returns an eager top five with Eva Thompson, Morgan Newton, Abby Barkley, Brynn Hurley, and Aubrey Connelly.
“We obviously have to stay healthy, but the nice thing is that most of my kids did a really good job of getting a good base this summer, so I’m excited to see where it will bring them,” head coach Lisa Shaw said. “They’re self-motivated. When given the option in workouts, they usually like to push themselves and do a little extra.”
But the Pioneers aren’t the only ones with a veteran roster. Armada also returns its top five, including Brooklyn Khon, the regional champion. She’s joined by Darrah Mackenzie, Ashlyn Upton, Ava Baltierra, Ava Zobay, and Samantha Kook.
And Imlay City, which has consistently been one of the top three teams in the league, will bring back Jenna Denver, Laela Bhatti, and Charlotte O’Brien to its top five as well.
In the MAC, Therese Georgia and Dylan Pasia will be back for their final seasons as Huskies; Marysville will bring back three of last year’s underclassmen – Lillian Rutallie, Riley DenUyl, and Ella Deshon – and St. Clair brings back its entire top five, led by senior Ava Pergitone.
And two other local runners to watch for are Richmond junior Brianna Albers, who hit her stride late in the season to lead the area in the State Finals with a personal best of 19 minutes, 22.5 seconds, and Casidhe Flesher, a junior from Marine City who will be looking to return to the State Finals stage after just missing last year’s qualifying cut.
Marine City will host one of the area’s first meets this Friday, the Mariner Invite, where the Mariners will race Imlay City, Richmond, Port Huron, and several other schools. The rest of the area teams will be in action the following week.