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East Lansing sophomores Esther Waller and Jayden Page are pictured here in the homestretch of the Greater Lansing Cross Country Championship meet Oct. 12 at Ledge Meadows Golf Course in Grand Ledge. (Photos by Jim Pivarnik)
The tail end of the cross country season has been a whirlwind of sorts for the East Lansing boys and girls teams, and Friday’s 17-team Division 1 regional at DeWitt should be no different.
Within the past two weeks the Trojans have run in back-to-back events at Ledge Meadows Golf Course in Grand Ledge: the Greater Lansing Championship and the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue division conference meet. Both events provided a snapshot of what to expect from the Trojans when the Region 4 field converges on Panther Drive to decide who qualifies for the state finals at Michigan International Speedway on November 2.
The top three teams and top 15 individual finishers from each of nine regions around the lower peninsula are guaranteed a starting position in Brooklyn next weekend.
For the Trojan girls, the past two weeks have been an uphill struggle against health and the weather. A tie for third place at the CAAC Blue meet on Oct. 17, and a sixth-place finish at the Greater Lansing Championship give head coach Tim Akers a positive feeling about Friday’s race and where he thinks his team can finish.
“I’ve been incredibly proud of how hard the girls have worked this year, because injury and sickness has taken its toll, and we’ve had to pull some inexperienced runners up to varsity races to fill in, but they have really stepped up,” Akers said. “With two of our top seven out for regionals, I just want to see these girls do what they have done all season: compete.”
“Those still standing have been peaking at just the right time,” Akers added, “so I'm hoping for a top-five team finish at DeWitt on Friday.”
East Lansing’s regional lineup will consist of all underclassmen: Abbie Draheim (junior), Anna Delgado (freshman), Molly Conlin (sophomore), Barbara Stout (freshman), Esther Waller (sophomore), Grace Rose (freshman) and Payton Baker (sophomore).
Draheim lost a photo finish — 18:23.2 to 18:23.3 — to Kaitlyn Hines of DeWitt in the 5K race for CAAC Blue honors. At the Greater Lansing Championship (Oct. 12), Draheim was at less than full strength when finishing 10th in a field of 231 runners in 19:25.3.
Delgado earned a medal that day by finishing 22nd in 20:02.4.
“At the Greater Lansing Invitational, Abbie (above) wasn’t at her best and Lucy [Wallace, a junior] had to drop out due to injury, yet we still managed to finish sixth due to four of the other five runners setting personal bests in less-than-desirable conditions,” Akers said.
In the CAAC Blue meet, Delgado finished seventh in 20:01.7 while Conlin was 14th in 21:03.4. The next three across the line for the Trojans—Marlee Schuesler (25th, 21:48.1), Rose (29th, 21:54) and Waller (30th), 21:54.3 – finished within six seconds of one another.
“Prior to the start of the season, I knew we had a great deal of potential,” Akers said, “but I tempered my expectations because we’re so young: we have only three seniors on the roster (of 23 runners), and nine of the girls are first-year runners.
“Though I hate to look past regionals, I’m really excited for next year—our top 12 runners are all returning, and if we can find a way to keep everyone healthy, we’re going to be tough.”
Trojan boys secure conference championship
The East Lansing boys faced stern challenges on a number of fronts (weather and health being two of the primary ones) as they lined up for the 31st annual Greater Lansing Cross Country Championships.
“We had a couple of kids who were sick, and that just makes for a tougher race, especially with the conditions (morning temperature in the low 40s) being what they were,” said East Lansing boys coach Pat Murray, in reference to the waterlogged course, which was softened considerably by rain the night before.
The East Lansing boys finished third overall with 150 points, two more than runnerup St. Johns (148). Haslett, which placed three runners among the top 15, won the event with 105 points. Lansing Catholic was fourth in the 35-team field with 257 points, followed by Pewamo-Westphalia (266), St. Louis (269), Ionia (275) and Fowlerville (275). Grand Ledge, with 307 points, and Alma (331) completed the top 10 boys teams.
East Lansing senior Andrew Lane (below) finished second behind Alex Penski of Holt, who ran the 5,000 meters in 15:35.1. Lane, who finished in 15:57.5 at the Greater Lansing meet, came back five days later to lead the Trojans to the CAAC Blue title by winning the individual title—the 19th time a Trojan male runner has been crowned conference champion.
“We had great performances from our four healthy varsity guys,” Murray said of the conference meet. “Finishing with four guys in the top ten was a real example of our guys rising up under adversity. With four of our top eight runners in ill health we really needed those four guys to perform and, man, did they.
“The real highlight was sophomore Jayden Page finishing 10th after having such a tough race (at the Greater Lansing meet). He really came through for us when we needed him.”
East Lansing won the CAAC Blue meet with 54 points, to finish ahead of Okemos (67), Grand Ledge (73), Holt (91), DeWitt (92), Everett (148) and Waverly (180). Lane led the Trojans across the finish line in 15:53.9, followed by third-place finisher Nathan Faust (16:28.9), sixth-place finisher Matthew Zeleke (16:54.4) and the aforementioned Page, who completed the 5K route in 17:10.2. Dawson Parks was the fifth Trojan to finish in 18:33.3.
With three of the state’s top 10 ranked teams having been assigned to DeWitt—along with the current No. 15 team—the prospects for the Trojans advancing to the state finals as a team are not dim, but certainly not as bright as they could have been, given their ranking as the No. 21 team in Division 1. (A minimum of three teams from each of the state’s nine regions will advance to the state finals.)
The presence of teams from Brighton (No. 1), Dexter (No. 3), Ann Arbor Skyline (No. 7), and Pickney (No. 15) make Friday’s regional assignment even more demanding for the Trojans.
“We are seeded twenty-first in the entire state but only fifth in our own region,” Murray said. “Clearly our regional is the toughest in the division. No regional but ours has three top ten teams, and only Region 6 has four top 20 teams like ours. Many have no top ten teams.”
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