From afar, a Saline team winning a fifth straight regional cross country championship doesn’t sound like surprising news.
Success has been anything but easy for this year’s Hornets, who once again used their depth to edge conference rival Ann Arbor Pioneer, 43-47, in Saturday’s Division 1 regional at Lake Erie Metropark.
Just like in last week’s SEC championship jamboree, Pioneer had the fastest two runners in the meet. Saline placed five runners in the top 14. The Hornets were led by their senior class. Senior Anthony Lamus was the fastest Hornet over the finish line, finishing fourth in 16:18. Senior Grant Praschan was fifth in 16:20. Dylan Jennings was eighth in 16:26. Andrew Kitto was 13th in 16:34.1 and Kevin Hall was 14th in 16:35. Matt Elms (21st, 17:06) and John Dolsen (28th, 17:28) also ran for Saline.
The Hornets entered this with question marks. It was one thing for Saline to replace graduating all-state runners like Nick Renberg and Spencer Bishop. But the team was dealt another blow late last year when Logan Wetzel, now a sophomore, suffered an injury that kept him off the course all year.
“It was a blow to the team. But it was also something we rallied around,” said Carl Spina, head coach of the boys’ cross country team. “The guys on this team realized they needed to step up and be even better. They take a lot of pride in what they’ve been a part of with Saline cross country.”
Even if Wetzel was healthy, the Saline runners weren’t running times that would make them a top-10 team in the state or a favorite to win the region. Spina said this year’s senior class decided last fall that they were going do something about that.
“This year’s group of seniors isn’t the most talented group you’ll see. But last have an incredible desire to improve. Last November, they decided to set some lofty goals that might have sounded silly to other people,” Spina said.
As juniors they were running between 16:40 and 16:55.
“For them to dream to be sub-16 runners might have sounded like a stretch. But they put in the work and I’m really proud of how far they’ve come,” he said.
Spina said the underclassmen are learning a lot from the senior leadership.
“For our younger runners, it’s a great lesson. We have really talented younger runners, some freshmen. When they see the way these seniors, who aren’t super-talented runners, work really hard and make a ton of progress, it’s a good lesson for some of the younger talented runners about how to make the most of it,” Spina said.
Saline now turns its focus to the state meet at Michigan International Speedway. The Hornets lack that star runner who can finish in the top 5. But Spina figures this team’s depth can help the Hornets return to the podium.
“We have four guys who can be in the top 30 (and earn all-state honors) or better. That would put us in the hunt for a team victory. We’re not the favorite, but we’ve got the pieces coming into place here,” Spina said.
Spina said senior Andrew Kitto returned to form after a difficult SEC championship jamboree. Sophomore Kevin Hall also ran well for Saline. If they can continue to progress, it will help the Hornets’ cause.
Saline placed fourth at last year’s state meet, its best finish since 2007, when the Hornets were second in the state.
The state finals race is at 2 p.m., Nov. 3.