Saline’s cross country teams race in the MHSAA Division 1 championship at Michigan International Speedway Saturday afternoon.
The boys race at 2 p.m. and the girls race at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $8.
The boys enter the state meet looking to cap a season in which they won the SEC championship and the regional championship. Saline is ranked second behind Novi in the most recent rankings, released Nov. 1.
Saline coach Carl Spina is still in the process of finalizing his seven.
“Anthony DeKraker, Aidan Carichner, Evan Koerschner, Connor Meehan, Josh Cook, Jevin Nishioka, Aidan Delfuoco, Will Downey, and Neil Garg will all warm up for the race. Our final lineup will be a call we make on Saturday. Delfuoco and Downey are really close, and I'm not 100% certain who is most race-ready. Garg is the insurance on the insurance policy. He's likely not going to race, but he will be ready if something goes wrong,” Spina said.
DeKraker has been the Hornets’ best runner in recent weeks. Carichner has been a solid 1-2 runner all year. Koerschner is a senior with three state meet runs under his belt. If Jevin Nishioka, sidelined midway through the season with an injury, returns to early season form, the Hornets could be fearsome.
The Hornet slipped to second in the final rankings. That gives the Hornets the ability to run their race without a target on their backs.
“To win on Saturday, we'll just need to keep doing what we have been doing. We put almost 100 percent of our efforts on being the best version of Saline that we can be, and I think Saline is the best team in Michigan right now,” Spina said. “We also always try to keep it simple. Everyone understands the playground race, and that's what we talk about. It's just a matter of getting ahead of as many other guys as possible. It's that simple.”
Spina said his team is ready.
“I've worked with a lot of very good runners and a lot of very good athletes. This group is all athletes. They care a lot about the program, but they also just want to win.
Saline’s girls enter the race ranked sixth in the state. The Lady Hornets have already beat early season expectations.
“Our girls have already had a storybook season. They are overachieving by leaps and bounds, and they have had to keep rewriting the season goals all fall. I think that if they all race very well, they'll get into the top five,” Spina said. “I think it's pretty clear that they are a top-ten team and they can get there even if they don't run great.”
The Hornets will be led by Jessi Larson, who emerged as one of the state’s premier runners at this meet last year. Larson has worked her way back from injury to run well at the SEC meet and regional. Beyond Larson, the rest of the team will run at the state meet for the first time. Senior captain Regan Barsch and sophomore Kayla Fortino led the Hornet charge all year when Larson was injured. Sophomore Emma Cummings has cheered on her older sisters at the state meet and now has her chance to run. Freshman Ella Woehlke, junior Rebecca Cantrell and sophomore Alexa Stern are also MIS rookies.
It won’t be an easy race for the girls.
“There will be a lot of stress going in. Most of the girls have very little experience racing at this level, and all of the fanfare is new to them. They will need to manage that. It's fun, but it can also be overwhelming,” Spina said. “Also, the race at the state finals isn't like any other race they've seen to-date. It's difficult to mimic that strong of a field. They'll need to race well in something they have never raced in.”
Fans can send off the Hornets Saturday morning at Saline High School. They’ll be at the SHS commons at 9:45 a.m. to sign cards and notes. At 10 a.m. the athletes will arrive and be cheered on by the crowd.