In their heart of hearts, it wasn’t the trophy they came for. But when the Hornets left Michigan International Speedway with the MHSAA Division 1 runner up trophy, the became just the second Saline boys cross country team in program history to accomplish the feat.
Saline finished 198 points, 73 back of the winners from White Lake Lakeland High School.
Senior captain Aidan Carichner led the Hornets, finishing 26th in 16:07.4. By virtue of his top 30 finish, Carichner earned all state honors. Junior Anthony Dekraker (36th, 16:15), senior Evan Koerschner (65th, 16:38), senior Connor Meehan (100th, 16:49) and sophomore Jevin Nishioka (103rd, 16:50) accounted for the scoring. Joshua Cook (143rd, 17:07) and Will Downey (186th, 17:27) also ran for the Hornets.
Saline coach Carl Spina said the boys felt some disappointment, but that it’s given way to celebrating the winning of “big trophy from a big meet.”
“It’s no secret that we came here with the goal of winning. So there is some disappointment. On the other hand, we’re one of two teams taking a trophy home from the state meet. Only one other team in our program’s history has finished as well as this team did,” Coach Carl Spina said. “I’m proud of this team. This team should be proud of what they accomplished here and all season.”
Saline finished the season as SEC Red champs and regional champs.
Nobody had more to celebrate Saturday that Aidan Carichner, who earned All State honors by finishing in the top 30. The honor capped a stellar senior year for the co-captain of the team. He also earned All SEC and All Region honors for the first time as a senior.
Carichner was asked to explain his remarkable improvement between his junior and senior years. He was driven by the disappointment of last year’s sixth place finish.
“Coming here last year and not performing well and finishing sixth left me with a bad feeling that kept me driven during the long summer runs,” Carichner said. “I wanted this team to do better and since I was a senior and a captain, I really started to take what the coaches were saying a lot more seriously.”
Carichner had a strong finish to the race.
“I wanted perform well for my team in hopes we could win. Even though that didn’t happen, I feel like we all gave it our best shot. I’m proud of the team,” Carichner said.
Spina said the coaches are proud of Carichner for many reasons. For one, he is the team’s emotional leader.
“He is the guy slapping fives and getting fired up at the start line and telling the team they could do this,” Spina said. “That’s a lot of progress from where he was just a year ago.”
Carichner has made the same progress on the track.
“Aidan isn’t really designed for distance running. It’s not something he really loves. But he loves his team and he wanted to go home with a trophy,” Spina said. “So he did all that work for a year to turn himself into the runner that he is.”
Koerschner, another senior, ran his final race for the Hornet cross country team. A four-time All-SEC and all-region runner, Koerschner ran at MIS in each of his four years of high school.
“I haven’t had much opportunity to reflect on that, but I’ve been blessed to have a great career and to have such great coaches and teammates who’ve pushed me,” Koerschner said. “I’ve gotten to run in the state meet all four years so to finish it off with a second place finish is special. It definitely would have been nice to get first place. But to bring home some hardware is a great accomplishment.”
Spina said Koerschner has been a rock for the program.
“As a youngster he came to MIS and ran well. We brought him under our wing and showed him the way. And for the past two years, he’s been brining boys under his wing and showing them the way,” Spina said. “He has a passion for running and he loves the team even more. Having him in the program year-after-year-after-year has been important for him.”
Spina said his team ran well.
“The team that finished ahead of us ran great. We didn’t run poorly. We had some who ran great and some who ran about where they should have been. If we had all run great, we wouldn’t have been able to make up the difference. That’s just a better team than us right now,” Spina said.
The Hornets will graduate a lot of talent after this year, but Spina expects the team to compete for a spot on the podium next year.
“We’re losing a great senior group with Carichner, Koerschner, (Connor) Meehan, Aaron Milley and Grant Peters,” Spina said.
DeKraker will be back as a senior with all state potential. Cook and Delfuoco will be back as seniors. Nishioka is the most well-known athletes in a strong sophomore class that was befuddled with growth-related injuries this year.
The Ann Arbor Running Co. 3 Stars
1) Aidan Carichner – The captain capped a terrific senior year with an all-state performance.
2) Evan Koerschner – One of the most decorated runners in Saline XC history finishes with a solid run. He ends as a four-time all-SEC and four-time all-region runner.
3) Connor Meehan – Meehan finished his solid XC career in Saline by taking 100th at the state meet. He’ll join Koerschner and Carichner in the Saline XC Hall of Fame.