It was supposed to be a difficult rebuilding year for the storied Saline girls cross country team. Hannah Cummings, Reagan Smith and Gillian Walter graduated. All-state runner Jessi Larson broken bone at the state track and field meet. And legendary coach Mike Smith retired.
Instead, the Hornets found a way to finish second in the SEC Red, second in the regional and, Saturday, they finished ninth at the state meet.
Led by junior Jessi Larson, who finished 21st in 18:40 for her second straight All-State medal, the Hornets finished with 298 points. Larson was the only Saline girl with any experience at the state meet, and she’s still finding her way back from injury.
Coach Carl Spina the girls had a great season.
“After we graduated the girls we did and after Jessi’s injury, a top 10 finish would have seemed like a miracle. It was a great season and today was the icing on the cake,” Spina said.
Everyone overshot expectations, including Larson, who isn’t expected to be full strength until the spring.
“She’s just happy to be running with her friends and teammates. One of my favorite parts of the job is to see her smile as she heads out the door to run with her teammates,” Spina said. “She ran a good race. To have her swoop in and contribute at all is more than we could have asked.”
Senior Regan Barsch (65th in 19:33), sophomore Kayla Fortino (83rd in 19:47), freshman Ella Woehlke (119th, 20:05) and junior Rebecca Cantrell (149th, 20:21) figured into Saline’s scoring. Sophomores Alexa Stern (187th, 20:50) and Emma Cummings (196th, 21:02) also ran.
All of but Barsch should be back on next year’s team. All will come back knowing what to expect from a state meet race.
“They’ve learned what it takes to train like a girl who competes at the state level. They’ve competed in this meet. They’re excited about what they were able to accomplish, but I’m sure they’re going to be hungry to improve and get better,” Spina said.
The one graduating Hornet from the Saline 7 is Barsch, a captain of the team. Barch symbolizes the Hornets’ success. Prior to this year, she’d never run with the varsity team at a league meet or regional, yet she earned All SEC and All Region honors. As a junior, she never ran faster than 21:33. She was exactly two minutes faster than that Saturday.
Barsch entered the season as captain of a team that everyone had written off. Those glorious conference title and regional championship streaks were going to end.
“It was tough being a senior captain in the year when all those streaks were going to end, but I know a lot of people looked up to me. We lost seven of our top 10 from last year so I felt like I needed to step up. I felt like I needed to do it for the team and for coach Smith, who retired,” Barsch said.
Barsch said she believed she was better than the times she posted in her junior year.
“I think I always had it in me. Last year I had iron deficiency and it really took a toll on my times. I just really wanted it. I trained hard and listened to my coaches. It came with a lot of effort and a lot of motivation,” Barsch said.
She began taking supplements and she decided to go out with a bang.
Early in the year, Barsch and Fortino took turns being Saline’s top runner. She improved from 20:28 to 19:40 between the first two SEC jamboree. The Hornets surprised everyone when they nearly upset top-ranked Pioneer at the second jamboree. By the time Larson returned to the team, the Hornets were well on their way to having a strong team.
“Regan is what we want from our senior athletes. She waited in the wings and did her work and then led the team in her senior year,” Spina said. “She had her injuries and managed them. She kept working and training and she led her team to a top 10 finish in the state.”
The Ann Arbor Running Co 3 Stars
- Jessi Larson – Despite only being back from injury for a few weeks, Larson’s elite racing skills helped her to an all-state finish.
- Regan Barsch – She went out an all SEC and all region runner who captained her team to a top-10 finish.
- Kayla Fortino – She emerged as a leader of this team in her sophomore year and finished 83rd in her first state meet.