Area runners earn all-state status

BROOKLYN —Underclassmen that ran strong in Saturday’s state cross country finals can take satisfaction in the fact they’ve got another season to perhaps finish even higher.

That was the case of Clark Ruiz of Big Rapids, plus Megan O’Neil and Emily Starck from Chippewa Hills who had excellent performances in their respective races Saturday at Michigan International Speedway for all-state honors

STATE FINAL: Reed City's Joe Oehrli (right) competes in the Division 3 boys cross country final Saturday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

Ruiz had a time of 15:53.1 for fifth place overall in the Division 2 boys race.

“It’s all right,” he said. “Top five is good, I like it. That’s the highest I’ve finished.”

Ruiz, a year ago, had a previous high finish of 19th.

“I was hoping to win,” he said. “Who doesn’t really? But I’m happy with it.”

Ruiz said he had a rough first mile.

“After that first mile, I kept getting boxed in,” he said. “I struggled to break through.”

At the end, “I had to hold off people,” Ruiz said. “And I did.”

The top 30 finishers in each division earned all-state honors.

The top two runners were seniors Bryce Bradley of Chelsea and Nicholas Soter of Dearborn Divine Child at 15:20.6. Two runners finishing ahead of Ruiz were both juniors with Connor Mora of Cedar Springs and Tanner Hinkle of Mason at 15:33.2 and 15:41.3.

Earning all-state honors her second straight season was O’Neil who was ninth in 18:29.3. Her freshman teammate, Emily Starck, was 14th in 18:35.2 while freshman Chloe Kinnally of Big Rapids was 78th in 19:53.6.

“This was Chloe’s first year as a runner and first year at the state finals,” said Big Rapids Chase Gibson. “Going to the meet and not knowing what to expect, MIS can be scary. She got scared but she got her second best time of the season. She had strong season.”

Both Chippewa Hills runners were all state.

“I didn’t exactly reach my goal time,” Starck said. “My first mile was slower than I wanted it to be. I’m happy with my time and place. My second mile was better than it has been this season.”

“Megan grew a lot this year,” said Chippewa Hills coach Alex Vanderveen. “She had goals early on. But early on, we realized we had to reset those goals. She was struggling.”

O’Neil was third in the state a year ago.

Vanderveen also was impressed with Starck’s performance.

“It was a great performance for a freshman. It was her second best time ever,” he said. “Emily has run really well in big meets. She has shown she can run well in big meets.”

One runner not coming back is David Dantuma of Crossroads who was seventh in 16:20.2 in the Division 4 boys race. Spencer Nousain of Concord won the race in 15:55.8.

“I was pretty happy,” Dantuma said of his all-state effort. “I felt I gave it everything I’ve got. I beat a lot of guys that normally beat me by quite a bit.

“Normally I do pretty well at big meets.”

It was his first year for running cross country full-time.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I put in a lot of miles this summer. It’s really helped me.”

Another area runner not returning is Joe Oehrli of Reed City, who finished 16th for all-state honors with a 16:21.2 in Division 3.

“I felt like I could have finished higher,” Oehrli said, adding that if he had to run the race again, he might work on a faster first mile.

Oehrli finished 30th a year ago. He caught some runners at the end of the race to get 16th.

“He did very well overall from last year,” said Reed City coach Brad Smith. “We were hoping for a top 10 finish. Overall, he had a good day.”

This was Oehrli’s fourth cross country season and he indicated he might pursue a college career in the sport. Right now, he’s focusing on track.

Trevor Holmes of Pine River, a junior, was 50th in 16:59.6.

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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