Lakers to compete for D4 state titles

Bear Lake runners (from left to right) McKaya Groenwald, Keena Gilbert and Faith Moerdyk take off from the starting line of this past Saturday’s Division 4 regional at Grand Traverse Resort. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

Bear Lake runners (from left to right) McKaya Groenwald, Keena Gilbert and Faith Moerdyk take off from the starting line of this past Saturday’s Division 4 regional at Grand Traverse Resort. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

The Bear Lake girls will be in the first group of runners taking off from the starting line in Saturday morning’s state finals.

But don’t expect the Lakers to be the first team to arrive at Michigan International Speedway.

The Bear Lake boys and girls teams know every turn and every hill in the Irish Hills terrain, so the pre-race preparation will be familiar. The only question is where the Lakers will finish when it’s all over.

Bear Lake boasts a rich cross country tradition with a slew of state titles and both teams plan on being in the running for the top spot.

“They’ve been training all year for this race,” said Bear Lake coach Tony Shrum. “You circle it early on. Especially with the success we had last year and with everyone we had coming back, we knew we’d be really competitive, and this is the big one.”

The Bear Lake girls finished second in the Division 4 race last season and the boys were ninth. Both squads return six of their seven runners from last year’s race to Saturday’s and the boys are ranked No. 6 and the girls No. 7 in the final michigancrosscountry.com Division 4 poll. Both teams also won regional titles last Saturday on a soggy course at Grand Traverse Resort.

“What was really exciting on both sides is how well they ran as a team,” Shrum said. “(Given the conditions) every coach knew the times weren’t going to be important, it was going to be how you placed and how you did collectively. With the girls running so close together — a 34-second split from (Nos.) 1 to 5 and the boys were just over a minute — that’s the type of grouping they’re going to need to run on Saturday.”

Neither squad has a runner likely to finish in the top five, but both groups have tremendous balance. That’s how the Bear Lake girls, despite having just two All-State (top 30) runners last year — Keena Gilbert and Faith Moerdyk — were able to place second.

“We’ve got five girls that are really competitive and they’re all really close to each other,” Shrum said. “We don’t have the top two or three girls … we have seven really quality girls and they all run really well together.

“For us, that pack mentality is how they’re going to win it. They’ve all got to be either All-State or close to All-State. If they can all finish in that top 20 to 40, they’ve got as good a shot as anyone else.”

The Lakers ran slow, wet courses each of the last two weeks and hope that isn’t the case Saturday, though MIS isn’t known as the fastest track.

“It’s definitely not,” Gilbert said. “We just have to think positive.”

That means focusing on position and the runners around them.

“Third week in a row, the times aren’t the big thing, what matters is placement,” Shrum said. “I’ll be out on the course telling them where they’re at so they know what place they’re in and when they need to pick it up and who they need to get ahead of.”

The mentality for the boys is identical.

“Simple,” Bear Lake senior John Girven said after winning an individual regional title last week. “Just get everyone All-State medals. If we can get five people in the top 30, that will win it.”

The Lakers didn’t have an All-State runner last year, but Girven and Jordan Anderson have been running side-by-side all season.

“I think John and Jordan are both All-State runners and they have a chance to prove that on Saturday,” Shrum said. “I think we’ve got, collectively, a five that’s as competitive as anyone out there.”

Shrum anticipates a quiet 40-minute bus ride Saturday morning from the hotel in Adrian to MIS with everyone focused on the biggest race of the season.

“I think the season has shaped up pretty well for them,” he said. “The goal is to have them running the best at the end of the season and I think this year, even more than last year, they’re more prepared now than they were a year ago.”

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