Lakers eye 3rd straight regional sweep

The road to Division 4 regional crowns will technically wind through Grand Traverse Resort on Saturday.

The Lakers, however, can make the case that one must go through Bear Lake too.

Winners of two straight title sweeps — boys and girls — the Lakers are preparing to take home another pair of trophies en route to team berths in the state finals.

“The goal is always to win the regional meet,” said Bear Lake coach Tony Shrum. “It’s a great preparation for the state finals.

“Based on the best times of the year, we’ve got a solid chance to get five or six boys and girls to finish in the top 15, so that’s kind of the goal.

“We really want to push that course and get after it.”

Bear Lake’s Keena Gilbert (right) and McKaya Groenwald look to lead the Laker girls to a third straight regional crown on Saturday at Grand Traverse Resort. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

Bear Lake’s Keena Gilbert (right) and McKaya Groenwald look to lead the Laker girls to a third straight regional crown on Saturday at Grand Traverse Resort. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

On Saturday, Bear Lake’s two-time regional title defense starts with the boys race at 10 a.m. with the girls slated to run at 11. The top three teams and top 15 individuals at Grand Traverse Resort will move on to the finals at Michigan International Speedway the following weekend.

Last year, after sweeping the regional, the Laker girls went on to place third in the finals while the boys finished fourth. Despite turnover toward the top on both sides due to graduation, Bear Lake reloaded with a strong freshmen class.

“They’ve impressed me all year,” Shrum said. “We lost a lot of guys from last year, and we knew it’d be tough to fill the shoes of two of the top five girls that we lost too.

“But, our returners have stepped up and the good group of freshmen have been more than I could have asked for.”

Bear Lake enters Saturday as the favorite in the field with the No. 3-ranked boys team and No. 4-ranked girls in the state, according to michigancrosscountry.com

About a third of the Lakers’ harriers, however, will be running a regional race for the first time.

“Some of them are pretty new to this type of competition,” Shrum said, “But fortunately we’ve run a lot of big races this year, so I think they’re prepared for the big stage.”

As for the returners, Shrum expects to compete for the individual championships at the regional as well.

John Girven, a 2014 Bear Lake graduate, won back-to-back individual titles his junior and senior years while teammate Jordan Anderson — still a member of the squad — was runner-up a season ago.

“Jordan is in the driver’s seat now,” Shrum said. “And Gary (McBride) is obviously an incredibly good freshman, so we expect those two to be fighting for the top spots.”

Bear Lake seniors Keena Gilbert and McKaya Groenwald are also expected to be among the first to finish Saturday.

“Keena’s got the second seed and McKaya is around fourth, based on their best times of the year,” Shrum explained. “So both of them should have a shot at a regional title as well.”

The course at Grand Traverse will be difficult, Shrum said, but nothing the Lakers can’t handle.

“It’s got a lot of long ups, especially at about the mile mark, and the last half-mile or so it’s pretty much all up too,” he said. “It’s good to get a real hard course in the week before the finals, because it’s a similar set-up to (Michigan International Speedway).

“It’s not spectator friendly,” he said of the long stretches without fan access. “They’re used to friends and family all over the place yelling at them, but on these types of courses you’re out on an island a lot.

“You can get lost in your thoughts, so hopefully it helps them focus on the race while they’re out there.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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