Bear Lake boys returning to state finals

Brethren’s Tracy, MCC’s Hybza also competing at Michigan International Speedway

The miles it takes to get to the cross country state finals are countless, but once you make it, only three more matter.

The local harriers who qualified for the sport’s final stage will look to put forth their best performances on Saturday in the last race of the year at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

“We’ve just been dropping time and dropping time,” said Bear Lake coach Tony Shrum, whose boys team qualified with a second-place finish in this past Saturday’s Division 4 regional. “We hope to keep the momentum rolling for another great meet on Saturday.

“Our goal is to go down and run our best race.”

The Lakers are fresh off of falling just a single point short of a regional title to Lake Leelanau St. Mary on Saturday, but the fact they were that close is quite impressive, considering how quick they closed the gap.

Including the regional race, Bear Lake saw St. Mary a trio of times in the latter portion of the season, finishing 44 points short of the Eagles at the Chris Grabowski Memorial Invite at Manistee on Oct. 11 and then just 15 points shy on Oct. 20 at the Manistee National Invite.

“To drop that many points in a week and then cut it down to just a point at regionals, that’s just a tremendous effort out of these guys,” Shrum said.

In typical Bear Lake fashion, the boys reloaded this season after losing several seniors to graduation from a team that placed 11th in the state finals a year ago.

“To finish second in the regional after losing your top runners from the previous year and, other than a few seniors, bring back a pretty inexperienced crew: we couldn’t ask for more out of these guys,” Shrum said after the regional finish.

All season the Lakers have been led by their experienced core in Hunter Bentley, Jarrett Buckner and Luca Leffew. The three will bring state finals experience to Brooklyn while teammates Sam Corey, Tai Babinec, Jake Griffis, Trevor Eisenlohr and Bren Lopez will hit the highest stage for the first time.

“We’ve got a lot of first-timers heading there,” Shrum said. “Most have been down there to watch it, so it won’t be as big of a shock to see the magnitude of it, but it will be a great experience for the younger guys to run it for the first time. I’m excited for them, and I’m excited for Jarrett and Luca to close out their careers with another opportunity to race down there.”

With such a young group, Shrum doesn’t expect to head home with a championship trophy, but the boys could certainly establish themselves as future contenders.

“For a lot of years, including the past several, we’ve headed down there hoping to win a state championship,” he said. “This year that might not realistically be in our sights, but with the young crew we’ve got, this is building for the future.

“Outside of a few seniors, all these guys are coming back next year,” he explained. “If we can finish top-20, top-15 I think that would be a great performance. … What we’ll do is run our best, and hopefully that will launch us toward another great season next year.”

Returning to the Division 4 girls race on Saturday will be Brethren sophomore Alexis Tracy.

Tracy is coming off a strong regional performance in which she placed fifth overall in a personal-record time of 20:53.69, easily qualifying for the state meet as a top-15 finish individually was needed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she ran an even better race this Saturday,” said Bobcats coach Kyle Griffin. “”She got hung out to dry a little bit (at the regional), because that top pack of four took off from her for a good chunk of the race. So, she was running alone for a while.

“She’s a pack runner, so this weekend you figure she’ll have some more girls around her to run with.”

This won’t be Tracy’s first appearance at the state finals, either. She qualified as a freshman a season ago and finished 83rd in the time of 21:41.8.

“We’re shooting for top 50 this time around” Griffin said. “If we can get her down around those 20:30s, we’d call that a success. It would be a nice improvement as we work toward a top-30 finish for next year.” 

Also representing Manistee County on Saturday will be Manistee Catholic Central sophomore Henry Hybza. He will be running for Mason County Eastern, which co-ops with MCC in cross country. Hybza helped the Cardinals to a third-place, state-qualifying finish in the Division 4 regional as he placed 19th overall in the time of 18:34.55.

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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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