It’s not the national cross-country meet, but it’s the closest thing to it for most racers during the regular season.
So winning the Portage Invitational means more than winning any other competition in Michigan.
In a race featuring most of the top teams in Division 2, Pinckney finished first in that division by a 104-109 margin over SEC White rival Chelsea.
Eleven of the top 13 Division 2 teams have raced at Portage. Only the teams n°7 and 11 were not there.
“We’ve talked all week that this is a dress rehearsal for the domestic competition, which gives us an idea of where we are and where we can be at the end of the season,” said Pinckney’s trainer, Jim Wicker. “All the great players were at this race.”
Pinckney entered the competition ranked eighth. Chelsea are ranked second and East Grand Rapids, third with 111 points, is ranked first.
“The kids just came to compete,” Wicker said. “The training is starting to pay off. I haven’t seen them run with so much passion all year. They were determined. It was really fun to watch.
The Pirates got the best personal performances from runners who already had fast times on their resumes.
Junior Evan Loughridge led the way, whose 15:20.9 second-place time ranks second in the history of a program that won three consecutive Division 1 state championships from 2005-2007 With a previous personal best of 15:53.9, he passed 15 runners on the school’s all-time roster, including state champions David Emery (2006) and Brian Hankins (2007).
The school record of 14:57.5 was set last year at Portage by Caleb Jarema, who won the state’s Division 2 title.
“There’s a good opportunity for that down the road,” Wicker said of Loughridge’s potential.
Chelsea junior Connell Alford, the Division 2 favorite this year, won the race in 15:01.8.
“Connell split at the mile mark,” Wicker said. “Evan was fourth. He ran one of the smartest races I’ve ever seen him run. Then he had a nice finish at the end. It was always out faster than it has been all year. It was at least 4:55, which is the first time it’s been out under 5. Then the plan was that we wanted to move to the mile and a half. He definitely moved at the mile and a half.
Senior Zach DeBeauclair broke 16 minutes for the first time, placing eighth out of 315 runners in 15:56.5.
Junior Ethan Sandula was 12th in 16:02.6, junior Paul Moore was 21st in 16:10.1 and senior Ben Richards was 61st in 16:57.1 to round out the Pirates score.
Pinckney finished behind Chelsea in the first two SEC jamborees this season.
On the girls’ side, second Madalynn Karsies was Pinckney’s best, placing 80th in 20:55.5.
In Division One races, both Brighton teams finished fourth in a packed field of state-ranked teams.
The seventh-placed Brighton boys scored 216 points to finish fourth behind No.1 Northville (127), No.10 Saline (185) and No.4 Traverse City Central (204). The Bulldogs earned a sixth tiebreaker for fourth against No. 2 Portage Central.
Brighton senior Brady Matuszewski broke 16 minutes for the first time, coming in 12th in 15:46.1. His teammate Tyler Langley was right behind him, placing 13th in 15:46.7.
The Bulldogs packed four runners in places 64-68, with Dylan White placing 64th (16:43.2), Brayden Morris 65th (16:44.8), Elijah Forbord 67th (16:47.8) and Luke Campbell 68th (16:48.1).
Senior Hunter Jones of Division 3 Benzie Central competed in the Division 1 race, winning in 14:37.0. He barely eclipsed the course record of 14:37.1 set last year by Riley Hough of Hartland.
The seventh-ranked Brighton girls scored 176 points to finish behind No. 1 Ann Arbor Pioneer (117), No. 2 Holland West Ottawa (129) and No. 5 Saline (171).
Junior Nikki Carothers went under 19 minutes for the first time, finishing 14th in 18:47.7. Brighton’s top six girls beat 20 minutes.
Lydia LaMarra was 24th (19:04.2), Megan Kowalski was 37th (19:19.2), Elle Bissett was 52nd (19:34.3), Stella Farmer was 54th (19:37.1) and Gabrielle Bolitho was 62nd ( 19:43.0) for bulldogs.
Greater Flint Cross Country Championship
The Hartland girls finished second out of 22 teams with 96 points at the Cummings Center in Mt. Morris. Goodrich won with 53.
Freshman Sophia Nunnery was seventh in 19:37.4, senior Lexie Brown ninth in 19:41.2, senior Alexandra Cabaj 15th in 19:49.0, freshman Elliana Neuer 17th in 19:54, 9 and second Sophia McKenna 49th in 21:17.8 for Hartland.
On the boys’ side, Hartland finished sixth out of 23 teams with 172 points.
Senior Ben Smith was fourth in 16:04.53 to lead Hartland.
Contact Bill Khan at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.