NEMC cross-country finals
PINE RIVER GOLF COURSE, STANDISH — Ogemaw Heights continued its run of North East Michigan cross country championships Saturday at Standish's Pine River Golf Course, winning its sixth straight girls title and third straight boys championship.
The results may have been the same, but the races were not.
The Falcon boys dominated the team scoring, with the Falcons finishing 29 points ahead of second place John Glenn and Ogemaw's top runner, Martin Nelkie, winning the individual race by 31 seconds to clinch the season championship.
In the girls’ race, Ogemaw edged SSC by eight points, overcoming a deficit coming into the race after the Panthers had won both regular-season jamborees. Tawas Area's Emily Short won the individual race in dramatic, though unfortunate, fashion.
There was little doubt that Ogemaw Heights would win the team title, and the Falcons didn't disappoint with their performance on Saturday. Ogemaw scored 28 points to John Glenn's 57, with Standish-Sterling (70), Tawas Area (97) and Pinconning (106) following.
Nelkie finished in 17:04 -- the 15th fastest time ever in the league finals since records started being kept in 1982. He likely would have broken the 17-minute mark if not for briefly getting lost on the course in the final mile.
Standish-Sterling's Ryan Pickvet broke out to a big lead, knowing his best shot at topping Nelkie was to build an insurmountable margin. That didn't happen as Nelkie passed up Pickvet on the second mile and built a 10-second lead by the two-mile mark.
Pickvet finished second in 17:35, with the Falcons' Brian Valley taking third at 17:37. Valley's finish also pushed him into the top 10 times for Ogemaw Heights juniors in the league finals race.
"I felt it was a breakthrough race for Martin and Brian," said Ogemaw coach Doug Grezeszak. "The rest of the team ran about normal on the notoriously slow course.
"If Brian and Martin run those races again they should both qualify for the state finals by finishing in the top 15 at Saturday's regional meet."
John Glenn's Brandon Dailey (4th, 18:18) and Kelsey Allen (5th, 18:24) followed.
The Falcons' low score was helped by Casey Taylor (6th, 18:35), Mike Lentz (8th, 19:04) and Steven Wysocki (10th, 19:17).
The Panthers had hoped to edge Glenn for the second-place spot, but it didn't quite happen despite Pickvet's second-place individual finish.
"Ryan took charge right away because Nelkie has been racing well," said SSC coach Dennis Pruder. "One of the things I like about Ryan is that he's not afraid to take chances. He caught a few people by surprise and that helped him in the conference totals."
Qwinn Shorkey finished 12th in 19:46, with Cole Manning (17th, 20:36), Frank Michalke (19th, 20:41) and Clarence Johnson (21st, 20:50) following.
"Qwinn, Cole, Frank, Clarence and Aaron Colamarino all ran very strong races," Pruder said. "They have given 100 percent all year. Now the challenge is to go into the regional meet and have every person hit a PR."
Tawas Area was led by Guy Cotter (7th, 18:46) and Tim Glasgow (18th, 20:36) while Pinny was paced by Derrek Lucynski (9th, 19:06) and Drew Hoder (14th, 20:18).
Ogemaw also got a boost from the return to the course of George Farmer, who was injured during practice less than two weeks prior.
"He has worked so hard to rehab his sprained ankle and finished the race in a respectable fashion today for his first race back from the injury," Grezeszak said. "He has been at Pinnacle Rehab every day for about an hour and then gone to the pool for lap swim ... for over an hour every day to maintain his fitness."
With six of the top Falcons returning next season, Grezeszak hopes to go out in style as he announced he would step down as the boys cross country coach after next season's campaign.
"It is time for some younger person to take over the team and with this amount of notice hopefully someone can be found for the position," he said. "We have won 13 league titles since I came to Ogemaw Heights and restarted the program in the fall of 1987. Maybe next year can be 14, and four in a row. That would be a great way to end it."
This year's focus turns to Saturday's regional race at Delta College, where the Falcons and John Glenn will race at the Division 2 level and SSC, Tawas and Pinny will race Division 3.
Grezeszak said his team's chances of advancing as a group to the state finals have dimmed somewhat as a couple of other teams in the region have stepped up their performances.
"Marysville has definitely moved ahead of us," he said. "We are definitely in the No. 4 or 5 spot now. We are capable, but must get up and run a great race with all seven runners if we are to make it."
While the boys’ race highlighted Ogemaw Heights' dominance, the girls’ race was quite different.
Ogemaw Heights edged Standish-Sterling with 41 points to the Panthers' 49. Tawas (62) took third, followed by Pinny (78) and Glenn (134).
Standish-Sterling's Karina Pierce bolted out to the lead, with Ogemaw Heights' Cara Crawford and Tawas Area's Chelsea Smith following. The Braves' Emily Short kept her own pace, lurking back in the pack until closing the gap over the second half of the race.
Still, Pierce held a lead of several seconds coming down the stretch run, but with the finish line just 10 meters away, she collapsed from exhaustion. Pierce was able to get back on her feet and stagger across the finish, but not before Short flew by to win the race in 21:05.
Pierce took second in 21:12, with Crawford (3rd, 21:30) and Smith (4th, 21:37) following.
The backs of the Standish-Sterling team sweatshirts say "Push Your Limits," and there was no doubt Pierce had done just that.
"I swear," Pruder said. "Her legs can't always keep up with her heart."
"(The girls) battle every day, and I love the camaraderie and support they give. David vs. Goliath just doesn't always turn out the way it should."
Meanwhile, Falcon girls coach Rick Frank's team, which had been painfully young to start the year, culminated its year of improvement by overcoming its two second-place jamboree finishes to win take the finals, with the league finals scoring serving as a tiebreaker, the overall league title.
"Somehow, we did it again," said Frank of his squad's sixth straight NEMC championship. "We kept the possibility of a league title open with two second-place finishes and getting closer in the second one, but losing one of (last year's) top five runners.
"Again the names and faces change, but the Ogemaw tradition of wining girls league cross country titles continue."
The Falcons finished the year with just two of last year's top seven, and both of those were just sophomores. Frank got a big boost with Crawford, a senior, coming out for cross country the first time.
"With a lot of summer training it looked like she was going to be a very nice surprise to our team, and she was," he said. "Having over 20 runners we had some potential, but wow, it was raw and not in any type of shape for the rigors of a cross country season.
"Many freshmen had trouble running for a distance of one mile, let alone a (5K) race in the beginning practices."
A lot of those young faces proved to be the difference Saturday. Following Crawford were freshman twins Cheyenne (6th, 22:28) and Shiloh (9th, 22:41) St. Andrew, sophomore Hannah LeForce (10th, 23:15) and sophomore Jorie Diehl (13th, 23:27). LeForce and Diehl were the only returnees from 2007 of the top five Falcon finishers, but both were nursing injuries.
"We knew we would be in a battle with Standish," Frank said. "We worked hard to win position-for-position (against SSC's runners) and hopefully would get a little help from the other people in the league.
"We knew Cara would be hard-pressed to catch Pierce, so two freshmen and two sophomores nursing injuries had to get the job done.
"I saw every one of their faces at 2-1/4 miles ... all four faces were saying, 'I don't know how I'm going to keep going to the finish.' I just told each of them, especially the freshmen, 'Just keep pushing the pain will go away and when you cross the finish line you are a champion.'
"They kept things close, they battle hard and were able to score eight fewer points than Standish when it was all totaled."
For Standish-Sterling, Sara Stanley (7th, 22:28) and Ashley Pickvet (8th, 22:38) were the second and third finishers, followed by Alyssa Pruder (15th, 23:51) and Ashley White (17th, 24:24).
"Ogemaw simply outran us," Pruder said. "I am so proud of our girls; more proud than I could ever say.
"We have been on top in a lot of races this year but I've never been more proud of them. They congratulated the Ogemaw girls, picked each other up and started talking about the next meet. I have a lot of respect for them. They always work hard and play hard."
Top 3 full teams, top 15 individual runners from each race advance to state finals
Boys: Ogemaw Heights 28, John Glenn 57, Standish-Sterling 70, Tawas Area 97, Pinconning 106
Girls: Ogemaw Heights 41, Standish-Sterling 49, Tawas Area 62, Pinconning 78, John Glenn 134