Girls take title, boys runner-up at biggest meet in Michigan

By Jerry Hinnen, Staff Writer

PUBLISHED: October 11, 2007

The Saline cross country teams spent Saturday competing in their biggest race of the regular season. Perhaps not surprisingly, they responded with their biggest performance of the season to date.

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The Saline girls brought home their first-ever title in 10 years of competition at the Portage Invitational, one of the largest meets in the Midwest and one featuring more runners than the Michigan state meet.

The Hornet boys, meanwhile, continued their season-long pursuit of defending state champion Pinckney with an impressive second-place finish, their score of 108 just 15 points behind the first-place Pirates.

It was amazing. But this was the first time we were disappointed to lose to Pinckney, said boys' head coach Carl Spina. We were happy before to be close. But we watched video from the Jackson Invite, and our guys saw that we could have won. Now we don't want to be second or third, and that's a good thing.

Spina, however, was anything but disappointed in his team's performance in the stifling 88-degree heat. The Hornets were led, as usual, by Blake Johnson, who posted a tremendous time of 15:53 on his way to second place in a field of 270 runners.

After last cross country season, he decided he wanted to be a great runner, and that's exactly what he did, Spina said. All winter and summer, he was putting in 30, 40, 50 miles. He has all the skills, all the dedication that any coach would want in any athlete.

But Spina was just as happy with the performance of his other runners, as well. Brian Conn came within nine seconds of his personal-best time (amazing in those conditions, Spina said) by running a 10th-place 16:17. Tommy Hunt took 24th in 16:42 and the rock-solid sophomore pair of Joe Lipa and Andrew Harper finished 31st and 41st in times of 16:55 and 17:03, respectively, to round out the Hornet scoring. Brian Hernandez took 57th in 17:14.

SEC teams took three of the top four spots in the boys' race with Saline followed by Ann Arbor's third-place Pioneer (128 points) and fourth-place Huron (214).

The Hornet girls participated in a loaded field featuring seven of the state's top-10 teams and came out on top with a score of 110, besting several teams in the giant field of 38 - including runner-up Brighton, with a score of 114 - that had finished ahead of them early in the season.

It's big. It definitely is, head coach Mike Smith said. We told the girls afterward that they should really enjoy this, and the notoriety that comes with winning this meet. But we can't be satisfied. This is still just a step toward bigger things down the road.

Saline earned the narrow win with their depth as No. 5 runner Kari Frank beat out all other fifth runners and three Hornets placed in the top 20.

Alex Leptich led the way with a fifth-place time of 18:48, followed closely by fellow sophomore Kate Carter in 11th in 19:08 (Kate's best run of the year, Smith said). Rachel Jackson joined them in the top 20 with a time of 19:36 and 19th-place finish. Lindsey Cummings took 34th in 20:00 and Frank finished the Hornet scoring with a 41st-place finish in 20:10. Erin Dowling (20:41) and Meagan Creutz (21:39) finished as Saline's sixth and seventh runners in 69th and 115th, respectively.

Even with the packed field, the brutal heat, and Saline's having never won the event before, Smith said his team didn't feel like the victory was a surprise.

They were some of the worst conditions we've seen. Just to have all seven girls cross the finish line, we feel as good about that as anything, Smith said. In that kind of situation, it's not all about wins and losses. But we knew it was going to be the same for everybody and we told the girls, it will only be as big a factor as you let it be.

Staff Writer Jerry Hinnen can be reached at 429-7380 or jhinnen@heritage.com.