By GRANT LOFDAHL, September 30, 2008 6:48 p.m.

ROCKFORD -- The much-hyped battle between two of the state’s best girls cross-country teams ended up being decided early in the race.

Grand Haven’s top runners went out fast and established a dominant position in the race, and Rockford’s girls could never quite catch up.

The Buccaneers handed the Rams a dual-meet loss for the second consecutive season, this time on Rockford’s home course. With all-state senior Becca Addison leading the way, Grand Haven beat Rockford 24-31 and gained a stranglehold on the O-K Red dual-meet title. Both teams also beat Muskegon 15-50 in the double-dual meet Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled,” said Grand Haven girls coach Greg Russick. “I mean, our kids ran great. The race was decided very early, when our girls went out and established three of the top four places. That was huge, and another huge thing was that last week at this time, we had a 1:20 gap between our third and fourth runner. Today I think it was about 20 seconds.”

In fact, it was exactly 14 seconds, as junior Catherine Haring clocked a 19:52 to finish close behind Rockford’s second runner, Sarah Neideck (19:49) and within shouting distance of senior teammate Emily Thomas (19:38). Up front, Becca Addison ran away from the field in the second half of the race to win in a stellar time of 18:39 on a sloppy and wet East Rockford Middle School course.

The Rams’ Catie Rietsema took second in 19:17, followed by Grande Haven’s Cristina Perez and Thomas. Rockford put three across the line after Haring, as sophomore Anna Bos, and ninth-graders Sam Anderson and Jane Hawks finished seventh, eighth, and ninth. But Grand Haven sophomore Laura Addison, and freshmen Priscilla VanHeest and Catherine Keegin placed 10th, 11th, and 12th to secure the victory.

“It was just a great team race,” said Russick. “I wasn’t expecting the score to be that big of a spread, but our girls ran well. Becca Addison did a phenomenal job of taking our kids out, of selflessly just running and getting them up front and staying with them for a mile, mile-and-a-half, and then taking off. She could’ve taken off right away, but she with her teammates and that was the race for us.

“We had a lot of great times on a tough course. Catherine Haring, our No. 4 girl, was just huge. We’re running well, we’re running with a lot of charisma. I saw a lot of heart out there today.”

Rockford coach Ben Watson said it just wasn’t his team’s day.

“I figured it would be one or two points either way, so they kind of really took it to us,” he said. “I think that we’re a lot better team than what we showed today.

“Catie Rietsema ran really well – she stuck with her race plan and it served her well. She ran her best time of the season. I was really pleased with her race.”

The Rockford boys fought off the challenge of a greatly improved Bucs squad, as the host team prevailed 22-37. Sophomore Spencer Gerber, normally only the third or fourth runner on Rockford’s team, won the meet with a time of 16:50.

Grand Haven’s Joe Duff and Will Hewitt were close behind in 16:53 and 17:03, but then an army wearing orange and black crossed the line. George Goad (17:20), Grant Gunneson (17:23), Luke Salik (17:27), and Rich Sholtis (17:29) placed fourth through seventh to close the door on a Ram win.

“We were a little nervous coming in,” said Rockford boys coach Andy Martin. “We knew (Grand Haven) beat West Ottawa a week ago, but we hadn’t seen them yet, so we didn’t know what the had.

“Sophomore Spencer Gerber was pretty much our standout for the day. He’s usually in our top four, but he won the meet. Our guys tend to run pretty well in a pack and we don’t usually have a big spread from one through seven.

“We haven’t run a race yet where everybody’s had a great race. We usually have five, which is enough to win. But if we can get seven to run well, we should be real, real solid.”

The Rockford boys improved to 4-0 after defeating Hudsonville and Jenison last week. Grand Haven did pick up a win over Muskegon in the double-dual meet, but slipped to 2-1 in the Red. Evan Ingles (17:33), Mike Swain (18:10), and Kyle Kelley (18:11) rounded out the Bucs’ top five.

This week, both Rockford and Grand Haven travel to the prestigious Carson City Crystal Invitational. Next up in the O-K Red for the Rams is a date against Grandville and West Ottawa at Johnson Park, while the Bucs host Jenison and East Kentwood in another O-K Red double-dual. Both meets are scheduled for Oct.