The Big Dance finally arrived. All of the hard work and preparation over the last two and a half months was to prepare the Runnin’ Raiders for this day: the MCCAA Conference Championships & NJCAA Region-12 Championships. The team was motivated to work extra hard in the middle of the race, when the mental side of racing haunts many runners.
The Lady Raiders got things started and got out strong the first mile. Top runner Jody Sellers ran with true grit, positioning herself in 6th place at the half-mile and 14th at the mile. The top 14 individuals are considered “All Conference,” so she set herself up perfectly to attain this honor. About 15 seconds behind her, Ashley Laux and Alaina Wier were running within a few seconds of each other and looked in good position to move up. The team was running with a purpose.
As the girls exited a mile-long stretch through the woods surround Grant Woods Park, each of the ladies had faded a little, but pushed up the final hill and down the slow decent to the finish with a look of determination in their eyes. Sellers ended up in 23rd position, with a season-best time of 20:52, and was the 18th Michigan runner in the race (only 4 spots from All-Conference)! Laux and Wier held their ground and came in 37th (21:50) and 41st (22:04), respectively, out of 73 total runners in the field.
Fourth runner Nikki Gewertz returned after a race off and stormed to a 40-second season best, only slightly bettering the improvements of 5th and 6th runners Maria Bosker (24:34; 21-second season best) and Alicia Geene (25:58; 33-second season best). Overall four of the six ladies ran season best times and showed great courage in getting out strong and continuing to push their limits in the middle and late stages of the race. The Lady Raiders finished in 8th place of the 8 teams that fielded a full five or more runners, with 186 points, just ten behind Oakland CC. The meet was won by host LCC with a score of 29.
After a warm-up jog and some enthusiastic cheering for the ladies, the men’s race got under way. The men’s team had been working to beat a team at this race, as they had yet to defeat any teams this year. That goal looked very attainable, as the team set itself up perfectly in the first mile. Brett Slayton led the charge, running in about 25th place at the mile marker and about ten seconds behind him was a thing of beauty to a cross country coach: a pack of five Raider teammates (Rechy Rodriguez, Giancarlo Hernandez, Carlos Menjivar, Caleb Mounts and Jarquell Mitchell). After stressing the importance of pack-running all season, these guys actually were executing it to perfection in the most important race of the year!
As the race progressed, the pack did break up, as Rechy and Caleb continued to push forward through the throng of 92 runners and the other faded slightly. At the finish, Slayton finished in an impressive 31st place with a time of 28:39 – good enough for 23rd of all Michigan runners. A little over a minute behind, the wing-men Rodriguez and Mounts finished strong in 52nd (30:03) and 55th (30:11; 1:00 PR!) places, respectively. Hernandez ran a very gutsy race and finished only slightly off his PR in 74th place (31:32). He was followed by Menjivar in 76th (31:53), Mitchell in 78th (32:13), Tyson DeWald in 88th (36:38; 1:01 PR!) and Brad Hentzelman in 89th (37:44).
Despite only two of the team’s eight runners setting personal record times, the display of pack-running was very impressive and the races by Mounts and DeWald both were personal records by a full minute. The Raiders finished 8th of 11 schools that fielded a full team. Congrats on getting your first three victories of the season! Somber attitudes from seeing the season end quickly changed to excited ones as the team vans rolled in Red Robin for the post-race meal.
The team is also very eager to enjoy a few weeks off of training before starting back up an off-season session that will include running at least 5 days a week for the next 10 months. Team members will start at about 3-4 miles per run and work up to 8-15 mile runs by Spring, in preparation for several area track and road races. Can’t wait to see what those Runnin’ Raiders will bring to the race course next year!!