Last year, the Saline Hornets’ girls cross country team won their 10th straight regional championship, sweeping the top 5 positions in the race to finish with the best possible score of 15.
How do you beat that? Statistically, you can’t beat 15 points. But on their way to their 11th straight regional title, the Hornets did something amazing anyhow. Their seven runners took the top seven spots in the 91-girl race at Lake Erie Metropark.
Junior Elianna Shwayder had the race of her season, finishing in 18:24 to win the race and defend her individual regional championship. She was followed by Gloria Park (2nd, 18:45), Abby Rentschler (3rd, 18:52), Lauren Green (4th, 18:54), Gillian Walter (5th, 18:57), Hannah Cummings (6th, 19:15) and Alyssa Cummings (19:20).
Saline advances to the state at Michigan International Speedway next Saturday. Saline races meet at 3 p.m.
Coach Mike Smith said it was the team’s goal to match last year’s 15-point performance, which was the first in team history.
“We wanted to do it because it’s something remarkable, and we thought if it went well, we could maybe go six or seven,” Smith said. “At the mile or mile-and-a-half mark, our fifth, sixth and seventh girls just kept coming and coming. They stayed on the offensive and kept attacking.”
Alyssa Cummings, Saline’s only senior in the meet, was the seventh girl over the finish line.
“I thought it was pretty cool. I had a feeling we could do it. It’s something that was in the back of my mind,” said Cummings, who passed Lincoln’s Adela Myles and Allen Park’s Sabrina Williams in the final moment to assure the 1-through-7 sweep.
After winning the race, Shwayder turned around and watched her six Hornet running mates cross the finish line.
“It was a beautiful thing,” Shwayder said.
The team goal coming into the race was “1-through-5, Ice Cream Pies” – ice cream pies being the reward the girls would receive for reproducing last year’s feat.
“We surpassed it, and it was so cool to have everybody be ‘on.’ It’s one of the things we’ve talked about with coaches. And to sweep a regional is certainly having everybody ‘on,’” Shwayder said.
The Hornets, ranked as the second best team in the state in a recent poll, went to the meet expecting to win, so Smith set other goals.
“One was 15 points. Another was to keep the gap between our runners small. And another was to run good times on a course that isn’t very fast,” Smith said. “We did all those things.”
Going into the regional, Smith hoped it might provide the team with something to rally around and feel good about. Saturday’s historic sweep certainly went a long way toward that goal.
Saline now heads to the Michigan International Speedway to the final.
Last year, the Hornets went in as favorites but finished five points behind Grosse Pointe South. Both teams figure to be in the mix for a state championship this year. And Birmingham Seaholm is ranked as the top team in the state.
Smith and the Hornets are fine with letting another team go to Brooklyn as favorites.
“When you’re number one all year, it’s hard to stay out there. It’s a little easier to come in as the underdog,” Smith said.
Shwayder isn’t paying much attention to rankings and polls. And as good as the competition is, she’s not spending her time worrying about it.
“The best way to approach it is to be aware of it, but not to let it consume us. I think that might have been a little bit of a mistake last year and that might have cost us the championship,” Shwayder said. “This year we don’t talk about the other teams as much. We talk about improving ourselves, lowering our one-through-five gap and making ourselves better. And when we get to compete with those teams, we will do the best that we can possibly do.”
Cummings hopes to cap her final cross country meet as a Hornet with a trophy the state championship trophy that has somehow eluded the elite Saline cross country program.
“We’ve worked so hard all season long. We have so much chemistry on the team. I believe we can do it,” Cummings said.
Saline's four runners, Haleigh Cummings, Kelly Hall, Lindsey Walter and Maria Romero, in the junior varsity race took the top four spots. Cummings would have placed seventh in the varsity race. Hall would have been ninth. That means Saline actually had the top nine girls of the day. Both Hall and Cummings set personal records.