There were two distinct vibes coming from the Saline Cross Country time trials at Saline High School Friday night.
The first felt like a game-opening tailgate, sans the food and beverages. Dozens and dozens of kids gathered on the track and field infield and outside the utility building. They chatted and laughed as music played on the loudspeakers.
The second felt more like a bootcamp, as 150 kids gutted it out through a three-mile race that serves as a baseline in a cross country program known for pushing kids toward excellence.
The Saline Cross Country programs are nothing new in Saline. According to head coach Carl Spina they’ve been going on for 30 years. At one point, the kids ran a five-mile race.
“But we reduced it to three miles because we didn’t think a five-mile race was the greatest ‘Welcome to Saline Cross Country’ message we could send,’” Spina said.
Although many of the runners have been active in groups all summer, Friday’s event had a “back to school” feel.
“There are games going on in the infield and kids running around with bells and signs. So it’s a lot of fun,” Spina said.
And it wasn’t just the high school runners. All over the track, former Hornets and their parents could be seen helping out, keeping times, moving finish lines, placing cones and whatever else was required.
“A big part of the tradition is the number of alumni that come back. We love having them out here. It’s great,” Spina said. “I think the support we receive from the alumni and the community is as important as the actual running itself.”
At the same time, there’s an “all business” side to the time trials.
“Kids look forward to this. They want to do well at the time trials. They want to establish their position on the team,” Spina said. “And for a lot of the kids, they like being able to do it without the added distraction or pressure of racing against kids from another school.”
If you’d have polled people before the meet, they’d have told you that Anthony DeKraker would win the boys’ meet and Jessi Larson would win the girls meet. Both are accomplished runners entering their senior years.
Both lived up to expectations.
DeKraker completed the course in 15:27.12 and was all alone on the final straightaway.
It was DeKraker’s first ever victory at the time trials – a nice gift for his 17th birthday.
“We’re happy for Anthony. He’s a senior. He’s celebrating his birthday. He won the time trial and gets his jersey,” Spina said.
DeKraker’s time was the fastest since Logan Wetzel (15:11) and Kevin Hall (15:15) in 2014.
Jevin Nishioka, who won the time trials in 2016 before struggling through an injury-plagued season, was second in 15:39. Aidan Delfuoco (15:45) over took Josh Cook in the final meters (15:48) in one of the better finishes of the night. Will Downey (15:55), Neil Garg (16:26) and Simon Pfeiffer (16:34) rounded out the top seven.
Spina expected results from his top five. He said he was pleased to see the 6-10 runners come in faster than he anticipated – a development that should keep the Hornets pushing each other to be faster throughout the season.
Jessi Larson also struggled through injuries as a junior. As a sophomore, she was second at the Division 1 state meet. Last year, she ran just three races and still managed an all-state finish.
She completed the three mile course in 17:32.84 to win the time trials for her second time. Larson also won as a sophomore.
“We’re just happy to have her running happy and healthy right now. It’s been a long road for that young lady and I’m really impressed. She’s out there running and swimming and biking and investing a lot of her time in cross country,” Spina said.
Larson won the time trial by more than a minute. Junior Kayla Fortino came in at 18:45.72. Junior Emma Cummings was third (19:06). Sophomore Ella Woehlke was fourth (19:25). Becky Cantrell (19:40), Nicole Dillman (19:43) and Julia Romero (19:50) rounded out the top seven.
For the full results of the time trial, click here.
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