As a sophomore, it looked like Saline High School athlete Jessi Larson was on her way to a promising cross country career. She emerged as a runner to watch when she won her first varsity race at the Brett Clement Bath Invitational. Later that year, she won the regional at Lake Erie Metropark. A week later, she blew away everyone’s expectations, and the Saline school record, by taking second at the Division 1 state meet in just 17:30.9.
Then injuries struck. She was sidelined with fractured bones in her feet. The injuries slowed her down in track and cross country. She returned to the cross country team late in her junior year and ran well, all things considered. But at the state meet, she was a full minute behind the previous year’s time.
In her senior year, Larson has been running strong. She was third at Bath. She was second to Pioneer’s Anne Forsyth in all three SEC jamborees.
Coming into Saturday, with just two races left in her high school cross country career, it seemed like Larson might have to settle for a very good career instead of a great career.
But that all changed Saturday, when Larson pulled off the upset victory to win the MHSAA Division 1 Regional Meet at Lake Erie Metropark.
Forsyth wasn’t running her best race and Larson spent the first half of the race on her tail.
“I was right behind her the whole time. At the two-mile, I just went and tried to go for it,” Larson said.
Larson didn’t just win. She won by 19 seconds.
When she finally crossed the finish line she was elated.
“I was really happy. It was a long journey back from my injury,” Larson said.
Saline cross country coach Carl Spina said Larson’s victory was a major accomplishment.
“It’s been a long road back. She’s just kept working and working. So, it was great to see her rewarded today,” Spina said.
Larson’s time of 17:50.9 was her fastest time since setting the school record of 17:30.9 as a sophomore at the state meet.
Her surprise victory nearly helped the Lady Hornets claim the team regional trophy.
Saline finished just two points behind Pioneer, 49-51.
Junior Kayla Fortino ran a strong race, finishing sixth, in 19.09.3 – one of the fastest times of her career. Senior Rebecca Cantrell was 10th in 19:28.5 – her fastest time of the year and just .1 second of her career best. Senior Juliana Romero was 16th in 19:54.6 – her fastest time of the year by more than six seconds. Sophomore Nicole Dillman was also in the scoring, placing 18th in 19:56.0 – a personal best.
Junior Emma Cummings (20th, 20:03) and sophomore Ella Woehlke (22nd, 20:06.4) also ran for the Lady Hornets
Down the stretch, several Lady Hornets passed competitors, striving to lower the team score and catch Pioneer.
“At the finish line, our girls picked off several girls. That’s what you love to see. Athletes fighting for their team,” Spina said.
Ultimately, the team finished shy of their goal, but Spina said it was a great day for the team.
“I think they understand how close they are and how good they can be. That’s something that should fuel them at the state meet Saturday,” Spina said.
By virtue of their second place finish, Saline once again qualified for the state meet.