CROSS COUNTRY: Jackson Caps Season With All State Finish, Hornets Take 7th

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Senior Samuel Jackson finished 13th and earned all-state honors as the Saline Hornets took 7th at the MHSAA Division 1 boys' cross country race at Michigan International Speedway Saturday.

Saline finished with 280 points - just a handful of points away from placing fourth.

The Hornets, who won the SEC Red and captured the regional championship at Milan last week, had designs on a higher finish - but this race didn't go their way.

"I think we were just a bit distracted by some of the things going on, like the weather. I don't think we were quite as ready some of the physicality. It was a little more physical than it has been in the past. I think that threw some of our kids off," Saline boys' coach Carl Spina said. "We didn't have the great race that we've had throughout the season."

Despite some disappointment with the finale to the season, Spina said that if someone would have told him August the Hornets would win the SEC Red, win the regional and take 7th in the state, he'd have taken it.

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"A top 10 finish is always the goal. After the race, when it's a tough moment and kids are disappointed, you remind them that you finished seventh today and for a lot of teams, that's the pinnacle. That's the high-water mark," Spina said. "The SEC and regional titles set high expectations for us. We had some great performances. We had some great performances there. We just didn't have that here today. But we are proud of where the boys have put us. This has been an outstanding fall by any measure.

The all-state finish by Samuel Jackson was an obvious highlight of the day for the Hornets. Jackson, the regional champion at Milan last week, finished 144th at MIS last year, completing the course in 16:57.3. This year, running into a stiff wind for much of the race, Jackson was 13th in 15:54.2

Jackson was proud of his race and his accomplishment - even though planned for a higher finish.

"I was thinking the other day that even though I've worked really hard and expectations have risen as I've continued to get faster, it's incredible, the progression I've made," Jackson said. "I'm really happy. I'm really proud of myself."

How did Jackson improve so much in a season? It starts with remarkable dedication to the sport. During the season, he's strict about getting the proper sleep.

"Regardless of your mileage, you have to be willing to do the small things. You can't run a really hard workout and then go get 4 hours of sleep. You've got to be able to make that sacrifice. Maybe you can't play video games during the school year," Jackson said. "I'm confident I'm one of the least talented people on that all-state stage. I'm just willing to make those sacrifices."

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It's that kind of ethic that coach Spina can hold up to the 100 or so boys who run cross country.

"He's really redefined hard work for us. Cross country and distance runners own consistent hard work. The volume and consistency of his work has opened a lot of eyes for a lot of our boys," Spina said. "We're really proud for what he's done this year and for how that Sam Jackson story will echo into the future and impact individuals in the program."

After Jackson, senior Jason Whitton was the next Hornet over the finish line, finishing 54th in 16:28.  Whiton was about 12 seconds faster than he was last year, when he was 88th. Truman Johnson, a junior, was Saline's only underclassman in the race. He was 103rd in 16:53.6. Elijah Routon was 118th in 16:59, Landon Wissink was 150th in 17:16, Shane Pitcher was 182nd in 17:;31, and Andrew McNally was 190th in 17:34.59.

For more photos from the state meet, click here.

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