CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW: Saline Hunting for Top 10 Finish, Improved Depth
The goal for the Saline boys’ cross country team is straightforward. This is a team that has routinely finished in the top 10 in the state. Last year, they finished 12th.
“We always want to be in the top 10 at the state finals. That’s a key objective in the program. We missed it last year and we want to get back to that,” said head coach Carl Spina, who begins his 18th year at the helm of the program.
That’s not the only goal, either. Spina wants to see the program rebuild the depth it’s been known for in the past.
“We’ve got a lot of kids and we shouldn’t just have like a couple of fast kids. We should have a lot of fast kids,” Spina said. “We should be developing young athletes who compete at the front of a reserve race.”
The Hornets return three runners from last year’s state meet. Senior James Harrison placed 118th, Junior Jason Whitton placed 133rd and senior Max Pfeiffer was 154th. Unsurprisingly, they are the three names Spina replies with when asked about his top returning runners.
Pfeiffer is coming off a victory in the time trials last week.
“He is our strongest runner in the last 2,000 meters. If he’s tenth in the race with 2,000 meters to go, he’s going to finish in the top 5. It’s fun to watch. He did it at the time trials,” Spina said.
Whitton and Harrison are both coming off very strong track seasons.
“They were both pretty good runners who turned in phenomenal seasons,” Spina said. “They competed at a high level. They knew we were counting on them to perform and they were able to do that.”
Pictured above are the Saline boys XC “C” team who compete against the state’s best runners. In front are Jack Terris, Andrew Stern, Luke Swanger, Shane Pitcher, Mason Kipley and Sam Jackson. In the second row are Blake Mahler, Ethan Yesco, Landon Wissink, Truman Johnson, Owen Liepman, Sam Kulczak and Drew McNally. In back are Tyler Thibeault, James Harrison, Jason Whitton, Stewart Berryhill, Hayden Clarke and Max Pfeiffer.
One of the joys of coaching is returning to work and seeing kids who’ve improved so much that you almost don’t recognize them. Sam Kulczak and Mason Kipley are two athletes who had Spina asking “Who’s that kid?” at the time trials.
“They were just under the radar last year. Sometimes they’d flash brilliance at practice or in a race, but they didn’t quite have it pieced together,” Spina said. “But I think they are ready. They are seniors and they’ll perform.”
Junior Shane Pitcher is another runner who has somehow lopped minutes off his times from last year. Senior Andrew Stern and sophomore Truman Johnson also had strong performances in the time trial. Johnson is quickly moving up the ranks for the Hornets.
“He was just outside our top seven last year but now he’s often our second or third fastest runner,” Spina said.
Junior Sam Jackson has come over from the soccer program and running well for the Hornets. Gregor Morton and Dominik White are other soccer players who’ve come into the cross country program and are poised to make an impact.
The SEC Red continues to be a tough division. Pioneer won the SEC Red meet at Indian Creek Park last year. Saline took second, edging Skyline and Huron. Skyline graduated star Hobbs Kessler. Huron graduated its top three runners. Three of Pioneer’s top four runners return.
Spina said it was nice to be back to a more traditional routine with his team after last year was turned sideways by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been fun. It’s nice to see kids able to stand next to each other and talk and do normal stuff,” Spina said.