CROSS COUNTRY: Saline Boys Take The Regional Trophy for the First Time in 5 Years, Girls Place 2nd
Last year, Andrew Stern was a junior "on the bench" for the Saline boys cross country team as the Hornets fell just shy of beating Pioneer to win the regional.
This year, Hornets are regional champs for the first time since 2016 and Andrew Stern was the first Hornet over the finish line.
"I just told myself that I don't ever want to go through that (last year's loss) again," Stern said.
Stern was asked what it meant for the Hornets to defeat Pioneer and bring the trophy home (and pounds of mud) from soggy Lake Erie Metropark.
"Everything," he said. "I'm at a loss for words."
The Hornets have been battling back since an eye-opening, unHornet-like seventh at the SEC jamboree. The Hornets rebounded to win the second jamboree and then took second in the final jamboree, ceding the conference title to their rivals from Pioneer.
On Saturday, in the regional, Saline paid them back.
Saline finished first, with 54 points - five better than Pioneer in what was essentially a two-school race. Monroe was third with 104 points.
It was an important return to form for this year's team - and for a program that had gone five years without a regional trophy.
"They pulled themselves out of the depths of Jambo 1 and have totally turned around the season to come home with a regional championship. It's awesome. It's everything you want to have as a coach," Saline coach Spina said. "We're excited for this team. We're excited for what it means for the program. We're glad to bring the trophy back to Saline High School."
The race was won by Pioneer senior Owen Johnson, who finished in 16:59.3. Andrew Stern was the fastest Hornet, finishing in 17:34.6. Senior James Harrison was ninth in 17:51.3. The next three Hornets - Sophomore Truman Johnson (14th, 18:05.2), junior Samuel Jackson (15th, 18:06.6) and senior Max Pfeiffer (16th, 18:07.1) crossed the finish line as a pack - helping the Hornets seal the deal.
Of the five scoring Hornets, only Harrison and Pfeiffer ran in the regional last year.
Junior Jason Whitton (21st, 18:21.9) helped the Hornet cause, finishing between the final two Pioneer scoring runners. Senior Samuel Kulczak was 26th in a time of 18:35.6.
Spina said the team spent the week talking about "clinging" to your place and not giving up points.
"I'm super proud. At times they struggled. Conditions are super tough out there. If you're in trouble, instead of falling back, you've just got to cling to where you are at and hold that spot. When our boys got in trouble today, you saw them holding or just giving up a spot - not giving up five or six points. The race came down to five or six points," Spina said. "They've been working on that since early in the season. They got it right today. It's awesome, as a coach, when you have athletes at a championship-level meet and they perform like that."
Stern was a great story in his own right. Last year, Stern didn't often run with the varsity crew. He didn't run at the regional as the Hornets finished four points behind Pioneer. Getting back into the varsity lineup wasn't a given. This summer, Spina said, Stern struggled with injuries and with the emotion of wondering about his role on the team.
"It's been a long road for him. He's done a fantastic job," Spina said. "He's been running so consistently well for us and his workouts have gone so well. He's turned into this kid who, when things are difficult, he's the one you go to - he's the one you count on."
Now the Hornets turn their focus to Saturday's state meet at Michigan International Speedway.
"Monday we'll start talking about what the state meet is like. How does it feel? How does it sound different from everything else you've done. And what do we do as Saline athletes at the state meet. And that is, finish in the top 10. That's the goal," Spina said.
SALINE GIRLS TAKE SECOND
It's been a familiar refrain when the Saline girls' team runs against Pioneer. The Hornets, considered one of the top teams in the states, set out to run their best race and don't fret about not being able to catch the two-time defending state champs.
Pioneer won the regional with 29 points - 20 better than Saline, who placed second. Bedford was 31 points back with 80 points. All three schools qualified for the state meet at MIS.
Pioneer's Rachel Forsyth won the race by more than 30 seconds, finishing in 18:28.3 seconds. The Pioneers placed four girls in the top seven and five in the top 11.
Saline was led by Madison Wood, who finished fifth. The Saline senior, who finished fourth in the state as a sophomore, continues to get stronger as the season goes on. The Hornets were led by their senior class. Lydia Alig (8th, 20:02.9) and Madison Stern (10th, 20:14.5) were the next over the finish line for the Hornets.
Sophomore Laney Alig (12th, 20:30.8) and freshman Sienna Snyder (14th, 20:37) finished in the scoring. Junior Mia Roga (15th, 20:38) was right behind her. Freshman Corynn Gady (24th, 21:55.3) also ran for the Hornets.