CROSS COUNTRY: Saline Achieves Goal, Earns Top 10 Finish at State Meet

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Saline's boy's cross country team capped the season by reaching a season-long goal with a top 10 finish at the MHSAA Division 1 meet at Michigan International Speedway.

Just 42 seconds split the Hornet 7 as the Hornets finished with 259 points - good for eighth. That 42 second differential was the lowest among the 27 teams running in the meet. 

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James Harrison was the first Hornet over the finish line. He was 43rd in 16:15.53 seconds. Andrew Stern (81st, 16:37.58), Jason Whitton (88th, 16:39.94), Max Pfeiffer (93rd, 16:41.04) and Truman Johnson (110th, 16:46.57) also figured into the Hornet scoring. Samuel Kulczak (138th, 16:55.93) and Samuel Jackson (144th, 16:57.25) also ran for the Hornets.

Brighton won the team championship with 141 points. Hartland's Riley Hough was first in 14:56.57.

Coach Carl Spina was thrilled with the Hornet performance.

"I'm so excited about how everything went today. The boys all ran great, Saline did well in the field, and I think we overperformed. There are a lot of tough days as a coach, but today might have been perfect," Spina said.

Several Hornets set individual records. Harrison's time was 22 seconds better than his previous mark. Stern bested his previous best by 15 seconds. Whitton took 17 seconds of his best time. Johnson shaved 11 seconds off his best. Kulczac and Jackson broke the 17:00 mark for the first time.

"We had a lot of 10 and 20-second PRs on the day, so I think it's hard to really spotlight one or two guys. The state finals are so different from every other race they compete in, it's like they changed the game on us," Spina said. "It's always impressive when a kid can do well at the finals. It's not easy."

The Hornets managed their eighth-place finish without an all-state finisher. Harrison, at 43rd overall, was the closest to finishing in the top 30 and earning the designation. Spina said there's more to being a cross country team than star power.  Instead, Saline's strong performance was owed to the often-overlooked team aspects of the sport.

"People that call cross country an individual sport have no idea what they are talking about. Running is really hard. It hurts, and it's all self-inflicted hurt. And if you ask one of those boys what motivates them to train outside in the rain, heat, snow and cold, or if you ask them what motivates them to press themselves in the last 1000 meters of a race, you'll get the same answer," Spina said. "They do it for their teammates. In a race like this, they know that there are six other people more important than themselves, and they'll suffer a lot to help their teammates."

Spina said that dedication to the team isn't unique Saline. But it is strong with the Hornets. What's also clear is the team's desire to write their own chapter in the storied history of the Saline cross country program.

"They also take a lot of pride in wearing the Saline jersey. That's a huge motivator. There's usually a lot of history behind each individual jersey, and they want to keep up those standards for the program," Spina said. "But I think even bigger in their minds is the idea that they want to make their own story for the program. They want to make their own mark."

It was the final cross country race for seniors Harrison, Stern, Pfeiffer and Kulczak, who were able to win the regional and earn their eighth-place finish in the final year. Those feats are even more impressive when you consider the way the team started the year with a seventh-place finish at the SEC jamboree. All of this happened as the boys ran through the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's difficult to be a senior because the last time things were normal, they were sophomores. They've had a lot taken from them. This summer and fall, they fought hard to get a lot of things back to normal. If we go back to that 'making your own mark' idea, when we talk about this group, we'll talk about how they bounced back from a terrible start, and we'll talk about how they put together two incredible races in the postseason," Spina said. "After the regional championship, I was a little worried that we had spent all of our emotional and physical energy to win there, and I wasn't sure we could bottle lightning again. They found a way."

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