Over the finish line as state champs

BY WENDI REARDON PRICE
Clarkston News Sports Writer
Clarkston runners outpaced early predictions for a top five finish at states, instead finishing on top at the MHSAA Divison 1 Cross Country State Championship at Michigan International Speedway.
The Girls Cross Country team earned first place with 134 points on Saturday. The last time the girls team won it was in 2005.
“It meant the world to this team,” said Kevin Breen, head coach for the Clarkston Girls Cross Country team. “We have had so many ups and downs over the course of the year with injuries and issues. Part of the success this season was we got to the end and we were all healthy. Everyone was feeling good and feeling happy – that’s when you can perform your best.”
He added going into the meet projections had Clarkston ranked at finishing in second or third place.
“Then, the gun goes off and things change,” Breen said. “For us it changed for the better.” Junior Mia Patria led the team as she finished in 15th place at 18:13.3. Senior Grace Nolan closely followed, finishing at 18:15.8 for 16th place out of 236 runners.

The Clarkston Girls Cross Country state championship team. Photo by Ken Lemieux

Next came senior Elizabeth Dalrymple in 40th place at 18:58.1; senior Mallory Ferguson, 59th place, 19:11.9; senior Emily Ferguson, 72nd place, 19:21; sophomore Mattie Drennan, 60th place, 19:12.3; and freshman Elise Wilhelm, 208th place, 21:03.3.
“Every single one of the members on the team ran well,” Breen said. “It just doesn’t happen often. You will have one runner here and one runner there who has an off day. The gun went off and everyone went through the mile mark in the perfect position at the times we talked about. I saw them at the mile and a half mark and didn’t know they were projected for first at the mile mark. We saw the Northville jerseys, who was ranked ahead of us, and they were running behind us.”
The last 1,200 meters were tougher for not only Clarkston but all runners in the thick, wet mud.
“It was like running on two inches of peanut butter,” Breen said. “The girls held on really strong. You could see on all their faces to finish No. 1 was like a huge weight lifted of their shoulders because of the expectations they had set when they were younger – when they were freshman and sophomores. They had these little successes here and there. Then, everytime we got into final championship mode we had a hiccup,”
He added the big difference going into the state finals was the girls came together as a team especially after the Waterford Mott Fall Classic at the end of September.
“I saw them truly working together,” Breen said. “Every race after that race got a little bit better. They started being happy for each other when someone had a good race. You saw more team bonding.”
It wasn’t just during the weekdays at practice but also they organized weekend runs and scheduled scrapbook gatherings to get together.
He added the OAA Red and regional meets helped but they had been looking at the Oakland County Championships in early October to see how they measured.
“Usually the state champion comes out of there,” Breen said. “We lined up at Oakland County, the gun goes off. Half way through the mile we have lightning and thunder and they pull us all off. We never had a chance to finish it. It was one real thing we were grasping onto that was going to be our preparation for the state meet and it never happened.”
Breen added they couldn’t have done it without Larry Adams, the boys cross country coach.
“He stepped up a lot not only with the boys team but when I needed help or to answer questions or to help out,” he said.
Also, finishing in the top five out of 27 teams for the girls race were Ann Arbor in second place with 152 points; Pinckney, third place, 206; Traverse City Central, fourth place, 208; and Bay City Western, fifth place, 234.
The boys finished in fourth place with 164 points.
Junior Brendan Favazza led the Wolves as he finished in fifth place out of 244 runners with a time of 15:39.2
Also, competing for Clarkston, senior Shawn Slater finished in 26th place at 16:09.5; senior Mark Sprague, 38th place, 16:22.5; junior Nathan Sesti, 62nd place, 16:33.7; sophomore Owen Kolean, 104th place, 16:55.2; junior Christian Collis, 147th place, 17:06.9; and senior Jeremy Cavallo, 178th place, 17:26.9.
Plymouth won the state championship with 122 points. Also, finishing in the top five out of 27 teams were Walled Lake Central in second place with 127 points; Dexter, third, 154; and Ann Arbor Skyline, fifth, 197.