Rockford boys run to fifth place at MHSAA finals


The Rockford boys cross country team celebrates a fifth-place finish at state finals in Brooklyn, Mich.
The Rockford boys cross country team celebrates a fifth-place finish at state finals in Brooklyn, Mich.

Led by senior co-captain Drake Veitenheimer’s All State performance, the Rams’ boys team moved up two from last year’s seventh-place finish in fifth place out of the 33 teams running at the state level.

On Saturday, Nov. 7, a blustery fall afternoon—at Michigan International Speedway (MIS), in Brooklyn—that saw the temperature reach nearly 70 degrees with strong winds blowing in the 30 mph range, the 280 participants representing the best runners in Michigan nearly sprinted through the first 800 meters of the state championship race. Starting on the infield of the MIS track, and heading out a makeshift cinder path to the fields and woods, the experienced Ram runners demonstrated a well-coached and well-learned strategy of running in a tight pack. The Rams ran through the first mile at a pace that suited them well.

Senior Grant Gunneson was leading the Rockford contingent. Following Gunneson through the first mile was senior Nick Shear, Veitenheimer and juniors Spencer Gerber and Stephen Ek. All of the Rockford runners were under 5:15 for the first mile.

Coming up on the second mile, the pack was still very tight, and the order remained the same, as all of the Rockford runners looked focused and strong. Rockford’s top five runners were around 10:25 for the first two miles and in great positions to finish strong and score valuable team points.

Positioning themselves by running to various strategic places on the course, Head Coach Andy Martin and Assistant Coach Josh Miller shouted instructions and encouragement over the roar of the thousands of fans. Imploring all of their runners to make bold moves, Veitenheimer heeded his coaches’ advice and made his move just after the two-mile mark. As he passed his teammates, they tried to keep pace, but this was going to be Veitenheimer’s day to shine.

At the two-mile mark, Veitenheimer was in 62nd place, meaning he had to pass at least 32 runners to win an individual medal. Battling both a formidable field and a strong headwind as he re-entered the MIS track, Veitenheimer was able to pass 35 runners by implementing his well-known kick. Veitenheimer ended up in 27th place overall as he made All State for the first time.

One of Veitenheimer’s teammates asked him if he got passed by any runners in the last mile. Veitenheimer replied, “I don’t think so. If I did, then I passed them back.” Not many of the 280 runners on this day can say that they did not get passed by anyone in the last mile.

Also scoring for the Rams was Shear in 59th (16:46), Gunneson in 69th (16:51), Gerber in 72nd (16:52), and Ek in 86th (16:58). The final two runners for the Rams, but not figuring in the scoring, were Drew Woznick and Devon Lui, running 17:14 and 17:15 respectively.

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