By DAVID GABRIEL
The first Cross Country Rankings came out with the Rockford Rams ranked ninth behind several perennial running power houses like Northville, Traverse City Central, Saline and Ann Arbor Pioneer. These teams met at the MSU Spartan Invite on Friday the 15th. It was a sunny and an unusually hot day for a long-distance run. Having watched the collegiate runners finish drenched in sweat and significantly affected by the heat, those Ram girls knew they had a challenge ahead of them, not just with the other runners, but also Mother Nature.
The Spartan Elite race began with 297 runners from the best divisions in the state under 85-degree blue skies. Early in the race a lead pack of eight runners included Junior Ericka VanderLende with Senior Camryn Gabriel hanging near 25th place and a Ram pack of Junior Emma Everhart-Deckard and Seniors Caleigh Dunn and Hannah Jefferis hovering around 50th. Senior Megan Parker and Freshman Lexie Allshouse running solid in the middle of the remaining pack.
The runners stretched out along the soft fairways of Forest Akers East Golf Course on the MSU Campus. By the 2.5-mile mark Ericka had moved from 6th to a solid 4th position and Cami had moved into 22nd with the trio of Rams continuing to occupy spots around 50th although Coach Watson pointed out concern about our fifth runner slipping in spots. At the finish line Ericka placed 4th in 17:43 and Cami gained another five spots to finish 17th in 18:49, both receiving medal honors. Caleigh closed strong with a 40th place finish in 19:41 followed closely by Emma in 44th at 19:48, with Hannah holding on for 81st place in 20:36. Megan finished 102nd in 20:56 with Lexie rounding out at 22:05.
As the coaches and parents watched the girls cross the finish line it started to become apparent that something good was happening. Coach Watson stated, “It will come down to how our 3-4-5 runners compare to the other top teams.” Lansing Catholic had the 1st, 3rd and 13th places. Hart took 2nd, 28th and 30th. While Rockford took 4th and 17th, it was indeed their 3-4-5 runners that made the difference. Final scoring saw the Rams total 186 points (4-17-40-44-81) just 8 points ahead of Hart 196 (2-28-33-60-71) followed by Northville 210 (14-18-52-54-72) Lansing Catholic 230 (1-3-13-90-123) and Traverse City Central 267 (5-49-50-58-105). The Lady Rams success bested five of eight teams ahead of them in those early rankings, with the other three teams not competing in the meet.
Coach Watson said, “I am proud of how much effort these girls have put in their training this past summer and it is now starting to show its’ benefits.” Coach Watson along with parents waited a long time to find out those results. Upon learning of the top honors Watson was excited and stated, “We would not be in this position without the hard work and dedication of these ladies along with them encouraging each other along the way. We look forward to the upcoming Conference challenges.” This was the first time since 2006 that the Rockford girls team had been crowned champions of this meet.
The Rockford Boys team finished in 12th place with Cole Johnson taking 8th and Dayton Brown 18th both receiving medal honors.
In other action over the weekend at the Sparta Invite on Saturday the 16th, the lady Rams took a close 3rd place finish in the Varsity race and the Runner-up spot in the JV Race. The boy’s teams took 5th in the Varsity race and 2nd in the JV race with Junior Everett Smith taking top honors with a 1st place finish in 18:25.
Next up starts the OK Red Conference season. By the time presses have run, so too will the first Jamboree having been completed on Tuesday September 19th at the flat and fast Holland West Ottawa course. Shortly thereafter the GRCC Invitational will be held on Friday the 22nd at Riverside Park.