By DAVID GABRIEL
If you like outdoor activities, don’t schedule them the last Saturday of October. The three R’s happen most every year on that day. Rockford Cross Country, Regionals and Rain. This year off and on rain did not stop both the Boys and Girls teams from capturing Regional Titles. For the boy’s team it was a much welcomed first win of the season. Having lost the Conference Championship for the first time in 22 years by one point to Grand Haven, they garnered redemption on Saturday as they bettered Grand Havens’ 68 points by going lower with a 1st place Ram total of 47, with East Grand Rapids taking 3rd with 86 points. The girls team took top honors with an impressive 21 points with two schools swapping places as second place went to East Grand Rapids with 76 and Grand Haven 3rd with 116. All three schools advance to the State Finals this coming Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
The biggest highlight of the day came in the girls race as Junior Ericka VanderLende shattered the 5K (3.1 mile) Rockford school record. Running alone from wire to wire, Ericka finished in 17 minutes 9 seconds, bettering the 2011 time of Taylor Manett (17:23). Ericka’s performance moved her ranking into the top 15 nationally for High School runners.
Following Ericka across the finish line for the Rams’ were Junior Emma Everhart-Deckard in 3rd place with a LTPR of 18:28, Senior Camryn Gabriel 4th 18:30, Senior Hannah Jefferis 6th also with a LTPR 18:54, and Senior Caleigh Dunn 7th 18:57. All five girls were named to the All-Regional Team. Rounding out the top seven were Freshman Karlie Gardner 18th LTPR 19:24 and Junior Carly Maynard 21st 19:36.
Coach Ben Watson was amazed with the results of the day. “Placing 5 girls in the top 7 was awesome and VanderLende breaking the school record, incredible!” Coach Watson also stated, “Hannah has been improving all year. She set a lifetime personal record at conference last week and today bettered that with her best race ever.” It was the first time this year that the top five runners were all under 19 minutes. Only three other schools have those kinds of results, Northville, Troy and Traverse City West and they will be the Lady Rams’ main competition at States this coming Saturday.
On the boy’s side, Senior Cole Johnson looks to be in championship season form taking first place in 15:16, followed by Senior Dayton Brown in 3rd 15:41, Junior Jack Grimm 7th 16:10. Those three taking All-Regional honors. Sophomore Ian Cook 17th 16:39, Freshman Jude Parks 19th 16:43, Senior Evan Dubey 25th 16:57 and Sophomore Jacob Majoor 29th 17:02 rounded out the scoring for the Regional winners.
Coaches Andy Martin and Josh Miller were beside themselves last week when the 22-year streak of conference titles came to an end, but they knew that they had quality talent on their team. As Ben Franklin said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” Coach Martin stated, “Our boys, especially seniors, took that conference loss hard. But they all knew that with this Regional race, they had an opportunity to right the ship and they did just that. Their effort today won our first race of the year and most importantly, our fourth Regional in a row.”
Next up for the Rockford Harriers is the State Finals at the traditional sight of Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan on Saturday, November 4th. The Lady Rams’ will have 26 team’s running for them as they take a #1 ranking in Division 1 into that race. The Ram Boys’ will be aiming to show that they are better than the #7 ranking they have in Division 1. Both team coaches are willing to bet that the hard work and the road miles that their runners have put in since the middle of June will pay off this coming weekend. As previous runners of the Rockford Ram program have said, “YOU HAVE TO GO NOW!”