By David Fleet
In May the Goodrich Cross Country team lost to Corunna High School.
It was ugly.
“We got beaten real bad,” said Al Warden, in his first year as Martian Cross County head coach after stepping in for coach Jennifer Sweet who retired last year.
Warden recognized just how good the Corunna cross country was. So following the meet he approached their head coach Brian Hyde with a question.
“What’s the possibility of the (Goodrich) cross country team coming over and running with you?” asked Warden. “All he said was ‘7 a.m., June 12 at the (Corunna) high school.’ He did not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘why.’”
So the Martians team joined Corunna for the early morning summer workout. When it was over Hyde gave his teams playbook to Warden.
“And we followed their outline,” he said.
The borrowed playbook, rigorous daily practice coupled with a handful of stellar student athletes landed the Martian Cross Country team in the state championships and the record books.
The trek to the states began on June 13 on the rolling hills of the 80 acres of Top Hill Farms in Atlas Township. The demanding elevation change that starts from 400 feet at Washburn Road to Paderock Road at 1,100, the highest place in Lapeer County provided the endurance necessary for the next level.
“We ran there five days a week during summer,” he said. “Then the cross country season started at the Durand Invitational Aug. 17.”
The new plan paid big dividends. The Goodrich boys placed six in the top 10, while the girls had six in the top 15 at that meet.
“My feet have been off the ground ever since,” said Warden. “However, none of the teams success would have been possible without the support of parents, assistant coaches and our Athletic Director, Dave Davis.”
On Oct. 27 the girls team won the State Regionals and the boys team tied Lake Fenton for first place. Then on Nov. 3 both boys and girls team finished 12th of 27 teams at the MHSAA State Championships in Brooklyn. A first in school history for the boys team and the best finish in 10 years for the girls
The success Warden attributes to a several factors including three captains.
GHS Senior Jillian Lange lead the girls team.
Lange started running in the eighth grade.
“I did not like running,” said Lange, who will attend Michigan State University next fall. “My aunt is a really good running.
She would tell me, ‘you have my legs go run.’ I was a big whiner too. But I knew somewhere between eighth and ninth grade I had to find my passion.”
Lange found it with Erin O’Mara—a local runner who tried out for the Olympic Marathon team.
“She gave me training schedule and so I came to high school as the top varsity runner,” she said. “I now love running. Actually, ‘I run just to run.’”
Lange wrapped up the 2018 season with ten of 14 first place finishes. With a best time of a 18:19 (5K or 3.1 miles) in the Larry Steeb Memorial Run, at Whitmore Lake High School.
GHS Senior Mark Wood has been on the cross country pace for seven years starting in middle school.
“I liked it,” said Wood, who plans on attending Mott Community College next fall. “It was a way to stay in shape and meet people. I like to run shirtless too—they are way too confining. I’m motivated by putting miles under me, I get faster and pull my teammates along with me.It’s not all about me when I run.”
Wood broke the 17 minute barrier with a 16:35 5K at the Corunna Jamboree in September.
Senior Zach Duval started running in seventh grade on the middle school team. He plans on attending the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor next fall to study Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.
“I wanted to do well this season and made sure I was at every practice,” said Duval, who also is on the high school soccer team. “My season goal was to break 17 minutes and ended up with 17:02.”
Duval plans on running in the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Mid-East Meet of Champions in Shepherd on Nov. 10 for another attempt at cracking the 17 minute mark.
“It was a great season,” he said. “I realized I love running a lot more than I thought I did. Before this season it was to stay in shape.”