By Jason Wesseldyk
PEORIA, ILL.—Otsego cross country coach Steve Long has never been one to shy away from tough competition.
And on Saturday, Sept. 16, his teams took on some of the toughest competition the program has ever faced at the 42nd Annual Richard Spring Invitational at Detweiller Park in Peoria, Ill.
“The teams that we competed against were some of the best teams from six different states,” Long said. “And I thought we fared pretty well.”
The Bulldogs fared well indeed.
In a field that included 75 teams from Iowa, Ohio, Kansas and Missouri in addition to Michigan and Illinois, the Otsego girls finished seventh, with the Otsego boys placing 21st.
“I thought the experience as a whole was awesome,” Long said. “We were the first team from Otsego High School to travel out of state for competition. It was about nine or 10 hours of driving in total, but the kids learned a lot and had a lot of fun.”
The Otsego girls finished with 330 points, en route to its top-10 showing. And they did so without the services of one of their top runners in junior Taylor Mitchell, who was home sick.
“Almost every team there was much larger than we are, with some being nearly 4,000 students,” Long said. “So, a little school of 700 finishing seventh out of 75 teams without one of our All-State girls was impressive.”
The trio of senior Logan Brazee, sophomore Emma Hoffman and senior Megan Germain led the way for the Otsego girls.
Brazee was 27th at 17:51, followed by Hoffman (30th at 17:53) and Germain (41st at 18:18).
Races in Illinois are three miles as opposed to a 5k (3.11 miles) in Michigan.
“Megan has been on a comeback tour since dealing with a foot issue all summer, and I thought she looked great,” Long said. “Megan, Logan and Emma all went through the mile extremely fast, so they paid for it a little bit in the end. But that’s how we race.
“And Logan finishing as our top girl just shows how strong we are up front where we have several girls fighting for that top spot on a meet-by-meet basis.”
Freshman Skylar Mejeur (95th at 18:49) and sophomore Rebekah Stachura (142nd at 19:17) were the other two scoring runners for the Otsego girls.
Junior Taylor Klimp (313th at 20:59), freshman Maddie Goodwin (315th at 21:01), senior Brooklyn Badders (348th at 21:20) and freshman MaKenna Leonard (406th at 22:05) also competed for the Bulldogs.
On the boys side, Long was, in his words, “blown away.”
“In Illinois, they only race three miles, but after converting their times to a 5k, we had five guys under 16:35,” he said. “That’s something that’s never been done in Otsego, so I was excited about that.”
Sophomore Caleb Wesseldyk posted a team-best time of 15:40, which was good for 105th out of nearly 600 runners.
“Caleb has been battling a foot issue for the past five or six weeks, so to see him back at the front of my group was awesome,” Long said.
Close behind Wesseldyk was classmate Logan VanHouten, who crossed the finish line at 15:45 to place 126th.
“Logan might have been the story of the day for me,” Long said. “He didn’t run cross country his freshman year and came out as a sophomore and almost exactly a year ago and was running over 21 minutes for a 5k.
“But he’s worked incredibly hard, bought in to pursuing excellence and just ran the equivalent to a 16:15 5k. That’s pretty amazing.”
Fellow juniors Holten Mulherin (155th at 15:57) and Aidan Goodwin (158th at 15:59) followed, with sophomore Kenny Sheffer (162nd at 16:00) securing the final scoring slot.
Senior Matthew Schreiner (305th at 16:53) and freshman Jackson Mitchell (559th at 20:31) rounded out the list of competitors for Otsego.
“Overall, the whole experience was tons of fun,” Long said. “Tons of team time. Tons of lessons learned. It was a lot of driving, but well worth it in my opinion.”