By Jason Wesseldyk
BROOKLYN—At about the midway point of the Division 2 Girls Cross Country State Finals, Otsego coach Steve Long saw something he’ll never forget.
“There are so many great memories from this race, but standing at the mile and a half mark watching the lead pack come up the hill and seeing three Otsego girls in the front pack was amazing,” Long said.
That trio—freshman Emma Hoffman and juniors Logan Brazee and Megan Germain—maintained their position near the front to help the Bulldogs secure the third state championship in program history.
Otsego finished with 87 points, to edge out East Grand Rapids by 11 points. Grand Rapids Christian was third at 153.
Not bad for a team that has just one senior—French exchange student Maeline Dehanne—in its top seven.
“To be honest, I was a little worried going in that the girls’ nerves might get to them, especially with how young we are,” Long said. “But we kept this week really fun and didn’t focus much on the race. We just really enjoyed our last week together.”
That tactic seemed to work, as Otsego finished the season unbeaten.
Hoffman led the way, placing runner-up with a time of 18:27. Brazee (seventh at 18:42) and Germain (eighth at 18:47) followed, with sophomore Taylor Mitchell joining them as All-State honorees by placing 14th at 18:57.
The top 30 finishers were named All-State.
“It was pretty incredible having four girls in the top 14 and all under 19:00 on that course on that day,” Long said, referring to the winding conditions at Brooklyn’s Michigan International Speedway. “It just shows what a group of dedicated kids can do together when they share a goal and share a commitment to that goal.”
Freshman Rebekah Stachura was Otsego’s fifth and final scoring runner, placing 86th with a time of 20:12.
“Considering the conditions, I think Rebekah probably had the best race of her young career as well to seal the win for us,” Long said.
Hoffman and Stachura obviously made a smooth transition from the middle school ranks, when they ran for Otsego Middle School coach Peter Burrill.
“We were counting on two freshmen to score big points for us in a state championship meet, and that’s asking a lot from them,” Long said. “But both Emma and Rebekah came up huge.
“Emma looked great the whole way and when they turned the corner at the two-mile mark, she actually looked super competitive, passed the third place girl and started working towards the top two girls.”
Hoffman caught one of those two girls—Frankenmuth junior Mary Richmond, who placed third at 18:32—but couldn’t quite catch junior Drew Muller from East Grand Rapids. Muller won with a time of 18:18.
“Emma didn’t have quite enough to catch Drew, but it was pretty amazing that she ended up with the fastest time of any freshman in any division,” Long said.
This year’s team joined the 2015 and 2016 Otsego girls teams in winning a state title. And with all six of their top runners back next year—including sophomore Taylor Klimp, who placed 144th at 21:02—Long has plenty of reason to be excited for the future of his program.
“It should be a fun ride,” he said.
Dehanne clocked in at 21:35 to place 176th.
Three other runners from Allegan County—Wayland senior Olivia Barabas, Plainwell freshman Josie Longcore and Hamilton senior Trina Farris—qualified for the finals as individuals.
Barabas had the best showing of that trio, placing 54th at 19:49. Longcore was 92nd at 20:20 and Farris was 97th at 20:27.
“Trina ran a really good race,” Hamilton coach Travis Pertner said.
And while Barabas and Farris are finishing up their prep cross country careers, Longcore is just starting hers.
“Josie ran a heckuva race,” Plainwell coach Brett Beier said. “We spent most of last week talking about how large of a scale the venue was, and that the race itself was just as big from a numbers point. We talked a lot about how state was the reason we go to Portage earlier in the season, as that’s the closest thing to a race of this size that we can run in, and I think that helped her prepare a little bit.
“While the course conditions were about as perfect as I’ve seen at MIS, the wind made up for it to make it a really tough race. But Josie really performed spectacularly despite the conditions.”
Longcore ran nearly even mile splits 6:32,6:32 and 6:33.
“She moved up well after the craziness of the opening 1K,” Beier said. “Most runners who are there for the first time go out too fast or save too much for the end, but she ran a great race throughout. I really think that she will be fighting for one of those All-State spots next year, especially after seeing what it takes to be there.
“It was a great culmination of her freshman season. We dealt with a little injury and illness at a couple points of the season, but she battled through and is excited after getting that taste of the state race to get back to work to do even better next year.”