Hudsonville High School hosted the second of three O-K Red Conference Jamborees Wednesday at their home course at Baldwin Street Middle School. The meet was originally scheduled to run earlier this week but was postponed to Wednesday in an effort to let the course dry out.
Though noticeably better, according to officials, Hudsonville’s course was water-logged Thursday, forcing the Grand Haven boys and girls teams to grit out their second- and fifth-place finishes.
The boys totaled 51 points to trail only Hudsonville at 31, and were led by a runner-up finish out of Dominic Weatherwax at 16 minutes, 58.4 seconds, just three seconds off the leader. The rest of the varsity seven defined their race with a wealth of second-half passes.
The girls finished fifth overall with 89 points, but were running without their No. 3 runner for the day, relying on other girls to step up amid the tough conditions. Gabby Hentemann led the way, as usual, with a runner-up finish at 19:28.4.
“It was pretty tough today,” said Grand Haven boys head coach John Tarr. “Hudsonville was very, very good. But, I am very proud of our guys. They ran tough through difficult conditions with the wind and mud and heat and ran really, really well.”
“I thought the conditions were suited pretty well for us today,” said Grand Haven girls head coach Scott Pryzstas. “We are a team of tough, gritty runners and we competed well today. The times aren’t going to reflect how hard we competed, but I was happy with how we did. I’m not happy with fifth place, but without our No. 3 out I didn’t expect to come in here and dominate anything.”
The boys’ goal for the day was to pack their five scorers into the top-15 finishers, and they nearly got there. Andrew Ireland followed Weatherwax in fourth at 17:02.4, ahead of Cole Rowden in ninth at 17:19.3. Aidan Martin just missed the cutoff in 16th with a time of 14:41.4, and Kyle Eveland rounded out the scoring five in 20th at 17:51.1. Nathan Wolffis finished in 25th (18:11.8), while Ben Pease (18:25.9) took 31st to complete the varsity seven.
“We were pretty close to our goal of everyone in the top 15, but even if we did get there, we still wouldn’t have gotten Hudsonville,” Tarr said. “We ran a really tough second half. Cole Rowden moved up from 12th in the first race to ninth today. Aiden was 23rd coming through the first lap and caught eight guys in the second half. Kyle caught five and Nathan Wolfiss, our sixth guy, made up five or six spots, as well. That is great, it shows they are in pretty good shape and mentally sharp.”
In the girls’ race, Abby Buitenhuis followed Hentemann in ninth place at 20:45.3. Eden Traub stepped into the No. 3 spot for Grand Haven in the face of a minor injury to Giovana Marecek, with a 16th-place run in 21:16.6. Kelsie McManus followed in 29th at 22:00.8, ahead of freshman Alex Amores in 35th at 22:30.0. Peyton Brill took 38th (22:41.4), while Marlie Fraser finished 41st (22:49.5) to round out the varsity seven.
“We lost a few places and held a few places,” Pryzstas said. “Gabby ran where she needed to, and Abby stayed in contention for All-Conference. Eden Traub ran a great race filling in. I challenged her all week saying we needed someone in the top 19, and she came in 16th after finishing 38th at the first meet.
“Kelsey has been super consistent and freshman Alex Mores had a surprising race. Peyton Brill has run JV all year and came in to take 38th in her first varsity race. That is exciting to see.”
In the face of unexpected heat and moisture, Wednesday’s times weren’t as quick as either team would have hoped for at this point in the season, but both coaches were proud of their team’s effort on what can be a tough course, anyway.
“It has some tough hills with one coming right away in the first 400 meters,” Tarr said of Hudsonville’s route. “Then, it gets really narrow and can get muddy and slick. It has some tight turns that are tough to navigate, and you have to do all that twice. The winding hills make you lose sight of runners so it is easy to lose your pace.
“When it is warm and solid, it is a pretty fast course. We ran our first meet of the year here and it was about a minute slower across the board today. The mud takes a lot off your stride and you have to go through the worst of it four times.
“I told the boys going in, ‘It is bad for everybody, the guys that we beat are going to be the ones that tip-toe through the mud. You have to run straight through it and have some fun with it,’ and they did.”
The boys’ indifference to the mud and ability to run for fun has landed them in good standing heading into championship season. The final O-K Red Jamboree counts for half of the championship standings, giving the Bucs a chance to swoop in and defend their title, despite a stellar campaign by Hudsonville.
“We are in second place overall with an outside chance to win this thing is things really go our way,” Tarr said. “We scored 52 in the first meet and 51 today, that is usually enough to win this conference, but Hudsonville is running really well.
“Our teams have a tendency to improve greatly over the last couple weeks of the season. We are running a fast course at Riverside Park for the last meet. If we can win that then we can at least share the title with Hudsonville.”
The girls’ conference season has been turbulent, with Thursday’s race turning the standings on its head. Grand Haven’s fifth place didn’t do them any favors in regards to the conference race, but their deep roster stepping up showed promise for the final third of the season.
“It has been nuts this season,” Pryzstas said. “There was a big shakeup up top today. These are five of the top 15 teams in the state, the red is just super competitive.
“We have to control what we can control and focus in improving our own racing. We are a senior-laden team, so we know we can compete. Who knows, we could win the last meet, that is not out of our reach. Anything can happen with the last meet making up 50-percent of the standings.”
Both teams return to action Saturday at the Portage Invitational. The final O-K Red Jamboree is scheduled for Oct. 18, ahead of the all-important regional finals on Oct. 27.