Spring Lake senior runner Ben Hylen just couldn’t help but earn medals this season. Regardless of the scope of the competition, Hylen routinely finished ahead of the pack on the cross country course and the track for the Lakers, leading the cross country team to a third-place overall finish, and a spot among our top 5 teams of the year.
All-State, -regional, and -conference finishes in both running arenas, along with regional titles and conference crowns, may cause haters to accuse Hylen of playing the hits as he shined as a distance specialist for Spring Lake. In response, Hylen picked up a third, wildly different, sport to fill out his resume as a senior, joining the Spring Lake boys swim and dive team for a season of aquatic growth.
The determination to excel in familiar and foreign territory is what set Hylen apart this year.
“He is mentally tough,” said Spring Lake cross country and track coach Todd Mitchell. He is really good a getting the best out of himself come race day.”
The fall started quick for Hylen, as he posted a lifetime best 5,000-meter time in just the second meet of the season, finishing in 15 minutes, 47.3 seconds at the Benzie Pete Moss Invitational for a first-place overall finish.
The time clocks in as the second-fastest all-time for Spring Lake, just 10 seconds shy of the school record.
Hylen would go on to win two more races, including a gold-medal finish at the O-K Blue Conference Championship race.
Throughout the season, Hylen never finished outside of the top 10 in any race he took on. He hardly dropped out of the top five, with just two finishes higher than fifth all year.
The first such finish came at the massive Portage Cross Country Invitational, where he finished ninth overall in a field of more than 300 runners.
The second came at the big dance, the Division 2 state finals at Michigan International Speedway. There, Hylen’s eighth-place finish earned him All-State honors and was instrumental in the Lakers’ third-place overall finish.
Along the way to his dominant state finals performance, Hylen finished third at his Division 2 regional championship.
With the cross country season in the books, Hylen decided it was time for a break from running, sort of. While continuing land-based training, Hylen found his way to the pool to join the Spring Lake boys swim and dive team with no experience between the lane lines to his name.
Contrary to his always-distance identity on land, Hylen took to the sprint events in the water. His first foray into aquatic competition produced a 33.03 50 freestyle and a 1:10.51 100 freestyle. By the end of the season at the O-K Greater Grand Rapids Swim and Dive conference championship meet, Hylen dropped a 26.39 in his 50 and a 1:02.85 in his 100.
“It was really awesome to have him out,” said Spring Lake head swim coach Rob Peel. “He obviously is a very talented runner, so to come and try something completely new as a senior shows what kind of kid he is.
“The craziest part of it is, he didn’t stop running. All the way through, he was still running four days a week.”
The brand-new athletic adventure, supplemented with additional training, gave way to a tried-and-true classic for Hylen, another lap around the Spring Lake track on a quest for a high finish at the state meet.
His signature event as a senior came in the 1,600. Akin to his cross country season, Hylen never finished lower than fourth in the four-lap sprint. Kicking off the season with a 4:39.30 at Holland, Hylen worked his way down to a 4:33 by the O-K Blue Championships came around, and only continued to drop in the postseason.
Seven days later, he posted a 4:26.32 at the regional championships to take second place and qualify for the big dance sitting just shy of his personal record. A season free from injury served as a welcome change for Hylen, who struggled through hampered seasons as an underclassman. The uninhibited run through the season contributed to a mindset change that did wonders for the confidence of such a talented runner.”
“Ben is in a really good mental place right now,” Mitchell said just before the state meet. “He is mentally tough.
“There was a shift in mindset this year that was big for him. Just realizing he can run with the fastest kids out there and believing in himself that he can. He has been able to go out and shoe that he is one of the elite runners.”
The state meet was the perfect atmosphere to post a killer time, as Hylen shaved another five seconds off his time to clock in at a lifetime-best 4:21.60 to claim fourth place overall and the best Laker finish at the final meet of the year.
That wasn’t all for the senior, though, as he took on the 800 in an equally impressive season. Hylen won the first three races he entered at that distance, clocking in at 2:06, 2:10 and 2:06. From there, he went on to drop an impressive 1:59.63 at the regional finals, qualifying for state but narrowly missing his lifetime best. He would rectify that at the West Michigan All-Star meet, taking home the gold at 1:58.27, once again leaving him second all-time on the Spring Lake record list.
While he failed to break the two-minute barrier again at the state finals, a 2:01.80 earned him 18th place overall.
Finally, Hylen took on the 3,200-meter run just once as a senior, but that’s all the attempts he needed. On April 30 vs. Kenowa Hills and Grand Rapids Union, Hylen posted a personal record in the 3,200, clocking in at 9:58.99 to win the event and give him his third runner-up spot on the Spring Lake record board.
No matter the race, or the arena, you can bet Ben Hylen will be near the front.