BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — Chase Barnett was not to be denied Saturday at the Traverse City Central Invitational.
The Mason County Central junior put on an impressive performance, pulling away to win the boys division in 15:55, 48 seconds ahead of Clark Ruiz of Big Rapids.
A year ago, Ruiz claimed victory, 19 seconds ahead of Barnett.
"I knew he (Ruiz) was going to be there," Barnett said. "I wanted to relax until one and a half miles (to go), then see what I could do."
Ruiz and Barnett set the pace early, opening a huge gap over the rest of the field. Barnett took control after the two-mile mark.
"He beat me pretty good here last year," Barnett said. "He's a senior. So I wanted to settle the score before he graduated. I was happy to run against him. He's a good opponent."
Ruiz finished in 16:43 on a cold, wet morning at the Rasho cross country course behind Courtade Elementary.
"I was feeling really good," Ruiz said. "I was trying to get him (Barnett) to lead for a little bit, take the wind. But he was smart and matched every one of my moves. When I slowed down so he could pull in front, he slowed down, too. I was blocking wind for a really long time. That tired me out. But he raced smart. He did a really good job."
Barnett said he didn't mind the weather.
"A lot of people don't like it, but I thought it was a good day to run," he said.
Barnett finished second in Division 3 and Ruiz fifth in Division 2 a year ago.
Canton Salem claimed the team event with 39 points. Alpena was second with 71. Traverse City Central and West came in fifth and sixth, respectively. The two teams rested their top seven runners for Tuesday's Big North Conference championships.
Kingsley's Jake Keena was the area's top finisher, placing fourth in 17:01. Jordan Query led Central, taking 19th in 17:56. Hayden Croff paced West, coming in 20th in 18:01.
"They all ran strong," Titans coach Ross Deye said of his runners. "We have a good young group. I've got more depth this year and the young ones are working hard. I'm happy with the way it went."
Central used its depth to win the girls division with 29 points. Alpena was second with 43.
Big Rapids sophomore Chloe Kinnally used a late surge to win individual honors in 19:57.9. Alpena's Elaine Lowe finished second, less than three seconds back in 20:00.3.
For Kinnally, it was her first invitational victory.
"I didn't expect to win," she said.
Central dominated after that, putting seven runners in the top 13. Sophomores Kalina Pfannenstiel and Ellie Taylor led the way, placing third and fourth, respectively, in 20:05 and 20:11.2.
"I could really feel Ellie's energy and that made me push harder," Pfannenstiel said.
Pfannenstiel was in the lead group most of the race. Her performance spurred Taylor.
"Kalina really pushed me so much," Taylor said. "Just watching her made me go faster throughout the race."
The weather was not a problem, Pfannenstiel said.
"I love running in cold, rainy, bitter weather," she said. "This is my kind of weather. I love it."
"It was fun being on our home course," she said. "The weather is always crazy (for the meet). It makes you feel tough, though."
Central's three other counters were Kailey Mattarella, eighth in 20:59.3; Lauren Marsh, ninth in 21:02.3; and Erin Lipp, 10th in 21:08.1.
Grand Traverse Academy, which finished fourth, was led by Abby Fifarek, who came in 12th in 21:18.1. Glen Lake's Kaitlin Grigg was 15th in 21:38.6.