BY DENNIS CHASE
BENZONIA — The Bear Lake boys kept their streak alive Saturday morning.
The Lakers won the Division 4 cross country regional at Benzie Central, finishing with 41 points. St. Francis edged Grand Traverse Academy for second on a tiebreaker after the two came in with 85 points. All three teams advance to next Saturday's state meet at Michigan International Speedway.
Bear Lake has qualified every year but one since 1990. The one exception came in 1995 when the team bumped up a division.
"We have a great team," Bear Lake junior John Girven, the individual champion, said. "We had to keep the tradition going."
The Lakers also won the girls regional with 34 points. St. Francis placed second with 46 and Grand Traverse Academy third with 81. All three will be bound for the state finals next weekend.
"Just incredible. A great day," Bear Lake's first-year coach Tony Shrum said, summing up his feelings.
Freshman Holly Bullough paced St. Francis, running away from the field to win the girls race in a personal best 18:20. That was 18 seconds faster than her previous PR.
"Coach made sure I knew every place to cut to keep the shortest amount of distance I could," she said. "So before the race I went out and checked every corner to see where I could turn. I did that and it did me well.
"Now I'm really excited for the state meet. I've never felt better than that race that I just did."
The best part is that her teammates will be joining her.
"The girls ran very well," Gladiators coach Ben LaBelle said. "They were closer to first than I thought they would be.
"Holly clearly ran an excellent race. Maddy (Danz) ran well ahead of her pace. And our three, four and five runners (Lauren Buckel, Krissi Dressler and Eric McDonnell) finished together. That made a difference."
Bear Lake's Keena Gilbert was second to Bullough in 19:36. Junior Faith Moerdyk was fifth (19:52). The Lakers put five runners in the top 18.
"The girls all ran PRs by 40 seconds and they're still mad," Shrum said. "That's why they're so good. They hold themselves to such a high standard that no matter how well they do in my eyes they always want to do better. That's all you can ask for as a coach — to have a team with that kind of desire."
For the Gladiators, Danz was 13th overall (20:23), Buckel 15th (20:31), Dressler 16th (20:32) and McDonnell 17th (20:34). All moved up a few spots after individuals were taken out of the team scoring.
Sophomore Abby Fifarek led Grand Traverse Academy, finishing ninth (20:07). Alysia Campos came in 19th (20:44), Rowan Estenik 22nd (21:06), Molly Ritsema 23rd (21:08) and Lindsey White 28th (21:46).
Glen Lake's Kaitlin Grigg came in third overall (19:47). Teammate McKenna Turrill was 10th (20:07). Frankfort freshman Isabelle Putney finished fourth (19:48). Another freshman, Suttons Bay's Dani Merwin, was seventh (20:00).
Girven, meanwhile, took charge in the boys race. His time of 16:45 bettered his previous best by 39 seconds.
"It was great," he said. "I was hitting all the times (at mile and two mile). I knew I had to go all out the last mile because I didn't want to leave anything at the end."
Teammate Jordan Anderson came in fifth (17:18). Bear Lake placed five in the top 15.
"Fantastic," Shrum said. "The goal coming in was to set PRs across the board and that's what they did. I thought it would be a good day for John to break 17. This is a fast course. He ran a great race. And the rest of the guys ran PRs by 20 seconds plus, at least, some by nearly a minute."
Bear Lake's not ranked in the latest poll but that doesn't concern Shrum.
"Rankings don't mean anything," he said. "It's what you do the day of the race.
"Today, they ran the race they needed to. Now they've got to duplicate that or do better next weekend."
Mark Mol finished sixth (17:19) to lead St. Francis into the state finals. Connor Archer placed 16th (17:57), Nick Fisher 17th (18:01), Matt Mawby 18th (18:03) and Andy Fitzpatrcik 29th (18:50). The Gladiators won the tiebreaker with Grand Traverse Academy when their sixth runner, Eric Wales, took 35th (19:09).
"We had seven guys run seven personal bests," LaBelle said. "That's really cool. Perfect course, perfect conditions and great competition."
For Grand Traverse Academy, freshman Dallas Hanna led the charge, finishing seventh (17:23). Austin McQueer came in ninth (17:33), Aaron Kostrzewa 13th (17:39), Tyler Floering 26th (18:23) and Lars Truesdall 34th (19:02).
Mesick's Zack Workman was second to Girven in 16:53. Suttons Bay's Alex Kraft took third (17:13) and Manton's Dillon Gouge fourth (17:17).