BY DENNIS CHASE
CEDAR — After finishing 11th last Friday in a loaded field at Michigan State, Traverse City Central girls cross country coach Lisa Taylor posed a question to her team.
"What do we need to do to take it to the next level?" she asked. "We had a discussion about being able to get 100 percent effort throughout the whole race. It looked to me like they were practicing that theory out there today."
On a windy, overcast Tuesday afternoon at Sugar Loaf, Central responded to Taylor's challenge.
The Trojans took the top seven spots to post a perfect score of 15 to win the first Big North Conference jamboree of the season. Alpena edged Traverse City West for second (75 to 78).
"In 21 years of coaching, that's a first," Taylor said. "I had not coached a perfect score before."
Central made it look easy as its pack stayed together right from the start. There was less than 20 seconds between the top seven runners.
"We were really trying to stay as a pack because we wanted to get the top five spots," sophomore Graceanne Tarsa said. "We knew we could do it if we all stuck together. That was our goal."
Ashley Ko edged the hard-charging Tarsa for first, 20:05.9 to 20:06.1. They were followed by Courtney Stewart (20:13.7), Jordan Mattarella (20:14.1), Joy Reist (20:15.9), Lila Dreves (20:22.5) and Katie Moses (20:25.2).
Ko and Tarsa are sophomores. Tarsa made her move on the second loop to challenge Ko late in the race.
"I just really wanted to keep my spot," Ko said "I was pushing it at the end, trying to stay strong."
"What a competitor," Taylor said of Ko. "Steady Ashley. She's been there for us every meet."
Tarsa joined the top seven this year.
"She was right on the edge last year," Taylor said. "I think she was inspired to not put herself in that position again this year. She's gaining more confidence with every race she runs."
Overall, Taylor thought her entire team "looked strong." And that's what she wanted after Michigan State.
"We talked about how we had to have a breakthrough," Taylor said. "We have to risk running out of our minds. I told them you have the talent, you have the conditioning. Now you have to gain the confidence and at some point you're going to have to experiment with really running way up front."
West was paced by freshman Jessica Gockley, a transfer from Colorado. She was eighth in 20:29.7.
"That's the third race she's ever run," Titans coach Diane Goss said. "She mixed it up with Lisa's kids so that was fun to watch."
In addition, Kayla Norris placed 17th (21:13.4), Emily O'Leary 21st (21:43.6), Amanda Fouchey 30th (22:22.8) and Corinne Schrotenboer 31st (22:27.8).
"I thought they did a fantastic job," Goss said. "They had never seen the course before — no one had — so to come out here in these conditions and run as well as they did I was thrilled. Absolutely thrilled."