BENZONIA — Traverse City Central lived up to the hype.
So did Holly Bullough.
The Trojans' girls cross country team, ranked nationally in one preseason poll, showed they were worthy of that billing when they took first in the large school division of Saturday's Pete Moss Invitational at Benzie Central High School.
Bullough, coming off a standout year as a freshman when she finished second overall at the state finals, got her sophomore season off to a rousing start by winning the girls small school division race with a personal best time of 18:12.
Not to be outdone was the TC Central boys team, which had the top three finishers in the boys large school race — Kyle Dotterer led the way with a winning time of 15:55 — as the Trojans took top honors in the boys large school division.
Central's girls ended up with 47 points to outpace Grand Rapids Christian (81). Midland Dow had the top two individual finishers, but ended up third (112) and Traverse City West was fourth (119). Benzie Central took fifth and Cadillac was seventh among other local teams.
Ashley Ko led the Trojans with a third-place finish (18:47), followed closely in fourth by Molly Peregrine (18:50). Graceanne Tarsa was 13th in 19:56, Kalina Pfannenstiel placed 18th (20:05) and Joy Reist took 19th (20:09).
"It's really exciting," said Ko. "We've put a lot of effort and work into this. Our goal going into this wasn't to win. It was just about effort and how much we gave in this race and working together, so we're really happy. I was really excited about that (time). I wasn't really expecting it. I was mainly focusing on my effort, where I was in the race. I felt pretty strong toward the end of the race. Toward the beginning it was really hard but I stayed positive and my teammates helped a lot. Molly helped so much. I'm really proud of my team. It was a good race."
Bullough had the most dominant individual performance of any of the races, winning over second-place finisher Jennie Gottardo of Hart by 1 minute, 41 seconds. Glen Lake's Kaitlin Grigg was third overall (20:04). Bullough said she was so eager to get the season underway that she had trouble sleeping through the night. She led from the start of the race and never was threatened.
Led by Bullough, St. Francis tied for third overall with Hart (125). Bear Lake was first with 51 and Mason Country Central was second (112).
"That was my PR (personal record)," said Bullough. "Last year it was 18:20, so I'm pretty excited that I just PR'd in my first meet. I'm just so excited. I never knew that I could get that fast. During the second mile I started feeling it, but I was like, 'I'm so close to being done, I've just got to push through it.'"
Grand Traverse Academy took seventh, Glen Lake was eighth, Frankfort 10th, Lake Leelanau St. Mary's 11th, Buckley 12th, Boyne City 16th and Lake City 16th.
Rounding out the Gladiators' scorers were Annie Lyman (20th in 21:42), Blair Dzierwa (24th, 21:58), Grace Jones (41st, 22:40) and Suzanne Britten (57th, 23:13).
TC Central's boys team had all five of its scorers in the top 33 runners, but it was the top three that really stood out. Dotterer was followed by Anthony Berry in second (16:05.5) and Cam McAuliffe in third (16:05.8). Graham Bevier took 29th (17:15) and Jordan Query was 33rd (17:25).
"They did a great job," said Central coach John Lober. "It's great to be 1, 2, 3. It's pretty amazing. We knew those three guys were really strong. It kind of shows you that they are the real deal. It's a great start. It stamps, 'yes we worked hard and this is where we are.'"
TC Central had 68 points, with Pinckney second with 77. Birmingham Seaholm was tied for third with Grand Rapids Christian, each with 94 points. Benzie Central was sixth, Cadillac was ninth and East Jordan 12th.
Christian had a pack of runners lead early in the race, but Dotterer, Berry and McAuliffe pulled ahead at the mile mark and weren't touched the rest of the way.
"I knew my teammates and I were all going to be close together so we decided beforehand to run together for the first two miles," said Dotterer. "Then, a little way through, who I thought was going to win, Anthony Berry, he started feeling kind of sick so he told us he was going to drop back but he wasn't going to let anybody pass him. So I knew it was me and Cam. With about three-quarters of a mile to go, I kind of lengthened my stride and kept chugging. I love this. I couldn't be more confident now."
TC West head coach Diane Goss said it was her team's goal to run as a pack and that strategy worked to perfection. Jessica Gockley led the Titans' cause with a sixth-place finish in 19:19 and then Janese Gockley came in with a 24th-place finish in 20:36, but after that the Titans crossed the finish line in succession within seconds. Quinn Hall came in 34th (21:22.6), Amanda Fouchey was 35th (21:22.9) and Corinne Schrotenboer was 36th (21:27).
Mason County Central's Zac Benham won the boys small school race with a time of 15:57. Kingsley's Jake Keena was second in 16:11. Keena was within striking distance of Benham most of the way after Benham jumped to the front of the pack 800 meters in, but he couldn't close the gap. Benham beat his time from last year's regional on the same course by three seconds.
"It started out pretty fast. I was 4:45 at the mile and eventually just faded everybody off, but I just kept pushing, acting like someone was right there behind me. There was somebody right there (Keena) and he was in the back of my head the whole time, making sure I would start kicking at the right time and hopefully hold him off," said Benham. "It was a good strategy going into the race, too and it worked. I'm very happy with my time. It shows what I can do this year.
"I knew that I had to push the pace on some of those guys to hold them off from their strong kicks because my kick's not all that fast, but I can hold a solid pace pretty good."