BY DENNIS CHASE
GAYLORD — Traverse City Central took a fresh approach to Tuesday's Big North Conference cross country championships at the Gaylord Golf and Country Club.
With its top two runners, Kyle Dotterrer and Cam McAuliffe, not feeling 100 percent, Central turned to freshman Anthony Berry.
Berry seized control down the stretch to win the race and lead the Trojans to the conference title. Central swept all three Big North jamborees. Tuesday's meet counted double.
Berry won in a time of 16:34.7 — four seconds ahead of Gaylord's Charlend Howard.
"It's awesome how he's improved," McAuliffe said of Berry. "He was there today when we needed him most."
The Trojans finished with 30 points. Traverse City West placed second with 60.
Berry's performance proved timely because Dotterrer and McAuliffe were battling colds, Trojan coach John Lober said.
"We knew they weren't going to be 100 percent," Central coach John Lober said. "Then you have Berry coming on and he's saying, 'I guess if they're sick, I'm going to win this.' And he did.
"These kids have worked hard. They put themselves in a position after the first two jamborees to do what they did today. All seven did it together. Since the first jamboree, they've been the guys. It's a special group. This is our first conference title since 2009. It was our time."
Early on in the race, with Berry and McAuliffe back in the pack, the freshman gave his teammate a hand signal.
"I said, "Come on, Cam. Let's go. We're too far behind," Berry recounted.
"I've never seen a runner do that (signal) and then do it," Lober said.
Berry and McAuliffe made their moves. McAuliffe, a sophomore, came in fifth (17:17.8). Dotterrer, who was running in front early on, placed seventh (17:20). Chris Brower finished eighth (17:22) and Nicholas Tarsa ninth (17:28,5).
"This was our goal all year," McAuliffe said of the league title. "We have a great group of guys, and coaches who helped us do this. It wasn't much of a surprise today (after the first two jamborees), but it still feels great."
Lober said Berry is the first freshman boy to a win the Big North championship meet.
"That's awesome," Berry said. "That makes me happy."
"He's been coming on all season," Lober said. "He has all the ingredients of a great runner."
West was paced by Alec Ondrajka, who came in fourth (17:15.2).
"He went from about 40th last year to fourth this year," West coach Ross Deye said. "He's worked hard to get there and it's paid off. Hopefully, the young runners in our program see that and get the idea."
Nick Hirschenberger placed sixth (17:18.5), Alex Garvin 10th (17:36.6), Kieran Hall 18th (17:50.9) and Hayden Croff 22nd (18:07.1) for the Titans.
"We needed a total team effort today and it didn't quite pan out," Deye said. "But I'm proud of all of them. They've worked hard. I hate to relinquish the conference title, but the best team won today."
Central claimed eight of the top nine spots in the JV race. Josh Rose won it in 17:58.