TRAVERSE CITY — Second to first.
That was the scenario in 2013 for three area high school teams that turned some agonizingly close runner-up finishes in 2012 into state titles a year later.
Those three state championships were among five won by area teams in 2013, making it our No. 4 story of the year.
The title run began in late February when the Traverse City Central girls captured the Division 1 state ski title at Boyne Mountain, ending a seven-year drought. The Trojans had been runners-up five years in a row.
"We were determined that this would be our year," senior Paige Pfannenstiel said.
That put to rest 2012 when Central entered as the favorite only to be upset by Traverse City West for the title — by three points.
"The girls were all disappointed (in 2012)," coach Jerry Stanek said. "This time they realized after finishing second five times that they had to sacrifice individual achievement for the team. That's what they did."
West had two individual slalom champions, Monica Hessler and Finley Clark.
Meanwhile at Marquette Mountain that day, Petoskey swept the girls and boys Division 2 crowns. The girls had been runners-up in 2012. For the boys, it was their third consecutive championship. Gunner Lundteigen won the slalom for the Northmen. St. Francis freshman Carlee McCardel claimed the girls giant slalom.
Just over three months later, the St. Francis girls turned in an impressive performance in capturing the Division 4 state track title, the school's first.
"These girls just stepped up and did what they had to do and they conquered," coach Julie Duffing said afterwards. "We came here to win. We believed we could do this at the very beginning of the year and the girls never thought otherwise. The girls worked hard all year. They wanted to win this."
In 2012, the Gladiators finished just four points behind Fowler for the title.
Senior Lauren Buckel repeated as champion in the 400 while Holly Bullough took the 800 and 1600.
Four months to that date, the Benzie Central boys took home the Division 3 state cross country championship trophy. The Huskies had been ranked No. 1 all season.
“It made us realize that we were a target,” said Kyle Bailey, who led the Huskies with a 14th-place finish. “So we had to keep doing our best and keep trying. I think it really helped us out.”
That wasn't the only big news in the fall, though. The Lake Michigan and Northwest conferences agreed to merge in football. Officials created two divisions based on enrollment and strength of program in an effort to ease scheduling, create more balanced competition between schools of like size and, ultimately, improve playoff possibilities.
One division will include Boyne City, Grayling, Elk Rapids, St. Francis, Glen Lake, Kingsley and Benzie Central. The other division will consist of Harbor Springs, East Jordan, Charlevoix, Suttons Bay, Kalkaska and Frankfort. Mesick was originally included in the smaller school division, but instead opted to play in the West Michigan D.
Officials reached out to a couple area schools to fill the void starting next school year, but nothing has materialized.
"We had some schools show interest, but they just didn't feel they could pull the trigger on short term notice," said league spokesperson Dave Jackson.
The merger gives St. Francis the opportunity to rejoin a league. The Gladiators had been playing as an independent in football the last couple seasons.
The league is still looking for a name.
"The way we left it the last time we met is we're going to have a competition among the student bodies and let the kids come up with something," he said. "Give them a little ownership in the whole thing."