BENZONIA — Nearly 600 varsity and JV runners will descend Saturday on Benzie Central for the Pete Moss Invitational, the season opener for several area cross country teams.
Races start at 8:45 a.m.
The field will include three area state track champions — Holly Bullough of St. Francis, Amber Way of Charlevoix and Chase Barnett of Mason County Central.
It will also include two nationally-ranked teams — the Traverse City Central girls and Benzie Central boys. Central is ranked 20th among large schools by XC Nation. Benzie is ranked 19th among small schools.
The Benzie boys — and girls — finished fourth in the Division III state cross country finals last November. Both squads, which return a number of key performers, will compete in the large school division Saturday, going head-to-head with the Trojans.
"I'm glad we get a chance to race them," Benzie coach Asa Kelly said. "We don't see them much. I think it will be a good test for our kids.
"I think our boys can give them a decent run, but Central has two boys (Anthony Berry and Kyle Dotterrer) up front who are really strong. Central's boys, I think, will be a top five team by the end of the year. They're stacked.
"Central's girls, the only thing they have going against them, is that D-1 is loaded with Saline and (Birmingham) Seaholm. Most years Central would have enough to win it, but it's going to take a heck of a race to beat those schools."
As for Benzie, Kelly returns five of his top seven boys, including three seniors — Ismael Halaweh, Andrew Hayden and Max Gaft — who have competed in the state meet three years in a row. They'll be joined by junior Kyle Bailey, sophomores Jake Williams and Noah Robotham and freshman Brayden Huddleston. Huddleston, one of nine freshmen on the team, ran fourth in a recent scrimmage with Grand Rapids South Christian.