BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — Zach Ripley and Dan Kerr waged a two-man battle in the Meijer's Cherry Festival 15K road race Saturday.
In the end, Ripley won the sprint to the finish, edging Kerr by less than a second — 48:31.93 to 48:32.35.
"It was like working with someone in a race," Ripley said. "You go for a bit, you start to get tired, and the other person takes over. We went back and forth."
"I threw a punch, he threw a punch," Kerr added. "I think both of us were wondering if we were going to be able to respond to that next move."
Ripley, who ran at Cornerstone, was in uncharted territory.
"I had never run longer than 10K," he said. "This is my longest race."
And he started to feel it late.
"That last mile and a half was long," he said.
Ripley tried to save his energy for the last 10K of the race.
"I was told to watch out for (McKinley) hill," he said. "So I was trying to be ready for that. I didn't want to do anything crazy the first three miles. I wanted to relax and see what these guys were doing."
A Petoskey native, Kerr, who runs for Calvin College, earned All-American honors this spring when he finished fifth in the 10,000 meters in the Division 3 nationals. He also earned All-American honors in the fall in cross country.
"Calvin has an awesome program," Ripley said. "He's (Kerr) one of the guys driving that program right now."
Kerr ran two minutes faster than last year.
"Last year was hot and a little more humid," he said. "Today was mild. You couldn't have asked for anything better."
Emma Kertesz, who will be a fifth-year senior at Toledo next season, ran away with the women's 15K, finishing in 53:05.87. Calvin's Nicole Michmerhuizen was second in 58:25.21. Adrian Chouinard-Neal, who ran at Traverse City Central and Grand Valley State, placed third in 59:29.23.
Kertesz enjoyed a spectacular spring, earning the Mid-American Conference's Women's Outdoor Most Valuable Performer Award at the league championships. She won the 5,000 and 3,000 steeplechase and was third in the 1,500.
"I took some time off after nationals," she said. "I'm slowly building mileage. I wanted to come up here and get an idea of where my fitness is right now. I did the Bastille 15K in Fenton last year so I thought I would mix it up and come up to the Cherry Festival this year."
Kertesz led from the start.
"I was by myself for awhile in the beginning," she said. "Then I started catching some of the men who had fallen off the first pack. It was good for me to have someone to go after instead of being in no-man's land."
Michmerhuizen was part of a contingent from Calvin College to compete in the 15K.
"I took it easy until we got to the hill and then I went as hard as I could after that," she said.
Chouinard-Neal last raced in April. She was coming off tendonitis in her right foot.
"I went out maybe a little more aggressively than I should have for my fitness level," she said. "When I hit (McKinley) hill it was downhill from there.
"But it was good just to get out and have the racing feel again. It was a good start for me, especially in this kind of heat. I'm happy with it."
Chouinard-Neal was impressed with Kertesz.
"She dropped me in the first mile," she said. "I tried to hang on with her, but I hit 5:36 and I want to guess she hit 5:20. She has some wheels. She looked great from the get-go."
Karen Kirt won the women's master's division in 1:06:27.65. John Dood was the men's master's winner in 52:34.57.