ACME — Benzie Central’s depth proved too much.
The Huskies placed six boys in the top 10 Saturday morning to win the Division III cross country regional title at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.
Coach Asa Kelly’s team finished with 34 points, Mason County Central 57 and Charlevoix 100 to lead the 13-team field. The top three teams advanced to next weekend’s state finals.
The Benzie Central girls also took home a regional championship, edging Manistee 56-63. Hart placed third with 96.
Mason County Central had two of the top three finishers in the boys race, but could not match Benzie’s depth. The Huskies are ranked No. 1 in the state.
“On paper, I knew we had a pretty good shot (Saturday),” Kelly said. “We’ve been running well all season. It’s an incredible group of kids. I thought if we could score under 50 we would have a shot to win it. We scored 34.”
Mason County Central’s Zac Benham won the 5K in 16:41.89. Teammate Chase Barnett was third in 17:10.91. Kingsley’s Jake Keena placed second in 17:03.25.
Kyle Bailey led the Huskies, taking fourth (17:31.22).
“It means a lot,” Bailey said of the regional title. “We went out there and tried our hardest – just kept running, kept passing. We knew this wasn’t a course for time – it’s rough out there – so we focused on placing.”
A sea of red and white crossed the finish line early. Max Gaft came in sixth (17:41.99), Ismael Halaweh seventh (17:42.47), Brayden Huddleston eighth (17:46.20), Noah Robotham ninth (17:51.80) and Jake Williams 10th (18:05.44).
“They ran incredible,” Kelly said. “The beauty of this team is that there is no standout. Today our first guy was Kyle Bailey. It’s the first time he’s been our No. 1 guy all season.
“Kyle was our No. 1 guy at states last season. But the first part of the season he wasn’t even on varsity. He had to work his way back on.”
He did and he showed what he’s capable of Saturday.
“One of my better races of the season, definitely,” he said.
And that was on a wet, muddy course on a cold, windy day.
Benzie’s top six runners were separated by 34 seconds.
“I thought the guys’ times were fairly decent given what the course gave them,” Kelly said. “I think they are going to run really fast next week on a tighter packed course.”
The girls placed two in the top 6, and five in the top 19. Bryce Cutler and Stephanie Schaub led the way. Cutler came in fourth in 20:13.45 and Schaub sixth in 20:37.98. In addition, Alyssa Bennett finished 11th (21:12.66), Rachael Peabody 16th (21:40.72) and Morgan Burch 19th (21:58.23).
“Today was a race that was all about position,” Kelly said. “We didn’t even worry about watches. We told them to take their watches off and leave them in their bags because it doesn’t matter what you run today. It’s all about place.”
Charlevoix’s Amber Way was the individual winner in 19:06.42. She was second to Manistee’s Annie Fuller last October. Fuller was second Saturday in 19:57.36.
“It was a beautiful course, absolutely gorgeous,” Way said. “It was pretty muddy, but it just strengthens you for the next race.”
Way said she had to stay attentive during the race.
“It (course) kept you awake with all the turns, all the hills,” she said. “You were always doing something.”
Most of the runners toured the course Friday. Kelly elected not to bring his runners to town.
“We were one of the only teams that didn’t come and look at the course,” he said. “We have a Friday routine that works.”
That routine is dinner and a movie. So, on Friday, Kelly and his wife Traci, who also coaches, had the team for dinner. The movie? “Prefontaine.”
They also saw a video of the course, sent along by Traverse City Central girls coach Lisa Taylor.
“Both teams are so much fun,” Kelly said. “I love coaching them. I’m proud for these seniors. The girls have never lost a regional in their entire careers. The guys only lost one on a tiebreaker their freshmen year. They’ve got a streak going.”