BENZONIA — Normally teams that finish 23rd at the state finals don’t set their sights on winning the state title the following year.

Yet that’s exactly the mantra of this year’s Johannesburg-Lewiston boys cross country team, who made quite the statement Saturday at Benzie Central’s annual Pete Moss Invite.

Both Joburg’s boys and girls teams won the “Small School” boys and girls races among a massive field of teams who entered from all over Michigan. Junior Jacob Wartenberg won the boys race at 17:14 followed by three Cardinals in the top-10. Adelaida Gascho led the Cardinals girls team with a second place finish at 19:44.

Joburg was ranked 11th in Division 4 boys and 5th in girls by MI XC Speed Ratings in the preseason.

“This means we work together as a team,” Wartenberg said. “We work with the team, not against the team.”

Blake Fox, a Joburg sophomore who took third, said he felt terrible after the race, but it was a personal record by a lot. He raced a 20:04 at last year’s finals and shaved almost three minutes off that time by Saturday.

Malaki Gascho took 5th with a time of 17:24 (leading last year’s Cardinals at the finals with a time of 18:59). Toby Hall took 15th at 17:59 and Ronin Vaden took 17th at 18:01.

Fox said the Cardinal’s goal heading into Saturday was just to be known.

“I’m feeling really good,” Adelaida Gascho said, who improved on her finals time by almost two minutes. “I just had to keep my head up and push through the doubts I had in my head, but I didn’t have many.”

Joburg first-year head coach Brenden Marcum, a former runner for the University of Michigan, said Saturday showed that Cardinals are willing to work in the offseason.

“This race was successful because of January, February and March,” Marcum said. “They didn’t do well today. They did well in the winter and today was just the day to just show everybody.”

Miranda McNeil of Morley Stanwood won the girls race with a time of 19:42, beating Adelaida Gascho by two seconds.

Races were run with temps reaching into the low 90s with high humidity. Several runners threw up at the finish line and crashed into the benches as their legs gave way.

The race drew 50 schools with more than 1,200 runners racing between two boys races, two girls races, and two JV races separated by school size.

Hough beats Jones

Hartland’s Riley Hough, who holds the fastest high school 5K in Michigan regardless of class to rank No. 6 nationally, entered the Pete Moss as an individual and beat Benzie phenom Hunter Jones (No. 10 in nation) by 19 seconds.

Hough won with a time of 14:41.2 and Jones took second at 15:00.4. Lapeer’s Jeremy Williams (3rd, 15:31) and Traverse City Central’s Luke Venhuizen (4th, 15:47) trailed the two by more than 30 seconds.

“My idea of what I was going to do in this race was to stay with him for a mile to a mile-and-a-half and then push the pace and see what I can do, then kick at 400 to 600 to go,” Hough said.

Hough broke free and took a comfortable lead in the wooded stretches, and Jones couldn’t catch up.

“When he took off, I wanted to respond, but my body didn’t let me respond very well,” Jones said. “I tried to speed up, but he just kept pulling away from me. I just tried to keep my speed constant and at the end pick it up and hope that I could get closer.”

Jones hasn’t lost many races. He became a two-time Division 3 state champion as a freshman and sophomore, joining Central Lake’s Ryan Shay as the only runners to do so in the Lower Peninsula.

Hough beat Hobbs Kessler of Ann Arbor Skyline by three seconds for last year’s Division 1 title.

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Jones said. “It was a good rust-buster for the first race, just hoping to get faster from here.”

Traverse City Central won the varsity race as a team, led by Venhuizen, Micah Bauer (9th, 16:04), Joe Muha (13th, 16:24), Jett Reimers (26th, 17:03) and Sam McDonough (28th, 17:09). Alex Durocher and Lukas Reimers finished first and second in the JV race.

TC West took fifth led by Jonah Hochstetler’s 15:58 for sixth place, Isaac Stone with a 16:38 for 19th place and Willem DeGood with a time of 17:02 for 25th place.

Tyler Guggemos took 14th with a time of 16:24 to lead Kalkaska. Traverse City St. Francis took ninth.

Flynn wins by Landslide

Benzie Central’s cross country course is known for producing fast times with favorable conditions.

Central’s Julia Flynn should know. She clocked her all-time PR of 16:51 at last year’s Pete Moss Invite. At the time it was the first time under 17:00 nationally and held up for the 33rd best time of the season.

Flynn didn’t improve on last year’s time with Saturday’s blistering heat, but she still won her race by nearly 30 seconds with a race time of 17:17, followed by Rachel Forsyth of Ann Arbor Pioneer with a 17:45.

Flynn said she felt it was the best race her body could give.

“I think the heat made all the times really sluggish, especially in the fields,” Flynn said. “The woods were good. The woods were very fun, but the fields were kind of daunting.”

The Traverse City Central senior is just hoping to do better than she did last year and enjoy her senior season. She ran in the prestigious Brooks PR track meet over the summer and took seventh in the 1,600-meter run. In last fall’s D1 finals, Flynn took third behind Forsyth (2nd) and Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Dadamio (1st).

Ann Arbor Pioneer won the girls race as a team. Central took fifth, with Ella Kirkwood (18th, 19:06) and Alexis Ball (19th, 19:12) joining Flynn with top times. West placed seventh with Elliott Smith (20th, 19:17) and Ava King (28th, 19:41) leading the way.

Several TC-area runners from D4 schools entered the race with much larger schools and contended for the top-15. Glen Lake’s Makenna Scott (12th, 18:51) and Buckley’s Aiden Harrand (14th, 18:55) both raced well.

Sophie Rhein led St. Francis with a time of 19:00 for 16th, joined by freshman Betsy Skendzel in 35th with a time of 20:06.

Mylie Kelly led Benzie’s girls with a time of 19:30 for 24th.

Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR

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