Benzie Central Continues Winning Tradition
BENZONIA – A tradition of excellence that began in the 1980s is still going strong three decades later for the Benzie Central cross country program.
In the last 34 years, the small Class B school has established itself as a cross country state powerhouse, with its boys and girls programs combining to bring home 12 (seven boys, five girls) state championships and seven (four boys, three girls) runner-up finishes.
With both programs coming off state runner-up finishes in 2015, the Huskies, under the tutelage of veteran coaches Asa and Traci Kelly, are once again gearing up for next month’s state finals.
"It’s a very unique sport in a small school, in that pretty much one out of every seven kids in our school runs cross country,” said Asa Kelly, who is in his eighth year as head coach and 13th overall.
With 500 students in the high school, the cross country program has a combined 60 student-athletes.
"It’s really cool, honestly, because you see all of these other teams, and they have, I don’t know… like 10 guys at most, and we have 26 guys, so it’s pretty incredible,” senior Joey Johnston said.
"Any other sport I’ve done in high school, middle school, anything… it’s never been this close before. It’s just awesome to have 26 guys that have your back."
On Tuesday, the Huskies concluded the Northwest Conference season by sweeping the team and individual championships, placing 11 runners combined on the first-team All-Northwest Conference list.
A state title in November would mark the first for the boys since winning back-to-back in 2013-14 and the first for the girls since 2011.
"Every time I put on this jersey, I just feel that pride that we have for our program. I mean, we show up at a conference meet, everyone knows we’re here,” said senior Brayden Huddleston, who won his third straight Northwest Conference individual title on Tuesday. “We’re just strong traditionally, every year. So it’s great to be on this team.
"I would love to see us top-five. I’ve been on the podium the last three years, so senior year, I want to see us continue to be in the top of the state."
"I’d really like to see some big team achievements, because that’s really what this is all about,” added senior Olivia Brian.
The Huskies host a Division 3 and 4 regional on Saturday, Oct. 29.