Sacred Heart Girls Building a Dynasty
MT. PLEASANT – Winning back-to-back state titles in any sport is noteworthy. Accomplishing what the Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart girls cross country program has over the last two years, especially considering the size of the school, is no small feat.
Sacred Heart has claimed the last two MHSAA Division 4 state championships and posted a historic undefeated season in 2016. What’s more impressive is that the time recorded by the Irish last fall’s state finals would have won the school the Division 3 championship and been good enough for a second-place finish in Division 2. Not bad for a school with an enrollment of 130 students.
“I never expected to see anything like that at this school, but, you can’t say never,” said longtime coach Mark Zitzelsberger.
“It’s pretty amazing, considering we’re so small and that good,” added senior Rowan Fitzpatrick.
The Irish had six runners achieve all-state honors in 2016 and have returned six of the seven athletes that competed at the state finals, including senior Bailley McConnell, who finished runner-up as an individual last year.
“We’re pushing each other, and we have some pretty good, even competition in the team,” McConnell said. “We push each other a lot and each of us has someone to run with and encourage like even work together during a race.”
The Irish won the school’s first girls team state championship in 1999, claiming the Class D state title. Add in Bridget Bennett’s individual Division 4 state championships in 2008 and 2009, and Sacred Heart has firmly planted itself as a small-school power in mid-Michigan.
“We have a really high level of like, determination and drive on our team,” senior Megan Nowack said. “We have each individual person pushes the next individual person.”
Thanks to successful junior high program, runners don’t miss a beat once they arrive as freshmen.
“We’re pretty fortunate that almost all our runners on the girls varsity team have been running since before junior high. So they’re not new to the sport,” Zitzelsberger said. “The thing about this group of gals is that they’re always willing to do what they need to do to run at the level that they run at right now.”
“It’s kind of like a little family, we’ve grown up with each other since middle school,” added Fitzpatrick. “We’ve pushed each other along the way.”
As the top-ranked program in this week’s MichiganCrossCountry.com Division 4 state poll, Sacred Heart fully expects to back in the Irish Hills and at Michigan International Speedway for the state finals come November.
“Our team goal is to definitely win states again, and to maybe have a perfect season,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Goals are to get down to Brooklyn again and to win it again,” added Zitzelsberger. “The pressure, well, there’s always expectations of course. Our expectations are very high.”
Sacred Heart next heads to the Michigan State University Invitational on Friday. The Irish are set to compete in the Elite division, among Division 1 and 2 programs.