Gielczyk: Benzie Central Shines Again in 2019
Before the season even started Benzie Central’s cross country teams were considered elite.
Which is certainly not new. Tradition dictated as much.
The Huskies reached the Division 3 state championships for the 26th time in the last 27 years and the girls made it for the fourth straight year as each finished second.
Freshman sensation Hunter Jones left all challengers following on his heels in winning the state title on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Michigan International Speedway at Brooklyn, crossing the finish line in 15:45.0.
Jones came into the season carrying much potential after turning in the best two-mile time in the country for the middle school team, and made an immediately impact when he ran a 15:38 at the Shepherd Invitational, the fastest 5k time for a freshman in the country.
As a team Benzie’s boys scored 239 points for seventh place, while the girls also took seventh place with 234 points.
“We had pretty good teams returning on both sides,” Benzie head coach Asa Kelly said, “and a nice mix of experience and youth that you like to see. We had good leadership on both sides, and a lot of finals experience returning, too.
“On the girls side, there was a little bit more youth and not as much upperclassmen. Really, they ran as a really tight group for most of the year and some of the younger girls really developed toward the end of the season.”
The girls were ranked in the top four pretty much for the entire season, and enjoyed good success before coming up just a little bit short at the state finals meet.
Finishing in the top 10 at state doesn’t seem anything to be disappointed about, and something most teams would celebrate. But, Kelly revealed the Huskies had bigger goals.
Benzie was led by Cierra Guay, who was first-time all-state runner and Northwest All-Conference as well as all-region.
“She had a really solid season,” said Kelly. “She really developed, and dropped around — I want to say — about 45 to 50 seconds from her previous best last year as a sophomore. She continues to get stronger and stronger.”
Also running in the top group all year were a pair of sophomores, Hayley VanWagoner and Elise Johnson as well as senior Faith Grose. The only freshman in the top seven was Maddy Teichman.
Teichman suffered a hip injury early in the season but really came on strong near the end of the season to make the varsity, and actually scored for the Huskies at state.
Four of the top five and five of the top seven girls are expected to return next season, which will make the favorites to win another Northwest Conference, where the Huskies have never lost a meet, and get back to the finals.
The Huskies girls expect to come out firing right away in 2020.
“We knew Hunter was going to be exceptional coming in,” Kelly said. “When you break two long-standing state records for the mile and two-mile, and he didn’t just break them, he destroyed them. Especially the two-mile.
“The time he ran in the two-mile last year would have been middle of the pack all-state in Division 3 for high school. We knew right way he was going to be our fastest guy, no question about it.”
It presented an interesting dynamic with the Huskies returning a solid group of upperclassmen, including four seniors.
Kelly brought in some alumni to help talk with the upperclassmen about what it’s like embracing a freshman that would the No. 1 guy on the team right from the start.
Fortunately, it worked. Jones was welcomed aboard.
“Hunter is not only an immense talent, but an incredible worker,” Kelly said. “Every single day whatever I tell him he works above that. Just a great kid, a 4.0 student and physically strong for his age.
“Mentally, he’s kind of a generational talent as far as the whole package goes. You don’t see many come along like that. Only one other freshman has won the state finals, and that was Ryan Shay.
“So, clearly he is in kind of a rare air. He’s running faster times as a freshman then Jake Flynn and guys like that. Very, very elite level. It’s going to be interesting to see his trajectory the rest of his career.”
Jones lost only one race all season, at the Pete Moss Invitational. He ran the table the rest of the way.
He’s only the third boy to win a state title for the Huskies. Flynn won three, and Al Hunter won one.
It would appear the ceiling is unlimited for Jones.
Tyler Kintigh, who had been the Huskies’ No. 1 runner, ran a great finals race to earn All-State honors for the second time in his career, as well as all-conference and all-region.
Wesley VanPoortfliet finished strong at state and should come in and be one of the Huskies’ top runners next year.
Benzie had a few seniors on the back end who ran anywhere from five to seven in the lineup. The leadership of Tyler Iverson, Ryan Bishop and Connor McLaren will be missed.
Michael Musgrave, a freshman, was on varsity for about half the season, made huge improvements from middle school and has a bright future ahead of him.
The Huskies girls team should be as strong, if not stronger next year with a good freshman coming in who could help right away. If he stays healthy, Jones will again lead the boys.
As always, the Huskies will be aiming for a state championship.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.