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DIVISION 3 CROSS COUNTRY STATE FINALS: Shepherd girls win first title since ’94; Lutheran North’s Patterson defends crown; Benzie Central wins boys championshi

   | Dan Stickradt

State Champs! Sports Network

BY DAN STICKRADT
CORRESPONDENT

dan.stickradt@northoaklandsports.com

Twitter: @LocalSportsFans

BROOKLYN — The last time that Shepherd won a state title in cross-country, none of its current competitors were even born yet. In fact, the cross country state finals were not even held at Michigan Speedway.

It was 1994 the last time Shepherd finished on top of the Division 3 world, a stop the Bluejays returned to Saturday. Shepherd scored 120 points to easily outdistance the field, as Benzonia Benzie Central finished second with 186 points. Macomb Lutheran North was third (214), Hopkins fourth (220) and Caro (230) founded out the top five in the 27-school standings.

In the team race, Kaylie Rhynard (fifth), Katelyn Hutchinson (10th), Kylie Hutchinson (33rd), Rachel Mathers (35th) and Taylor Thrush (37th) led Shepherd.

“We knew if we ran well and at our potential that we could win. We were able to do that,” said Shepherd coach Carey Hammel. “It’s been a long time for our girls. It’s actually our first since 1994. The boys won in 2008.”

The Bluejays, despite falls by two of its athletes, overcame the severely muddy course and the sub-45-degree weather.

“We talked about all season that the course is always the same for everybody,” noted Hammel. “Some people are going to have a bad attitude, but we have to embrace it. We’re going to have a great run, and we’re going to have a blast. We had two girls fall, but it didn’t bother them. They were having fun. It was awesome for us to win.”

Gina Patterson of Lutheran North had some divine inspiration during her race. She out-dueled Charlevoix’s Amber Way before pulling away in the final 100 meters with an 18:02.7 clocking. Way finished second in 18:04.2.

It was Patterson’s second straight state title.

“I was pushing as hard as I can and I put it in God’s hands,” said Patterson. “I just said, ‘God, hold me and push me through.’ He never fails. He did that today.

“I just feel extremely blessed this year,” continued Patterson. “Last year I didn’t know what to expect. This season I knew I could do it, but it wasn’t easy. Racing Amber, I had to give it everything I had. It was very tight. She kept the lead for most of the race and down the stretch we started bouncing back and forth. She’s a great competitor, a great runner and fun to run against.”

Holland Black River’s Allison Vroon was third (18:37.1), Ida’s Ashley Sorge crossed fourth (18:44.2) and Kent City’s Ashley Russo ran fifth (18:50.0).

Benzonia Benzie Central collected just 111 points to win the D-3 boys crown. Stockbridge was second (128), while Lansing Catholic (187), Clare (191) and Grandville Calvin Christian (217) also finished in the top five.

Lansing Catholic junior Kennan Rebera won the individual state title in convincing fashion, tying his career best effort of 15:31.0 despite the chilly, 45 degree temperatures and muddy course conditions.

“I was really sick last year,” said Rebera, who was fifth last year with only one underclassmen ahead of him. “So I had to change the way I train, the way I slept (last night), the way I eat. I am a lot healthier. I came back here with a grudge this season.

“It feels awesome to be able to win this,” continued Rebera. “I’ve worked really hard for this.”

Chase Barnett of Scottsville Mason County Central was second (16:00.9) behind Rebera, followed by Michigan Center’s Ben Utz (16:04.7), Kent City’s Will Wilson (16:06.4) and Macon County Central’s Zac Benham (16:07.9).

Chase Barnett of Scottsville Mason County Central was second (16:00.9), followed by Michigan Center’s Ben Utz (16:04.7), Kent City’s Will Wilson (16:06.4) and Macon County Central’s Zac Benham (16:07.9) in the top five.

Kyle Bailey (14th), Brayden Huddleston (17th), Max Gaft (19th), Ismael Halaweh (30th) and Jake Williams (31st) led Benzie Central to the crown.