Usually when a runner crosses the finish line of a cross country meet, grabbing 331st place is not anything too encouraging.
However, when it is at the 2015 MSU Spartan Invitational cross country meet in Michigan, with a grand total of 971 runners competing all in one of the many races, then suddenly 331st takes on a little different perspective.
Both West Holmes and Garaway traveled to East Lansing to participate in a challenge that should help prepare them for the rigors of district and regional competition later this season.
The 331st runner to cross the line in the Boys 5,000 meter Junior Varsity race was Collin Hochstetler, who cruised home in 20:17. Garaway ended up placing 46th out of 56 teams in the division.
Teammates Trey Hershberger was 404thin 20:50, while Kyle Dunn ran a 21:22, good for 482nd place, still just inside the top half of the competing runners. Ot4her Pirates included Micah Van Fossen (634th/22:30) and Danny Sparling (847th/24:57).
Then there was the 5,000 meter Spartan Elite races for both girls and boys.
This featured some talent the likes of which neither Garaway nor West Holmes sees much of in their travails around Ohio.
“Part of this is the experience of going out of state on a charter bus and staying overnight,” said Chuck Zobel, Garaway head coach. “This is something the kids will remember, because they competed against some of the best competition they will see all year.”
Zobel said the talent level is akin to that of a national meet in the offseason, and the best of the best from Michigan were in attendance.
He also said the humidity was brutal, and the track was a little sloppy, making for some slower times. But he added that he experience of running in a race of that magnitude was well worth the trip.
The Garaway and West Holmes runners spent the trip together, and with Zobel having been to this gigantic meet before, he took the lead in showing the West Holmes team the ropes.
“We had a great time and we appreciate Chuck kind of taking charge of this thing,” said West Holmes coach Kevin Beachy, who ran for Zobel’s state qualifying team in 2001. “It was a great time for our kids to bond, and to get to know the kids of a program that has been a classy one that knows what it takes to achieve some pretty special things.”
In the girls’ race, Garaway placed 27th out of 41 teams, while West Holmes placed 40th.
The top runner for the two teams was West Holmes junior Michelle Hostettler, who continued to build her resume by churning out a 17th place finish in the field of 289 elite runners. Her time of 18:57 was just 10 seconds off of an 115h place finish, but was more than a minute off the pace of the winning time of 17:54.
The top runner for the Lady Pirates was senior Rachel Wentworth, who stormed home in a time of 19:12, good for 27th overall.
Wentworth’s sister Ariel placed next in line for Garaway, finishing in a time of 20:36, good for 107th place. Jocelyn Miller also ran strong, placing 136th in a time of 20:55. Other Garaway competitors included Lauren Violet (201st/21:52), Lindsey Goehring (242nd/22:36), Jenny Keim (280th/24:19) and Summer Miller (283rd/24:50).
For the Lady Knights, Amber Murphy placed 2127th in 22:06, while freshman Erin Norman continued her ascent up the race ladder by placing 256th in 23:03, which was one spot better than teammate Hannah Clark, who also ran a 23:03. Alexis Hunter finished 286th in 25:06.
“I thought all of our kids felt like they ran a fast race, but our times didn’t exactly show that,” said Beachy. “I think that is what that kind of competition does to you.”
Both the West Holmes and Garaway boys found the going pretty tough in a giant field of 304 talented runners, some of whom both Beachy and Zobel said would be vying for top spots in the Nike and Foot Locker nationals later this year. Garaway ended up 40th, while West Holmes finished 42nd in the field of 44 teams.
While 53rd might not make an elite runner’s top 10 list, for West Holmes junior Vinny DeFelice, it was a stellar afternoon. His time of 16:51 was a good one.
“Vinny got stuck back in the pack early, and got boxed in, but he passed a ton of runners late,” said Beachy.
After that Coach Beachy had to wait a long time to see another Knights runner cross the finish line. Teddy Oliver was next in line, finishing in a time of 19:10, good for 274th. Other Knights included Josh Weigand (289th/19:39), Mark Raber (292nd/19:53), Jonathon Clark (297th/20:14) and Matt Chanay (302nd/20:35).
In the Open race of 971 runners, Zedrick Clark did something that surprised his coach, running a PR in 21:49, a remarkable feat considering everyone else was running about 30 seconds behind their times.
“He ran a great race,” said Beachy of Clark. “Hopefully this inspires him to keeping working to get better and better, because he is only a freshman.”
For the Pirates, senior Nathan Millet traversed the rugged Spartans course in 17:14, good for 97th place overall. Junior B.J. Schwartz was next in line for Garaway in 17:43, which placed him 161st. Other Pirates included Austin Miller (260th/18:49), Andrew West (265th/18:52), freshman Julian Shrock (276th/19:11), Nathan Wicker (293rd/19:53) and Braden Shupe (299th/20:19).
“Andrew ran a strong race, and knocked a lot of time off of his PR,” said Zobel of the freshman. “He almost caught our number three, and continues to get better as he learns the ropes.”
In a mass of talented runners, against some incredible competition, both coaches agreed that this was one of those weekends in which their teams could bond, challenge themselves and hopefully gain experience and knowledge that will help them down the road.