The Saugatuck girls’ cross country team reached the podium at the state finals for the first time thanks to their runner-up finish. (Photo by Scott Sullivan)Thea Johnson was the top finisher for the Saugatuck girls at the state finals, placing fourth. (Photo by Scott Sullivan)

Saugatuck girls reach podium with runner-up showing

Jason Wesseldyk

Always the bride’s maid, never the bride.
That’s the way it seemed to be for the Saugatuck girls’ cross country team when it came to its performance at the state finals: Four times in their history the Indians finished third in the state finals, one spot away from earning a spot on the podium as a champion or runner-up.
This season, Saugatuck finally earned that coveted podium position.
Led by top-10 finishes from seniors Thea Johnson and Taylor Conner, the Indians ended with 82 points to take the runner-up spot behind two-time defending state champ Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart’s 69-point effort.
“To finally get on the podium was amazing,” Saugatuck coach Angelina Bauer said. “And to do it with this group made it even more enjoyable. This group is just special. I’ve said it all year. I’ve enjoyed all the teams we’ve had here, but there is just something special about these girls.
“So to get on the podium with this group felt really good.”
As good as it felt, Bauer admitted the runner-up finish was somewhat bittersweet.
“It’s hard to say you’re disappointed with a runner-up finish at the state finals, and I’m not really disappointed. But we all think we had a chance to do even better. We ran against Sacred Heart twice previously this season. They got us the first time. We got them the second time. We thought we had a good chance to win the title.”
The veteran group for the Indians—which saw seniors as their top four finishers and five of their top six finishers—had been building toward the state finals all year.
“This group put in so much extra time and effort,” Bauer said. “That’s what makes coming up short of the title so tough. But it’s a good life lesson. Sometimes you can do everything in your power to succeed and it just doesn’t go your way.
“The great thing is none of them regretted putting in that extra time. When we stopped to eat, one of the girls said, ‘We would have killed for this finish last year.’ Another said, ‘Or the year before that.’ Another said, ‘Or the year before that.’ They already had a really good perspective about it.”
Johnson had the best finish for Saugatuck, placing fourth at 19:26. Conner was next, crossing the finish line in seventh at 19:47.
Fellow senior Natalie Martinson was 11th at 19:51, giving the Indians three All-State honorees. All-State is awarded to the race’s top 30 finishers.
Lily Francis, another senior, was 41st at 21:04 and junior Jillian Vera was 56th at 21:33.
Senior Kierstyn Stoin (90th at 22:06) and sophomore Jillian Johnson (104th at 22:16) also competed for Saugatuck.
“I’m so glad I got to take this journey with this team,” Bauer said. “These girls are so close and care so much about each other. This is something I’ll never forget.”
And while the Indians will be without the services of five of this year’s seven runners at the state finals due to graduation, Bauer believes her team will continue to be competitive next season.
“Because of the success of our seniors, not many people realize how good our freshmen were this season,” she said. “But they are a talented group. They’re more on the shy side, much like our current seniors were as freshmen. I really see a lot of similarities between those two classes.
“It would be great if history repeats itself.”


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