Comerford claims D2 state title, leads Otsego to fifth place
As Otsego senior Alex Comerford crossed the finish line at Division 2 state finals at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday, Nov. 3, the raised his arms over his head in triumph, a smile stretching across his face.
The individual state championship he had worked so hard to secure was finally his.
Comerford posted a time of 15:23 on a wet, sloppy course to best East Grand Rapids’ Evan Bishop by 12 seconds to claim the title.
As a team, Otsego placed fifth with a score of 202.
“This championship is something I’ve wanted to accomplish ever since I started running,” Comerford said. “It means so much to be able to do it with such an amazing group of competitors and especially my teammates.
“The guys on the team now and in the past have pushed me to be able to do this and made me so much better every single day. There is no way I would be here without all of my teammates through the years.”
Otsego coach Steve Long couldn’t have been happier for Comerford.
“Alex was fantastic,” Long said. “We had what we thought was a winning plan going in and he executed it perfectly.”
Much of that plan revolved around James Gedris of Grosse Ile.
When the pair went head to head at the Spartan Elite race on Sept. 14, Gedris edged out Comerford for third place as the pair finished behind Division 1 champ Nick Foster from Ann Arbor Pioneer and Division 4 champ Corey Gorgas from Saugatuck.
“We kind of figured that Gedris was the only one that could challenge him, so we used the same plan that worked from the 3,200-meter race in outdoor track,” Long said. “Al kept the pace respectable through the first mile and led the way through the mile with a 4:52. Gedris was the only one that went with him, and (Comerford) slowly pressed the pace the rest of the way.”
That he did, with Comerford’s second-mile time of 4:49 to build a sizeable lead.
“After that second mile, nobody was going to come back on him,” Long said.
Comerford closed out the race with a 4:40 third-mile time.
“He’s had a pretty fantastic four years here,” Long said of Comerford. “He’s been a three-time conference champ, three-time regional champ and now you can add a state championship to that.”
This marks the fourth time Comerford received All-State status, which goes to the top 30 finishers. He was 13th as a freshman, ninth as a sophomore and second last season.
“Now he’s focused on qualifying for the Footlocker National Championship in San Diego in December,” Long said. “Al’s running career is far from over, but locking up an indoor and outdoor title in the 3,200 and now winning a cross country title is pretty impressive. I think his focus from here on out will be on national level competition and getting ready for a great career at Syracuse.”
Comerford’s winning effort highlighted the top-five finish for Otsego in the team standings.
Junior Hunter Zartman joined Comerford on the All-State list by placing 21st at 16:26.
Sophomore Colin Mulder was 79th at 17:03 and the freshmen pair of Chase Brown and Mason Kolhoff finished 91st and 101st, respectively, at 17:07 and 17:10.
“The guys ran really well as a team,” Long said. “Hunter had another strong performance like he has all season long to earn All-State, and Colin, Chase and Mason put in solid efforts.”
And while pleased with a top-five showing, Long knows his team was on the verge of doing even better. The Bulldogs finished one point behind Zeeland West (201) for fourth place and three points behind Spring Lake (199) for third place.
Chelsea won with 121 points, while Fremont was second at 134.
“We knew finishing in the top two would be tough as Fremont and Chelsea were really good, but we were hoping for a podium finish,” Long said. “Finishing fifth felt good though. I talked to the boys at the beginning of the year and told them that I thought they were a top five team in the state. And they were.
“And how close we were to third and fourth, at the state meet that’s literally one guy running a second or two faster. So on any given day, we could have easily finished third.”
And while losing Comerford will obviously hurt, Long believes the program remains in good hands.
“We lost Will Finch to graduation last year who was the second fastest runner in school history, and we’re a better team this year,” Long said. “Now we’ll lose Alex to graduation, but I really think we’ll be a better team next year if these young men can stay focused and come back hungry. Alex has been a great role model for them, so they know what to do to be successful.”