Otsego’s Alex Comerford ran a 14:59 at the Bulldog Invitational, marking the best time in the state this season. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Otsego cross teams finish runner-up at Bulldog Invite

By: 
Jason Wesseldyk

OTSEGO—With a total of 15 cross country races being run beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at close to 3:30 p.m., the Otsego-hosted Bulldog Invitational is quite the undertaking for Otsego coach Steve Long.
Luckily, he has a good support system around him.
“As usual, the Otsego community didn’t let me down,” Long said. “It was such a busy week for our community with the Purple Game (football), the band festival and the Bulldog Invitational all in about 18 hours and I started to wonder if our community could come up with enough workers and volunteers.
“But we had about 50 people come together for this event and make it one of the premier invitationals in the state. So, kudos to our small town for putting on such a great event.”
Otsego senior Alex Comerford did his part to make sure the day was a special one.
Crossing the finish line in a time of 14:59 to win the boys’ Division 2 race, Comerford broke the 15-minute barrier for the second straight at the Bulldog Invitational and beat runner-up Evan Bishop of East Grand Rapids by 26 seconds.
Even Long, who has seen Comerford do some special things, admitted to being a bit caught off guard by how well his prized pupil ran.
“Alex breaking 15:00 was a bit of a surprise for me,” Long said. “He’s been working really hard in practice and I know he’s running tired, so without any real competition I didn’t know if he’d get back under 15:00.”
“His time is the fastest time run in the state so far and when he did it, it was posted as the fifth fastest time in the nation. Since then, a couple kids have run faster in a big invite in Texas.”
Comerford’s performance helped his team place second in the team standings with 81 points, three points behind winner Grand Rapids Christian’s 78. Plainwell was the next best local team, finishing eighth with 252 points, while Allegan was 10th (273), Hamilton was 13th (356) and Wayland 18th (478).
“I was again impressed by how the guys ran,” Long said. “We’re starting to hit mid-season form and their times are coming down.”
Junior Hunter Zartman was next for Otsego, finishing fourth at 16:10. Other scoring runners for the Bulldogs were sophomore Colin Mulder (16th at 16:37), freshman Mason Kolhoff (31st at 17:09) and freshman Logan Kolhoff (33rd at 17:11).
Freshman Chase Brown (36th at 17:18) and sophomore Andnet DeBoer (39th at 17:22) were Otsego’s sixth and seventh runners.
“I usually worry when I have to depend on new runners, especially freshmen,” Long said. “But these boys aren’t fazed by a big stage. I really enjoy their blue-collar work ethic. They just keep showing up and getting things done every day.
“I basically love where we’re at right now on the guys’ side. The boys are working hard, motivated and staying focused. I’m really looking forward to a great October.”
Allegan’s Blane Johnson found his way into the top 10, placing ninth at 16:28. Hamilton’s Havi Carroll just missed a top-10 showing, placing 11th at 16:31.
Daniel Hopson was Plainwell’s top finisher at 17:09 (32nd), while Elijah Gamelin led Wayland at 18:09 (67th).
Otsego girls also
place second
Like their male counterparts, the Otsego girls’ team also placed second, finishing with 99 points. East Grand Rapids won with a score of 37.
Plainwell was seventh at 207, Wayland was 10th at 307, Allegan was 14th at 345 and Hamilton was 16th at 394.
“I think the girls are continuing to grow and come together,” Long said.
Senior Sydney Kubiak paced Otsego with a sixth-place finish of 18:40. Claudia Stachura (15th at 19:11) was one of three freshmen to provide scoring times for the Bulldogs along with Joy Wolf (28th at 19:56) and Elizabeth Burrill (32nd at 20:00).
Senior Kristen Brylowski was Otsego’s third runner, finishing 22nd at 19:39.
“Sydney had a fantastic race and Claudia is really starting to figure out her potential and continues to impress me,” Long said. “Kristen had a huge race, breaking 20:00 for the first time.
“And I was really impressed with our JV runners too. Brinley Badders has a big PR to win the race.”
Long thinks even better things are still to come from both of his teams.
“I think at this point in the year, both teams are focusing on earning a podium spot at the state finals (top two),” he said. “We know that’s our potential, so the key now is staying focused, doing the little things and continuing to work hard.”
From an individual standpoint, no runner was better in the girls’ Division 2 race than Plainwell’s Makenna Venn, who won the race at 18:02.
Rylee Cronkright was Wayland’s top runner (31st at 19:59), while Sasha Mills led the way for Allegan (36th at 20:06). Bella Charron posted a 55th-place showing of 20:48 at lead Hamilton.
 

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