Cross country program starts new season with two full teams
Squad has two returning state qualifiers and several other experienced runners
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The varsity cross country program from Grayling High School – a group that started its official practices on Wednesday, Aug. 8 – has close to 20 runners this year, including two returning state qualifiers.
“Right now I have 17 total,” Coach Justin Andre said.
The squad has more girls than last year, and it should have enough runners to post official team scores during meets in the girls’ competitions.
“We’re excited. It’s looking like we’ll have six or seven girls. We’ll be able to have a team score,” Coach Andre said.
One of the girls? Bri Martin, a two-time state qualifier for cross country (one in Grayling, one in Gaylord).
“We’ve got Bri Martin, a returning state qualifier,” Coach Andre said. “She’ll be a senior. Sarah Rakoczy, she’s a junior. She’ll be a strong runner for us this year.”
For the boys, Caden Arredondo is a returning state qualifier.
“Seniors Ryan Anderson and Kendall Tomczak are returning. Sophomore Bruce Coulter, we look for big things from him this year,” Coach Andre said.
The boys came close to qualifying for the state finals as a group in 2017.
“Last year we placed fourth in the region. We’re hoping to up that this year,” Coach Andre said.
“We’ve got some fresh faces new to cross country this year. Exciting to see what they can do,” Coach Andre said.
“Overall team goals, improve every week. We still have a fairly young team, so keep building for the future,” Coach Andre said.
Before the start of official practice sessions, the cross country runners worked on their conditioning over the summer.
“We did twice a week conditioning, Tuesday and Thursday running. We had good participation. All of our leaders were at that,” Coach Andre said.
The squad also had its preseason team camp this week. It’s an event that helps the runners get in shape and build team unity. It includes running, kayaking, fishing, camping.
“I take them out to some of the hidden lakes. Three-day team bonding. We run two or three times a day, have a lot of fun. Kayak, swim. It gives us a couple days to meet new teammates,” Coach Andre said.
Coach Andre said the first official practice sessions of the year – the squad conducts its practice running at Hanson Hills Recreation Area – have gone well.
“It’s been really good. The kids all seem to be in a good mindset,” Coach Andre said. “Great turnout. Hopefully once school starts we’ll be able to add a couple more athletes.”
Cross country meets are competitions, but there is also a camaraderie between the runners, coaches, and fans of all of the participating teams. Coaches and runners say the atmosphere of the sport and the meets makes it a fun activity.
“With cross country, the whole sport itself is everyone is all one big family. The crowds, everyone cheers to the end. Everybody has to run the 5K; if you finish with a fast time, even better. It really is a relaxed atmosphere. The kids, coaches have fun while being competitive at the same time,” Coach Andre said.
“No matter what place you’re in, everybody cheers for you,” Anderson said.
Katelyn Moore, a returning runner from last year’s cross country squad, said she likes the meets that have a lot of athletes, because earning a medal at one of those is more of an accomplishment, and it’s more fun with more people.
“The crazier the better,” Moore said. “It makes you get out there and go faster.”
The cross country team will compete in the Houghton Lake Invitational on Monday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. On Saturday, Aug. 25, the Vikings will compete in the Mancelona Invitational.
“We should have a great season. We’re excited. The kids all have great attitudes,” Coach Andre said.