Heritage, Saginaw County foes provide significant competition to quality Hemlock cross country team
Provided by Saginaw News
If the Tri-Valley Central didn’t prepare the Hemlock boys cross country team for the big races at the end of the season, nothing will.
The TVC Central champion Huskies are one of three state-ranked teams in the conference. Chesaning is ranked No. 4 in the coaches Division 3 poll while Hemlock is ranked fifth and Shepherd eighth. Shepherd nipped Hemlock and Chesaning by one point to win the overall Tri-Valley Conference Meet on Tuesday.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep the kids positive when you finish second at a league jamboree,” said Hemlock coach George Drown, who is in his fifth season as head coach at his alma mater. “You constantly have to pick the kids up because it’s hard to stay positive when the races are so close.
“I tell them the other ranked teams in the state have the luxury of going to their league meets and blowing teams out of the water. We have to be on our ‘A-game’ every meet. In the long run, that’s going to give us an edge.”
Saturday is another big stepping stone as the Huskies prepare for regionals and a run to the state meet. With seven seniors, the Huskies travel to the Saginaw County Invitational at 9 a.m. Saturday at Imerman Park.
Tough competition awaits.
“Heritage has a good chance to pull a one through seven sweep on the top spots,” Drown said. “Hopefully one of my guys can break it up.”
If one of Drown’s runners break into that top seven, expect the rest of the Huskies pack to follow.
Seniors Jamie Keck, Chris Berger, Evan Oldenburg, Chance Lisik all finished in the top 30 at the TVC Meet. Hemlock’s strength lies in its depth.
“Everybody realized early on that individually, they are average,” Drown said. “But together, they make a good team. Our No. 6 guy is running well and while we don’t have that No. 1 killer, our one through six is a really tight pack.”
Berger is an emotional leader for the boys team that boasts 16 runners. The senior is in his third season on the team and has never finished the year healthy. This year is no different.
"He has tendinitis in the hip and it won’t get better, but it shouldn’t get much worse,” Drown said. “He has good and bad days, but he competes hard. Whatever the watch says doesn’t say anything about him. He’s the reason we’ve do as well as we have.
“We he can’t gut it out and run through the pain, the boys don’t finish as high. You never know what kind of time you’ll get, from 16:52 this last week to 18:10 three weeks ago. But if he doesn’t run in that pack, we don’t do that well.”
Hemlock competes at the Division 3 regional at Delta College on Saturday, Oct. 29. The Huskies will have tough competition there with Clare, the No. 7 ranked team in the state.
“That will be a close one,” Drown said. “We’ve been narrowing the gap on them every week. They were about a 12 point favorite to win and now it’s down to a point.
“The boys No. 1 goal was to win the TVC Central and we did. No. 2 goal is regionals and then a top five finish at the state finals. We’re sticking with those goals.”
Drown has his own goals of maintaining Hemlock as a cross country powerhouse. He took over for his longtime coach BIll Agresta in 2007. His wife, Mallory Drown, has good participation with the middle school program.
“They’ve resurrected the middle school program and my wife has 38 kids over there,” Drown said. “At the Tri-Valley Meet with 23 other schools, she had two boys finish one-two overall.
“That makes me feel good about the future, especially after losing seven solid seniors this year."
41st annual Saginaw County Cross Country Meet
When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday (10:30 a.m. - Girls varsity race; 11 a.m. - Boys varsity race; Noon - awards).
Where: Saginaw Township’s Imerman Park
Contenders: The Heritage boys team is expected to win its fifth-straight County meet while the Heritage girls are favorites for their fourth-straight title. Evan Chiplock leads a strong lineup for the Hawks and is expected to repeat as the individual champion. Valley Lutheran’s Bethany Rogers is a frontrunner for the girls individual title.