Compared to almost any program in the state, the Saline boys cross country team is elite, but it’s often considered Frank Butler to the Annie Oakley that is the girls team. That’s fine by boys coach Carl Spina, who says the “Anything you can do I can do better,” competition between the teams is helpful.
“There is a definite bit of brotherly and sisterly competition there,” Spina said. “It’s healthy. It’s fun. The boys want to match the girls and the girls want to match boys.”
At Saturday’s regional, the teams had tongue-in-cheek bets about which team would score fewer points. The cocksure boys team offered to give the girls points. The girls team refused, and proceeded to place 1-2-3-4-5 in the race.
While the teams enjoy competing with each other, they are also each other’s biggest supporters. The camaraderie between them is a reflection of the mutual respect between Spina and girls coach Mike Smith.
“A lot of the kids are pretty close. With numbers what they are, that’s a good thing,” said Smith, who coached both teams from 1977-93.
Both Spina and Smith said it would be dream come true if the teams could sweep the Division 1 state championships at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. It would be the first time in Division 1 since Rockford did so in 2002 and just the fourth time ever in Division 1/Class A.
Saline's boys team has never won a state title, but has finished second three times. The girls team won its first-ever championship in 2009.
“It’d be pretty neat for our programs, for our school,” Spina said.
The boys team is an experienced group with four runners from last year’s fifth place team, including top seniors Nick Renberg and Spencer Bishop, who finished seventh and 48th respectively.
It was a pair of experienced seniors that helped the girls win its first ever state championship in 2009, when Alex Leptich (a four-time medalist) and Kate Carter (a three-time medalist) placed fifth and tenth, respectively.
If the girls win this time around it will be with a younger crew. The top three runners for Saline have run in just one state meet between them.
Smith is fine with that.
“Lack of experience at the state meet is sometimes a curse, but it’s also sometimes a blessing,” Smith said. “Not knowing what’s out there isn’t always bad.”
“That would be great. We’ve been dancing around that for a few years,” Smith said.
MHSAA CROSS COUNTRY STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
The MHSAA cross country state championships will take place this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and, as usual, Washtenaw County will be well represented. Ten teams and seven individual qualifiers will be competing.
Following is a breakdown of who to watch from the area:
DIVISION 1 BOYS
Qualifying teams (regional place): Dexter (1st), Saline (1st), Pioneer (2nd).
Regional medalists/individual qualifiers (School, regional place): Nick Renberg (Saline, 1st), Spencer Bishop (Saline, 3rd), Logan Wetzel (Saline, 6th), Anthony Lamus (Saline, 9th), Costa Willets (Pioneer, 2nd), Galen Burrell (Pioneer, 3rd), Jacob Higle-Ralbovsky (Huron, 4th), Matt Greve (Dexter, 6th), Eddie Codrington (Pioneer, 7th), Taylor Neely (Dexter, 8th), Joe Wendorf (Dexter, 14th).
Returning state medalists (place): Renberg (7th), Neely (11th), Vermeulen (15th).
Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Ronnie Milbocker (Whitmore Lake, 3rd), Matt Kemner (Manchester, 12th).
Returning state medalists: None.
Qualifying team: Father Gabriel Richard (1st).
Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Alia Benedict (Manchester, 3rd), Andrea Bodary (Father Gabriel Richard, 4th), Lucy Bratton (Father Gabriel Richard, 10th), Nina Sapienza (Father Gabriel Richard, 11th).