Otsego coach Steve Long (back, far left) and his team made it to the podium at the state finals for the first time thanks to their runner-up showing at the Division 2 girls’ race.

Otsego posts best-ever second-place finish at state

Jason Wesseldyk

Qualifying for the state finals is nothing new for the Otsego girls’ cross country team, having done so seven of the past 10 years.
Making it to the podium as one of the top two teams in the state? That was new.
The Bulldogs finished with 145 points to take runner-up honors behind Grand Rapids Christian (87) and make their first appearance on the podium at the Saturday, Nov. 1, race.
Otsego was third at the finals last season, ending up nine points out of second.
“Taking second place capped off an amazing season for the girls,” Otsego coach Steve Long said. “It means we’re doing the right things. I think it means the kids are buying in to what we’re trying to do and hopefully, in the end, they’re learning a lot about themselves and what it takes to be successful.”
In taking the runner-up spot, the Bulldogs finished ahead of DeWitt (156 points) and a St. Joseph squad (186) that had edged out Otsego for a regional championship a week earlier.
“Finishing runners-up to St. Joe at regionals was tough, but it also gave us a little confidence,” Long said. “We knew a couple of our girls had off days and if we could all put a good race together at state, we were going to be happy with the results.
“Part of the conversation for us is controlling what we can control. We call it ACI—attitude, commitment and intensity. What these kids hopefully learn is that if they show up to practice with a good attitude, a commitment to success and an intensity to work hard, anything is possible.”
No Bulldog runner better exemplified that ACI mindset than sophomore Megan Aalberts.
Running in eighth place entering the final mile, Aalberts passed four runners—including Hamilton’s Erika Freyhof—to finish fourth overall and third among team runners with an 18:34.
It was her second straight All-State performance.
Fellow sophomore Erica Drobny was next at 19:27 (37th overall, 27th among team runners), followed by freshman Maddie Marciniak  at 19:34 (31st, 44th), freshman Gracie VerHage at 19:38 (33rd, 48th) and sophomore Sophia Hirzel  at 19:57 (51st, 72nd).
“Megan led the way with another All-State performance and after battling injuries the last couple weeks, Erica came up huge, just missing All-State for a second straight year.
“Maddie and Gracie have been amazing all season. Those two have come so far this season. It’s amazing. And Sophie got out to a slow start, but really battled back in the second and third mile to break 20 minutes. Her third mile was impressive. That was a difference maker.”

For full story, pick up a copy of the November 6 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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