Otsego’s Alex Comerford (right) and Coldwater’s Shuaib Aljabaly battled in the Division 2 boys’ race at the Bulldog Invitational from start to finish. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Otsego’s Comerford puts on show at Bulldog Invitational

Jason Wesseldyk

Otsego junior Alex Comerford finished the Division 2 race at the Bulldog Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 30, in a time of 14:55.7. That was, according to Milesplit.com, good enough to give Comerford the 13th fastest time in the nation this season.
It was not, however, quite good enough to win the race.
Coldwater’s Shuaib Aljabaly crossed the finish line in 14:53.6—the ninth fastest time in the nation—to edge out Comerford.
It was unlike anything Otsego coach Steve Long had ever seen before.
“This was the best show in town, the state and maybe nationally,” Long said.
And while they weren’t able to break the 15:00 barrier, a pair of Comerford’s teammates joined him in finishing under 16:00 to take the third and fourth spots: senior Will Finch was third at 15:41, while sophomore Hunter Zartman was fourth at 15:55).
“I’ve never had three boys under 16:00 on the same day before,” Long said. “Alex, Will and Hunter are a rare breed. They are so incredibly dedicated, not just to their sport, not just to pursuing excellence, but also to making each other better. It’s pretty awesome to watch them practice each day and race twice a week.
“Al and Will are the two fastest boys I’ve coached. Hunter is the fifth fastest. To have those boys on the same team is fun.”
As a team, the Bulldogs had the best finish of the five Allegan County teams, placing fifth with 152 points. Allegan (196 points) was eighth, Hamilton (258) was 11th, Plainwell (277) was 12th and Wayland (425) was 15th.
Hamilton’s Luke Koopman placed fifth at 15:55, while Allegan’s Blane Johnson also made the top 20 with his time of 16:44 put him 17th. Daniel Hopson (36th at 17:27) had the best showing for Plainwell, while Elijah Gamelin (73rd at 18:30) posted Wayland’s best time.
On the girls’ side, Otsego took runner-up honors behind Grand Rapids Christian. The Bulldogs finished with 96 points, compared to 66 for G.R. Christian.
Wayland was fifth with 155 points, Plainwell was eight with 209 points, Hamilton was ninth with 224 points, Otsego’s “B” team was 11th with 298 points and Allegan was 16th with 462 points.
Senior Madelyn Marciniak (third at 18:52) and junior Sydney Kubiak (fourth at 18:53) led the way for Otsego, both setting personal records. Senior Gracie VerHage ran a season-best 19:34 to place 14th.
“The girls’ race was also pretty fantastic,” Long said. “How many good things can I say about this group of girls? All of them. They’re dedicated. They’re hard working. They’re committed. They’re intense. They have great attitudes. And they love each other. They’re living the Otsego cross country tradition.”
Plainwell’s Makenna Veen led the individual honors, winning the race with a time of 18:03. That was 44 seconds faster than runner-up Molly Thompson of Paw Paw.
Wayland’s Rylee Cronkright (fifth at 19:04) and Maggie Whitney (seventh at 19:15) also cracked the top 10, while teammate Mie Tornbjerg placed 23rd at 20:03. Audrey Freyhof placed 27th for Hamilton at 20:09 and Sasha Mills placed 80th at 22:11 to lead Allegan.
All in all, Long said it was a great day of cross country.
“I judge how things went based on the number of smiles I see all day and I saw a lot of smiles,” he said. “So I think the Otsego put on an incredible event. Our volunteers are amazing. The community support is fantastic. What a really fun day.”


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