The Fenton XC boys team knew they would have their hands full at their MHSAA Regional Championship Saturday at Hess Hathaway Park in Waterford. With a field including the defending D1 State Champion White Lake Lakeland, perennial top-ten program and 5-time state champion Milford, as well as a host of other traditional XC powers, a top 3 place and a resultant trip to the D1 State Meet would never a guarantee. In fact, it would take a near season-best performance from each Fenton runner to secure the third and final spot on the podium of state qualifiers. Fenton’s harriers did just that, finishing with 92 points, behind White Lake Lakeland’s 41 and Milford’s 87, and managing to out-pip a strong Walled Lake Central team’s score of 101 in the process.
The Tigers XC runners managed their performance with strong back-halves of their races. Taking advantage of a tough course that saw mile splits slow down over the duration of the course, each member of the squad improved their positions to various degrees over the second half of the race, whittling a score of 148 near midway in the proceedings down to their final mark of 92.
The Tigers were led by Sophomore Adam Jesse, as they have been all season. Jesse had a breakthrough performance, moving up from the 15th position at about 2300 meters in to a strangle-hold on the 4th spot by 3600 meters, which he would hold onto over the remainder of the race. His time of 16:23 marked an 8-second improvement over his previous best, an impressive feat given the sometimes drastically undulating nature of the course at Hess Hathaway. Jesse was followed into the chute by Senior Sam Deardorff, who picked off 11 runners over the 2nd half of his 16:48 effort to finish 16th place for the Tigers. Senior Mitch Chabot was next over the line for Fenton, running a solid 17:02 to nab the 20th spot, an 8 place improvement from his position at the halfway mark. The final two scoring spots were claimed in a couple of clutch performances from FXC veterans – Senior Peter Kennings ran just 4 seconds off his lifetime-best to finish 25th in 17:08, picking off a whopping 19 runners over the last 2700 meters of his race. Junior Nolan Day secured the last scoring spot for the Tigers with a 27th place effort in a time of 17:09, moving up 7 places from the half-way mark himself.
The Fenton XC squad has leaned on impressive depth all season long, and that did not change on Saturday. Both the Tigers’ 6 and 7 runners managed to cross before 4th place Walled Lake Central’s 5th runner, displacing their score further and furthering the Tigers’ eventual margin in the final podium spot. Sophomores Logan Canada and Ben Sheffield ran the efforts in their first MHSAA Post-season XC competition, with solid showings of 33rd place in 17:21, and 39th place in 17:33, respectively.
Fenton now will look forward to their 2nd trip to Michigan International Speedway for the Division 1 state-meet in their history, and their 2nd in the last 3 years. The squad has now qualified for the final meet 9 times, following a streak of 7 straight at the D2 level between 2002-2008. The D1 race Saturday, with a 3:30 start time, is easily the deepest prep cross country race in the state’s fall season. The Tigers are unranked in the final polls, which names 20 of the 27 teams entered in the race, but will look to replicate their 2015 success in which a 13th-ranked Tigers squad outperformed the pundits’ prognostications with a solid 9th place showing in the state.