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Playmakers Spartan Invitational

Friday, Sept. 14, 2007 Forest Akers Golf Course, East Lansing MI

coverage by SteveU, Pat Davey

MW#1 Pinckney Boys Stay on Top; Rochester Girls Power Ahead

SteveU Story Starts Here - All Photos by Davey, runmichigan.com - FULL RESULTS HERE


  • MW#1 Pinckney MI survived a few off races and with 104 points topped MW#3 Fremont MI (124), honorable mention Saline MI (127), and MW#5 Williamston (160) to win the elite division. Pinckney and Fremont were even through four runners, but the 20-point margin was forged by Pinckney's #5 Matt Brunner.
  • The top individual boys performance of the day, however, came from Ovid-Elsie's Maverick Darling in the White race, as he blazed a solo 15:16, going out in 4:40 and 9:32
  • Fremont was led in the elite race by individual winner James Lanciaux, whose 15:37 was the 2nd-best time of the day.
  • With top returning runner Tiffany Abrahamian getting back in action, Rochester rose up and won a tight battle in the elite race with 164 points. Soph Megan Goethals led the team in 7th (18:30), while 10:40 3200 runner Abrahamian was 12th (18:45) in her first race back from injury
  • Rockford sr Katie Haines was the best runner overall, her 18:04 pulling away from Grand Ledge's Jennifer Snelgrove (18:20) in the second half.
  • Finishing well back in the deep, tight field were MW#7 Livonia Churchill (8th) and MW#8 Rochester Adams (9th), suggesting that the Michigan and MW rankings will be turned upside down this coming week.

Among the day's individual champions were (from left) White race winner Maverick Darling of Ovid-Elsie (15:16), Elite race winner Katie Haines of Rockford (18:04), Elite race winner James Lanciaux of Fremont (15:37), and Green race winner Erin Lafave of Lahser (18:54).

By SteveU

Form held just about true in the boys team race at the Playmakers Spartan Invitational at Forest Akers Golf Course in East Lansing Friday, with three of the top five teams in the Midwest – #1 Pinckney MI, #3 Fremont MI, and #5 Williamston MI – finishing in their expected order.

In the girls Elite Division, however, the state girls scene was turned upside down.

Rochester MI, with standout Tiffany Abrahamian returning, surprised Midwest-ranked #7 Livonia Churchill MI and #8 Rochester Adams MI, leading many to believe it will be a wild race to the Michigan D1 girls title this year.

The top individual performance on the girls side came from Rockford senior Katie Haines, who pulled away in the 2nd half of the Elite race to win in 18:04. But the top boy ran in the White race, as Ovid-Elsie senior Maverick Darling pushed and led it wire-to-wire and finished in a superb 15:16.

More than 2,700 runners, including JVs and middle schoolers, competed at the event on an unseasonably cool day. Only a 15-20 mph wind challenged runners weather-wise, as the temps were ideal and the course was firm and fast (though definitely not short).

Pinckney Needs That Fifth

Pinckney's Brian Hankins
Last year, the vibe with the Pinckney Pirates was that they were a bit under-ranked. Their group now isn’t quite as fast, tight and dominating as that team was (at least so far), with David Emery and Brenden Marcum among the graduated, and the other top teams in the state are closing the gap. Yet the Pirates are ranked #1 in the Midwest and #6 in the nation.

The races in this meet were basically divided into divisions last year, along the lines of the schools’ normal classification, but schools were allowed to race up. Pinckney won the D1 race last year on a warmer day on a softer, wetter (slower) course, scoring an amazing 27 points. Novi was 2nd with 121, followed by D2 Fremont (210), D3 Williamston (262), and D1 Saline (269). Virtually the same cast was back for this year, sans Novi, and this time Pinckney’s top five was three seconds a man slower, but Fremont, Saline, and Williamston were all 40-55 seconds a man faster.

So it was that that Pinckney and Fremont were tied through four runners. With winner James Lanciaux (15:37) leading the way, the Packers went 1-14-16-27 to start, while the Brian Hankins-led Pirates were 6-11-18-23. But Matt Brunner’s 46th for the winners provided a 20-point margin, 104-124. Saline was at 127, while Williamston, with a great 1-2 punch of Matt Lutzke (2nd-15:44) and Dan Nix (4th-15:50) was at 160.

Lanciaux had been a little off the big lead pack at the mile, which was reached by a group that included Pinckney’s Hankins, Lanciaux’s teammate Mike Morgan, Williamston’s Lutzke, and Three Rivers senior Nathan Martin. By 1.5, though, Lanciaux had begun to take control, and had a solid lead through 2M (9:53), which he carried through to victory.

“I wanted to wait until the mile and see how the pace was going,” said Lanciaux. “It felt too slow, so I took off. I expected some guys to go with me, but they didn’t.”

As for Pinckney boys coach Tom Carney, after noting that senior Mike Katsefaras (23rd) had run despite being sick, said that the meet was “a good learning experience for the kids. They have to learn to depend on each other.

“Brian ran well and Matt had a really good race. In time, I think we’re going to be pretty good,” he added.

Maverick Rides Solo

From the opening gun, Ovid-Elsie’s 2-time D3 state champ Maverick Darling went out on his own, determined to put in a good performance. Obviously, he’s had to go solo many times before, but it was a little different today. Now Maverick’s a national class runner, with a 9:05 2-mile under his belt, and it was so painfully obvious that he belonged in the Elite race.

And actually, you would have thought he had company, the way he talked after the race – talking about how “we” went through the mile in 4:40 and the 2-mile in 9:32. But Maverick’s found a different way not to be alone out there. He takes his coach, Scott Sheedlo, and his teammates along with him.

“I may be the one out front, but it would be a lot tougher without their support,” he said.

Although it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to have much competition and he was just a few weeks coming back from missing two weeks with bad shin splints, Darling was determined to make it an all-out run. “I wanted to be the fastest guy out here and break my PR,” he said. “It was real hard. I was worried I could hold on. My best two-mile split before was 9:43. With half a mile left, I was like, ‘Why can’t I just stop?’”

Obviously, he didn’t. His winning margin was 1:03 over East Lansing sr Henry Frey (16:19). Frey had the satisfaction of leading his Trojans to the team title, while Ovid-Elsie was a solid 5th in the 15-team field.

Katie Haines and Jennifer Snelgrove lead the Elites midway
Haines ready for big senior year

The first Elite race, on the girls side, was a much different story. A huge pack of more than 10 moved through the mile just under 5:50, including Rochester soph Megan Goethals, Saline soph Alex Leptich, Rockford sr Katie Haines, and Grand Ledge soph Jennifer Snelgrove. But a half mile later, Haines had begun a gradual separation and Snelgrove had gone right with her. By two miles (11:32), Haines was beginning to pull away from Snelgrove.

When she crossed the finish line, the Rockford senior was 16 seconds in front, with her winning 18:04. The pack had closed on Snelgrove somewhat, but she held on 3 seconds ahead of third in 18:20.

It was happy vindication for Haines, who didn’t run as well as she wanted here last year (4th, 18:58) and felt she never really reached top fitness as a junior after having mono as a soph in track. “I felt horrible here last year,” she said. “(The mono) was still affecting me. Today, I was feeling awesome. I was feeling really, really good the first two miles, then even though I pushed it in the last mile, it was still controlled. I wanted it pretty bad today.’

Haines, in a way, is sort of the last connection to the “old guard” at Rockford. She was a freshman when Nikki Bohnsack was a senior; Bohnsack, in turn, was a young gun on the great teams with Kalin Toedebusch, Emily Blakeslee, and Linsey Blaisdell. The training and racing was grueling in those years under Brad Prins, and that era came to a controversial end. Second-year coach Ben Watson leads the new era and Haines is the team’s leader. “We’re mostly very young. I like being a senior and helping these young girls.”

Rochester's Tiffany Abrahamian
Rochester has all its pieces

Rochester had been beaten by Rochester Adams and Livonia Churchill – 1-2 in the state last year and both ranked in the Midwest – at Bloomfield Hills. But Rochester coach Larry Adams thought it could be a different story when he got his big gun back, and it was.

Tiffany Abrahamian came back to get 12th, creating a nice 1-2 punch with teammate Goethals (with the leaders early and ending up 7th), and the rest of the squad had enough depth to carry it through. They scored a high 146, but in the tight group of contenders, it was enough. Traverse City Central was an impressive and surprising 2nd at 154, followed by Brighton (168) and Saline (172). Both Churchill and Adams were off their games and saw some of their runners swallowed by the deep field, taking just 8th and 9th. What the meet said about the D1 team race in Michigan is that on a given day, any of at least 8 or 9 teams could win it.

“This is the first time this year we’ve been at full strength,” said Coach Adams. “Because of Tiffany’s late track season (she ran 10:40 2M at NON), she started late and then had sore shins during some of the summer.

“Our sophomore who was 7th (Goethals), we’ve just had her part-time in the past; this is her first full season,” he added. “She’s just getting better and better. We also have a junior (Mollie Pozolo, 24th in 19:18) who played basketball before, but with the season switch (MI girls basketball moved from fall to winter) she’s running with us.”

More top finishers

Another coming back from injury has been 2-time D2 state runner-up and Bloomfield Hills Lahser sr Erin LaFave. She took the Green race by 19 seconds in 18:54, leading Lahser to the team title with 146 points to Williamston’s 189. Goodrich took the White race, using a 3-4-5 finish en route to 37 points. DeWitt freshman Sarah Murdock was the winner in 19:46. The boys Green race went to Novi with 127 points and Utica Eisenhower sr Jon Rock in 16:05.

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