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Birmingham Seaholm mixes it up with Northville at the Bloomfield/Rice meet.

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GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW: Birmingham Seaholm still the team to beat

Milford, Waterford Mott, Lake Orion among other top teams

Milford's girls hope to make a run at some titles.

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The bubbly, upbeat and happy-go-lucky Maples from Birmingham Seaholm finished the season not only with the Division 1 state championship, but with an unofficial ranking as the top cross country team in the nation after toppling mighty Grosse Pointe South at the state finals last season. Fashionable burgundy hoodies, complete with the team roster on the back and a white maple leaf emblazoned with the No. 1-ranking and state champs on the front, were made and distributed to Maples nation and beyond, as everyone basked in their glory.

However, this is a new season, and the targets on their backs get larger with every outing. The Maples have already been stunned by Northville twice this season. But the season is still young as the Maples circle their wagons in defense of OAA Red, Oakland County, regional and state titles.

Click here for Marvin Goodwin's Top-40 individual runners in Oakland County.


The Maples had so much fun winning the Division 1 state title last year that they’d like to do it again this year. But they’ll have to do it with a different dynamic and against stiff competition. Gone are the Wilberding triplets, Tess, Mallory and Aubrey, the core of a surge in the Maples’ program the past few years. Still, Seaholm has girls with plenty of big-meet experience, including Marissa Dobry, Danielle Bentzley, Rachel DaDamio, Patty Girardot and Julia Demko. Bentzley is the only senior among the group. That’s the supporting cast of starters behind front-runner Audrey Belf, a junior who has already smashed the 5K school record and is poised for a breakout season. “She’s really focused on what she’s doing right now,” said coach Jeff Devantier. “I like what I see from her so far ... still very coachable.”

The Maples’ main challenge might have been complacency until Northville surprised them in recent weeks. Other big meet opponents such as Saline, Grosse Pointe South and Traverse City Central are all waiting for their chance at Seaholm. All are capable state title contenders.


Last season Milford was on the cusp of contending for championships, finishing second in the KLAA West Division, third in the Lakes Conference, second at regional and third at Oakland County. Provided the Mavs stay healthy, even better results can be expected this season. “With all seven of our state finalists returning, we are excited about the 2013 season,” Milford coach Brian Salyers said.

Indeed, senior Rachel Barrett was injured last fall and had a modest performance at the state finals. But she ran 4:54.58 in the 1,600 during track season in earning all-state honors and looks to return to the all-state form she demonstrated as a sophomore. Seniors Alyssa Byndas and Lina Erlingis will also contribute, along with Eve Hemingway and Madison Paquette. Gabrielle Byndas and Brenna Lovera give the Mavs experience at the state level and an outlook which could net more rewards. “The girls are recognizing the slight differences between good and great and doing everything in their powers to bridge the gap,” Salyers said.


The Corsairs continue to be a factor in the KLAA North every season despite graduation losses. Coach Amy Coughlin will have about 20 girls out for the team with a few returnees, including seniors Sarah Hale and Savannah Schaeffer, and junior Bailie Strong, leading the pack. “They’re in charge, it’s their year,” said Coughlin of the group, who led the Corsairs to a third-place finish at the recent Grizzly Open. But the roster includes a few freshmen who could make an immediate impact. “We’ll have a little help, a few surprises (and) a few tricks up our sleeves,” said Coughlin, ready to race with the area’s best teams.


The Colts have a healthy number of athletes (around 50) and a strong tradition of distance running, which should give keep them in the upper echelon of the OAA Red. Abby Green, who won the Grizzly Invitational, and Lauren Miller form a solid 1-2 punch with help from Rachel Loken and Angela Krokos, both seniors. Junior Cait Ferber and sophomore Riley McAvoy are also in the varsity lineup while senior Jessica Moore, along with a half-dozen other girls, are fighting for the final positions. “I think we can still be in the mix for top five in the county,” veteran coach Matt Richardson said, “but we will need to tighten up our pack for that to happen. We shall see.”


Clarkston hopes to be among the better teams in the OAA Red and make a return trip to the state meet where the Wolves finished 14th. More than 30 girls are on the squad, among them Lynsie Gram, Nicole Hanson and Sage Beauregard, all with state meet experience. Hanson won the Hanson Invitational in Sterling Heights last season and is one of the area’s promising sophomores. But the Wolves will also have help in Hellen Jeffers, Alex Gladding, Morgan Martin, and another pair of sophomores, Kaitlyn Cavallo and Kelsey Catania. “I think I have a good front group,” said Clarkston coach Kevin Breen, who’ll have competition among his squad for the lower positions, too.


The Dragons may be a work in progress until the fruits of their labor begin to show. Until then, nearly 60 girls make up a large squad willing to work while paying their distance running dues. “I know our speed is going to come,” Dragons coach Debbie McDonald said. “We have to be a little patient.”

Meanwhile, an able crew of veterans will carry the load with Danielle Carr, Erin Womack and Madz Ham, all juniors, among the starters. Seniors Casey Stribbell and Anna Dietz have experience, and sophomore Emily Fluent will also help. Lake Orion’s numbers should work in its favor. “We have a lot of depth,” McDonald said. “I can fill a spot without sacrificing any time.”


The Wildcats may be small in numbers — only 12 girls are on the roster — but they’ll pack a wallop with what they’ve got. “We have seven girls who’ll all be under 21 minutes,” said coach Matt Johnson.

Among those are Hannah Long, Jenna Feeney, Sabrina Smith, Christiana Bruce and Rieley Squarcia. All are either sophomores or juniors as the Wildcats work on a youth movement to propel them upward. “We’re just trying to build the team,” said Johnson, whose squad already notched a victory at the Rice/West Bloomfield Division II race.


While there is no Andover and Lahser squads, there is a brand spanking new Bloomfield Hills team, comprised of forces from the old schools. The new BlackHawks opened their cross country season with a bang by capturing the Corunna Invitational.

“We have 49 girls on the roster right now, a really big team,” said coach Nick Stration. “Every year we go to cross country camp and this year we did it early in the season which really helped to create the team camaraderie that we needed. (And) when you win an invitational, it always helps.”

Indeed, Mackenzie Gammons, Christina Arens and Sam Babineau, a few holdovers from the old regimes, will be captains of a squad which will be a factor in the OAA White. Elizabeth Jenkins, Tara Knauber, Giovanna Leone and Saskia Charles will also contribute to a squad intent on making an impact on the distance running scene.


With an experienced group of starters returning, the Knights can expect to compete for the KLAA North division title. But they want more. Northern was one place from qualifying for state last season and the Knights aim to fix that this year. Darcy Kimberlin leads a solid five which includes Holly Mattson, Brittney Kettinger and Alyse Dietz, along with Kennedy Wood. If the Knights tighten their pack, and if newcomers can contribute, they could be a factor among the leading teams.


The Falcons will feature a mixture of youth and experience in a season that looks promising. Senior Jessica Goethals is a returning all-stater who has improved each season, and senior Kelly Harlan and junior Allison Skelcy also have experience. A pair of freshmen, Madison Payne and Lauren Kaliskewski, and sophomore Emily Kowalczyk will also help. “We’re going t be better later,” said coach Larry Adams, confident of he Falcons’ training regimen.



Another big squad greets coach Jed Kramer, who may spend much of the early season teaching the intracacies of cross country running to the newcomers. “We have a pack of girls who are working pretty hard,” Kramer said, “(but) some are still trying to figure out how to race.” When they do, the Cougars could be a factor with the depth of some 60 runners brings. Until then, senior Nicole Kowalchick will bring experience to the group.


While the Highlanders won’t be starting from scratch, it may feel like it with their heavy graduation losses. Four girls from last year’s top seven, including a pair of all-staters now at major colleges, are gone and longtime coach Budd Cicciarelli has moved on. “To say its a new season is an understatement,” Adams coach Eric Lohr said. Even so, the Highlanders have tradition and will forge on with a squad of some 46 girls, including Caroline Kletzien, who ran on last season’s state runnerup 3,200 relay, leading the way. Meghan Santella, Lauren Lowes and Mackenzie Ginste will also contribute along with first-year juniors Maddie Walsh and Andrea Cicatello. Freshman Jenna John may be the team’s big surprise.


While some late arrivals of a squad of some 26 girls could mean a few weeks of development for the Eagles, they still return a nucleus of runners who’ll keep them competitive in the KLAA North despite the loss of some senior leadership from last season.

Sophomore Miranda Reinhart could be the team’s leading runner but seniors Nicole Clover, Rachel Goldman and Jamie Guckian will also be solid contributors, along with junior Kara Cotter.

Lakeland was 3-2 in the division and placed fifth out of the 12 teams in the Lakes Conference championship last season, a respectable showing for a conference deep in distance running, as well as fifth in regionals. “We hope to move up in the standings this year,” said veteran coach John Kababik.


Royal Oak’s girls are up in the OAA White, where things could get a bit more complicated. But veteran coach Clyde Ewell, a math teacher by trade, will try to reduce matters to the lowest common denominator, which translates to just plain running hard. Lauren Bos and Bridgett Vial should be major contributors along with Maddie Bolton and Lauren McMahon among a squad of some 16 girls. “We seem to be ... stronger than last year,” said Ewell. “I’m looking forward to a decent season and improving.”


With T-shirts proclaiming “Red Alert” on the front and “Hawksnest” on the back which were debuted at the Red Hawk Invitational, Troy Athens’ girls hope to inject some spirit into the program. Junior Claire Nord is the team’s top runner and senior Esther Yan could also help. The roster is filled with rookies, but with some 25 girls on the squad, coach Mike Stallsmith is hoping to find other contributors.


The junior-heavy Bears, third in the OAA Blue last season, return six of its top seven runners, which means an instant improvement on paper. That means a title draught — Berkley last won a league title in 1992 — could be a thing of the past. But the races have to be run and the Bears have the personnel to match their potential. Nicole Johns has shaved chunks of time off her bests the last two seasons. “She’s our leader and our workhorse,” said coach Jared Percell. “She’s ready to go out with her best shot in her final cross country season.”

Anna Ricci could challenge Johns for the the team’s top spot, and Megan Kossak and Maya Riddle could also contribute, although Riddle had an injury setback which could leave her off the course until October. Freshman Aniela Crayton has potential to contribute immediately and junior Kylie Krowlikowski, a rookie, could also be a factor.

Kandis Fox and Megan Mulheron will also help, along with Audrey Pittman and Marla Krasnick, both four-year runners.


Royal Oak Shrine’s girls have won the last five regional titles and a sixth isn’t out of the question. Five of the top seven return from a squad which won the Catholic League C-D title. “Our girls are pretty deep and they do tend to run as a pack,” said coach Wright Wilson.

Only 12 girls are on the squad but they pack a wallop, with Grace Nagle and Clare Romano leading the pack. Madlyne Luddy and Gabby Schmidt, both juniors, will also contribute, as will Betelhem Ashame and Teresa Wiencko, both seniors.


Coach Jeff Lewis has gone to greener pastures, leaving the Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes cross country reins to coach David Hankey. Only six girls are on the team but a few will be immediately known. Tessa Fornari, runnerup at the Grizzly Invitational, placed third at the Division 4 state meet last year and is poised for more honors. Freshman Olivia Bennett will also contribute. “I’m still trying to get a feel of what coach Lewis left me with,” said Hankey.


The Irish’s eyes could be smiling this season under new coach T.J. Kulick. “Our scoring top five is back so that’s exciting,” said Kulick, who lost only one girl from the top sieve. Lauren McGrath and Jamie Hanson will be big contributors, along with Erika Weist, who’ll also play soccer. All competed at the state meet last year and all wouldn’t mind a return trip. “We’re expecting big things trying to go back,” Kulick said.


Victories have been hard to come by for the Captains in the past but things are looking up after a recent dual meet victory over Walled Lake Western. “It was pretty exciting,” said coach Patty Cascioli, who hopes more are in the future. But there will be inexperience in the mix. Although senior Bailey Liedel leads the gropu, the rest are underclassmen, including juniors Mallory Berch, Madison Coster and Kasia Wroby, freshmen Jaden Liedel and Alyssa Collins, and sophomore Rachel Collins. “We have a young team,” Cascioli said. “We’re just hoping to keep building.”


Novi won’t be exactly starting from scratch but the Wildcats will have some growing pains. “We’re going to be relying a lot on a lot of freshmen,” said coach Marsha Reid, “but they’re competitive.”

Junior Hannah Lonergan will provide experience along with seniors Victoria Cortez, Karrisa Koomen and Kari Grandstaff. The youth movement include Grace Backus, Hadley Peterson and Jacalyn Schubring, all freshmen. “They should make an impact,” said Reid, delighted that with 40 runners out for the team, there could be some diamonds in the rough.


Coach Chip Bridges has at least two solid runners in Jennifer Rogers and Maddy Trevison, both top 10 finishers at the Spartan Invitational Green Division race. He’ll depend upon Jessica Maddox and Hannah Pierce to close the gap with support from Celia Haueter, Jessica Moilanen and Rebecca Lindow.


Holly hopes to use its effort at the Holly Invitational to catapult itself the rest of the season. “We missed a trophy by 10 points,” Holly coach Matt Weisdorfer said, “(but) we’re just getting better every week.”

Seniors Alex Matvchuk and Olivia Allmen have experience, along with Abby Brown, and sophomores Courtney Kettle and Maggie Schneider will lead the youth movement on a squad of about 14 girls.


Junior Meredes Howie might be the team’s top runner but she’ll need help from others, including senior Cassie Downey, juniors Jillian Pelzer, Kylie Hoef and Megan Varcie, and freshman Jeannee Hill, who could contribute immediately.


The Blackhawks will be competitive with a young group a part of its contributors. Sophomores Hannah and Haley Lapanowski show promise and Scout Croswell, another sophomore, will also help. But junior veterans Paige Arney and Monica Pittiglio will be the front runners for the Blackhawks.


The Mustangs have already proven that they’re the real deal for the cross country season. At the West Bloomfield/ Brother Rice Invitational, and at the highly-competitive Spartan Invitational, Northville took first, beating defending state champ Birmingham Seaholm along the way.

“We are deep at full strength,” said Northville coach Nancy Smith. Indeed, she had seven runners under 20 minutes at Friday’s Spartan Invitational. But her two front runners, Rachel Coleman and Lexa Barrott, give the Mustangs a strong 1-2 punch in the front. Taleen Sharigian and Erin Zimmer are strong in the middle and Emma Herrman, Nicole Mosteller and Alison Robinson are sufficient on the back end of the lineup.

Northville should rule the KLAA Kensington Conference, with only minor resistance as the Mustangs plot their course to the state finals.

Last Updated: 9/15/2013 4:54:46 AM EST

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