Heading to their first National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII Championship for what is believed to be the first time, head coach Leanne Barnell’s men’s and women’s cross country teams are in for a memorable experience.
The Vikings struggled to maintain depth this season, but the ones that stuck around impressed Barnell with their work ethic despite not making much noise during the regular season compared to their Michigan junior college competition.
That’s why Barnell, in her third year at the helm, lobbied to get the funds from the school needed to send the squads to the meet Saturday at Grand Woods Park in Lansing.
“I just want them to go for the experience,” Barnell said. “This is the first time we’ve ever gone to regionals and they’re just ecstatic. They have worked their tails off this season. To me, they deserved it. I just want them to go and leave it all out on the course and have the experience of being at a regional at the college level.
“They earned it. Do I think we’ll place? Sadly, probably not, but it’s all about the experience for them right now. They’re excited, I’m excited and they’ve been a phenomenal team this year.”
Freshman Sandra Bellaire, who hails from Shipshewana (Ind.), has led the women this season and has posted a time of 29 minutes and 52 seconds (6,000 meters).
Colon’s Geno Harvey (sophomore) recently broke 30 minutes in the 8,000 meters (29:52) for a personal record.
“I am very excited about regionals,” Harvey said. “We worked hard all year and it is finally going to pay off. We can all say we were the first team to make it to regionals for Glen Oaks. That is very special to me and the other members on our team.
This season has been everything I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve come in first on our team every race, which is something I didn’t do last year.”
Harvey has a high-ankle sprain but is hopeful he’ll be able to fight through the pain this weekend if doctors allow him to compete.
“I hope I am well enough to compete at regionals,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, the goal was just to run and have fun doing it. But after the first meet, we had four boys, including myself, run way faster than we ever have. Ever since we’ve been striving to get to regionals and we’ve made it. I can’t wait to share the joy and the atmosphere that is Regionals, with my team this Saturday.”
He’s joined by K.J. Vaughn (Sturgis), Arron Balizet (Colon), Kyle First (Three Rivers), Zack Blair (Colon) and Kevin Khim (Three Rivers).
The women’s team is down to just three runners and will not be able to produce a group score Saturday. However, Bellaire, Centreville’s Heidi Avery and Hannah Mayuiers are equally thrilled with the opportunity
“I would say that this season has actually been my favorite season of cross country that I have ever done including high school,” Avery said. “My teammates have become like a second family to me and my coach has become like a second mom to me. I know I can go to her for anything. I think the biggest thing that I am going to be taking out of this experience at competing at a college level is that it is important to have fun but it’s also important that you always give your 110-percent effort and to be there for your teammates.
“Our team goal this year was to make it to regionals and we did it.”