Emerson Green stopped mid-sentence several times to turn and cheer on every runner that rounded the corner before charging up another steep, sandy incline at Camp Fort Hill late last month. It was just a week before the start of the varsity cross country season, Green’s 18th at the helm.
“Keep rolling,” he shouted. “One more good one. That’s it.”
Juggling verbal encouragement while laying out the Trojans’ goals for what is shaping up to be a promising 2013 campaign, Green explained to JoeInsider.com that he might have the right personnel to transition from good to great.
That’s a little more realistic on the boys’ side, even after losing team MVP Steven Griffith to graduation. Everyone else, including senior Grant Brown and junior Terry Stahl, are back this year. Sophomore Shawn Bell has been the wild card so far this season, having turned in a sub-17-minute performance at last Saturday’s Centreville Invitational. His time of 16:55 was the third fastest of the day across all divisions and the best in the Class B underclassmen race.
Green’s squad finished 11th at the state finals in 2012, and a top-10 finish is on the checklist this fall. The first quest, however, is a Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference championship. The last time the Trojans took the top spot in the competitive league was 2010. They’ve been in the top three ever since.
“We start with league,” Green said. “They have an outside chance to even win it this year. St. Joe is returning the third-place team in the state, Gull Lake is returning the seventh-place in the state and we were 11th. The league is tough and most teams didn’t lose a whole lot.”
Brown will likely see a significant time drop in the very near future after turning in a personal-best 16:22 last season. By the end of the season he hopes to dip below 16 minutes. He won the upperclassmen race at Centreville in 17:13.
“I’ve worked a lot up to this point,” said Brown, who placed 57th at Michigan International Speedway in the Division 2 state meet in 2012. “I didn’t do the same exact number of miles [this summer] but I pretty much [trained] the same way. I started at the end of June logging miles and running six days a week. Towards the beginning of the summer I was at 20-30 miles [per week] and I just worked my way up to about 50 miles a week.
“I think this team has the potential to be SMAC champions and possibly top 10 in the state meet for our division. We need our juniors and sophomores … if they can step up we’re set. Our program keeps getting better and we keep progressing. We learned from our elders — the seniors that were on the team when we were freshmen. The ultimate goal is to break the school record (Keith Keyser, 15:36, 1981). But I’d like to break 16 minutes; that’s the first goal.”
For now, Stahl is simply happy to be healthy. He battled a stress fracture as a sophomore but still managed to turn in a 17:14. Stahl is optimistic that Sturgis’ top placers this year can all drop below 17 minutes by season’s end.
“This year everything is feeling great,” he said. “Right around the fourth meet my goal is to be in the 16s. I’ve had great training this summer and have done a lot of different exercises, band work, going on the track and doing workouts.”
Sturgis also returns varsity letterwinners in juniors David Polzin and Trever Sprowls, and sophomores Bell, Daniel Steele and Tory Stahl. Steele holds the program’s freshman record after running 16:39 at the state meet last season (64th place).
The biggest test of the season comes this weekend at the Holly Invitational, traditionally one of the most power-packed fields in the state.