Pilots heading to state finals

DETROIT, Mich. - As the times began rolling in during the open race Friday at Chandler Park Golf Course - site of the Division 1 cross-country regional - varsity runners from all the participating schools began licking their chops.

They were fast. Really fast.

De La Salle Collegiate, hungry from the start, ran a brilliant race from top to bottom, turning in personal-best times left and right, en route to a third-place finish - earning the team a trip to next weekend's state finals at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

"This is really exciting to see the boys' individual goals come to fruition, to see the team goals come to fruition, to see what the coaches believed all along," coach Sandy Buchanan said. "The course was so fast. The boys exceeded their own expectations."

Senior Zachary Jarski, and juniors Preston Earl and Andrew Renaud all packed together, running personal-best times just 1.2 seconds apart, and finishing 9th, 10th, and 12th place overall in the race to lead their team. 

"We had the three of them down at 17-flat, so the fact that they came out in the 16:30s range was huge," said Buchanan, who saw 31 of her 33 boys achieve personal-best times in the open and varsity races. "I saw them at the mile (point), with 800 to go and again in the last 100 and they were still picking people off and that was brilliant. That decision to run together and feed off of one another worked out perfectly."

It wasn't necessarily planned, however, according to Jarski, the first of the three to cross the finish line.

"We didn't plan for that," Jarski admitted. "Our plan was just to go out fast in that first mile and after that it was just all from the heart. Once we caught each other, we kept pushing each other to the finish line."

Jarski crossed first in a time of 16:27.3, good for ninth place. Early was shoulder to shoulder with Jarski and finished in 16:27.5. Renaud was just one second back, finishing 12th in 16:28.5. Packed that tight, the three helped the team to a score of 99 points. Royal Oak won the team title with 63, followed by Troy (76). All three qualified for the Finals.

Sophomore Peyton Ross was fourth for the Pilots with a time of 16:51, exceeding his challenge time by nearly 45 seconds. He finished 29th overall. Junior Thomas Lanzi rounded out the team scoring, finishing 41st overall in a personal best time of 17:21.

Senior co-captain Nicholas Schmidt ran a 17:35, which was a season-best. And sophomore Anthony Youngblood's time of 17:51 was nearly a minute better than his season-best and earned him his varsity letter by breaking the 18-minute mark.

"I don't even have the words to describe it," Schmidt said. "It's an amazing opportunity to have. I can say one thing, I would not be here without the rest of the team. This is like one big family. We go to practice every single day together and go to school every single day together. This was a family goal we had, altogether, this year."

Fraser finished fourth overall, followed by Grosse Pointe South, Grosse Pointe North, Birmingham Seaholm, Warren Cousino, Birmingham Groves and L'Anse Creuse in the Top 10. North's Preston Navarre won the individual title in a time of 15:22.2.

The Pilots will now be preparing for the state finals, which will be held at MIS next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

Schmidt said the team visited Brooklyn back in August - during team camp - and set some goals.

"Our goal, not just the varsity team but the JV team, was to get the team to states," he said. "It's been a goal that has been hanging over our heads. Yeah there were times this season where it's like, 'What's going to happen, are we going to make states?' But look at today, we came, we prayed together, we're a family and we're here. Today was a perfect day."

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