WARREN, Mich. - As this past season progressed, the De La Salle Collegiate cross-country team seemed to find its stride.
And that meant great things for the Pilots, who found themselves competing on the state's biggest stage come November. Led by a tremendous group of seniors, the underclassmen followed suit, leading to a tremendous season for coach Sandy Buchanan and her program.
"The senior leadership was great this year," said Buchanan, who had six seniors on her roster - including two in her starting lineup. "I think our seniors brought a broad base of talent and knowledge to the practices and meets and were a big help to the younger boys. We coach with the philosophy that there is a leader in every locker and we use our seniors to help manage the team."
Zachary Jarski, Nicholas Schmidt, and Frank Viviano were Buchanan's three senior captains, helping run the summer practices, consulting with the coaches on major decisions, and tasked with an array of important day-to-day team responsibilities. Fellow seniors Joshua Arredondo, Joseph Hartsock, and Tristan Lago were camp captains for the teams, helping to oversee the Pilots' 6-7 man camp teams for the entire season.
"Each (senior) has a unique personality and set of skills that allow them to meet the needs of our diverse set of athletes," the coach said.
De La Salle had a number of quality placings throughout the season. It opened the season with a fourth-place finish (of 13 teams) at the Michigan Catholic Invite. The team was eighth (22) at the Raffin Festival, fifth (27) at the Hanson Invite before finishing fifth (28) at the Macomb County Championships.
That set up a fourth-place finish at the Catholic League Championships and a third-place showing at the Division 1 regional meet at Chandler Park Golf Course - qualifying the team for the state finals.
Top individual performances this season were turned in by Jarski, who finished 14th at the Catholic League meet. He and junior Andrew Renaud (15th) earned All-Catholic honors. Junior Preston Earl was 16th, earning himself a top-20 medal.
Earl (ninth), Jarksi (10th), and Renaud (12th) led the team at the regional, running their best times of the year. Renaud and Jarksi were also medalists at the Hanson race.
Eleven different Pilots earned their varsity letter this season, including Jarski, Renaud, Earl, Schmidt, Thomas Lanzi, Peyton Ross, Anthony Youngblood, Brayds Vielle, Mark Tanot Devereaux, Lago, and Arredondo.
The team also earned numerous academic awards, capped off by Team Academic All-State honors for Jarski, Schmidt, Renaud, Earl, Ross, Lanzi, and Youngblood. Jarski, Schmidt, and Renaud also earned individual academic all-state honors.
Buchanan was assisted this year by coaches Jill Suminski and Jerry Jackson.
"The three of us have similar personalities and complementary skill sets," Buchanan said. "Our talents mesh nicely, and we get along well. We love what we do and the boys and their families respect and fully support us."
At the team's Nov. 16 banquet, several team awards were handed out, including:
- Top Gun Award (awarded to the best runner), Drew Renaud
- Pilot Award (awarded to outstanding captain), Zach Jarski
- Wing Man Award (awarded to the second-best runner), Preston Earl
- Navigator Award (awarded to the captain of communication and technology), Nicholas Schmidt
- Spark Plug Award (awarded to that guy who made the difference), Peyton Ross
- Cadet Award (awarded to the best new runner), Brayds Vielle
- Most Improved Varsity, Tom Lanzi
- Most Improved JV, Oscar Thompson
- Camp Captain Award (awarded to camp captain for inter-squad camp team competition), Joshua Arredondo
Buchanan is expecting 31 boys back next year, including five runners who participated at this year's state finals (Earl, Renaud, Lanzi, Ross, and Youngblood) and seven of her letter winners.
"This season has been fun to coach because from the beginning we three coaches saw the potential, our camp dads saw the potential and the varsity boys saw their own potential," Buchanan said. "We acknowledged early on that with the right training and the right mindset this group could go all the way to the state meet. Now that we have made it to the state meet as a team, it will be the new expectation; thus allowing us to begin climbing to the top 30 podium finish, and ultimately have a state champion or win the state meet as a team -- feats that no De La Salle runner or team has done before."