Pilots' runners cap season on state’s biggest stage

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Exciting. Fun. Huge.

Those were just some of the words thrown out at Saturday's cross-country finals at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

No matter what happened on Saturday, De La Salle Collegiate senior Nicholas Schmidt couldn't have been more excited to be a part of it.

"This is an amazing experience for me. I can't stop smiling," said Schmidt, who finished in a time of 18:37.0. "It's the best experience ever. I hope the younger kids have the desire to come (back) again. It's an amazing opportunity, just amazing. I hope they want that."

That's the hope of all the team members and coaches. The Pilots, who last competed at the finals as a team back in 2013, finished 27th overall as a team. 

"It was super important to be here this year," said junior Andrew Renaud, who finished in a time of 17:40. "It was more about the experience, the training, and the progress in getting here than the meet itself. We might not have gotten the PRs that we wanted, but we are just enjoying ourselves."

Brighton won the team title, finishing with 136 points. Dexter, Saline, Clarkston, and Traverse City Central rounded out the top five. Plymouth senior Carter Solomon won the individual championship in a time of 15:01.2.

"From the minute they got up this morning, they were texting each other that it was a great day to be a pilot," coach Sandy Buchanan said. "I think the boys' times were really good for this course. It was the eighth race of the day. It was gooey out there, windy, cold. But they ran their hearts out though."

Junior Preston Earl was the first Pilot to cross the finish line. He was 108th overall in a time of 17:06.6. A middle-distance runner in track, Earl was encouraged to join the cross country team this fall after suffering an injury this past spring. He's happier than ever to have made that decision.

"It was really fun coming out here and doing this all as a team," Earl said. "This was the goal for every single one of us and we just kind of put it out there and hoped we could go get it.

"Today was more about placement and being here at the Finals. I definitely think I put everything I had into it today. Next year's going to be really good. I think we're going to compete for a higher placement as a team and individuals."

Senior Zachary Jarski finished second for De La Salle, and 117th overall, in a time of 17:09.5. He was followed by Renaud.  Sophomore Peyton Ross (17:53.3/166th) and Schmidt (179th) rounded out the scoring for the Pilots. Junior Thomas Lanzi (18:39.5) and sophomore Anthony Youngblood (19:48.0) rounded out the lineup. 

Jarski and Schmidt were the lone seniors in the starting lineup, so for Earl, Renaud, Ross, Lanzi, and Youngblood, it was a learning experience.

"It's all about the team, team, team," Renaud said. "I've learned that you've got to trust your training, you've got to trust your coaches and you've got to trust your teammates. Sometimes it's kind of hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. 

"This year was to get here, next year will be to do good here. Our goal will be to win the region, get here, and do well here." 

Buchanan said she believes her team and her program took a big step forward on Saturday.

"We looked (inside) the fence (before the season)," the coach said. "Now we're inside the fence. I want this to be the start of a new trend, that every year we get a team here. And then we can just keep crawling up that ladder. It starts somewhere, so I'm hoping it started here today."

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