The 2020 campaign was far from an easy one for the De La Salle Collegiate cross country program to navigate through.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic constantly threw a wrench into the team's plans.
In fact, as a result of the pandemic, numerous events and meets were either canceled or significantly downsized, including the DLS speed, strength and running camp for third-eighth graders in July, the alumni 5K Fun Run and the Autumn Classic (an event co-hosted with Warren Mott High School).
DLS cross country head coach Sandy Buchanan believes the constant schedule changes and altering of the size of the tournaments definitely had an effect on her student-athletes.
"In 2019, we sent our varsity runners to large tournaments to give them the opportunity to compete against state championship-caliber teams," Buchanan said. "In 2020, due to COVID, they did not have those same opportunities, which I believe hindered the varsity runners from achieving their best times and our team from achieving its goals of winning the big meets."
The tournaments, as a result of COVID-19 protocols, were also often split into two-day events, where boys competed one day and girls did the next.
No longer present were the large cheering crowds and the camaraderie between the boys and girls teams that has become a staple of cross country meets.
Despite all the abnormalities and challenges thrown the Pilots' way, they persevered, and still managed to put together a memorable season.
The varsity squad was led by senior captains Preston Earl, Cameron Kessler and Tom Lanzi.
Along with Earl, Kessler and Lanzi, junior Donovan Davis, senior Mark (Tanot) Devereaux, senior Aidan Morphew, junior Abishek Nirmal-Kumar, junior Dylan Petruzzello, senior Thomas Petruzzello, senior Andrew Renaud, junior Peyton Ross, senior Alex Sekulski, freshman Robert Trebnik and junior Anthony Youngblood all earned varsity letters.
Earl was consistently the team's best runner, finishing first among Pilots runners in every race this season.
For his efforts, he was named second-team All-Macomb County and first-team All-Catholic League.
Earl was joined on the All-Catholic League squad by Ross.
They each also received Macomb County all-academic honors, along with Nirmal-Kumar and Youngblood, for their excellence inside the classroom.
Earl and Ross helped guide the Purple and Gold to impressive finishes in multiple tournaments. This included a second-place finish in the Michigan Catholic Invitational, a fourth-place finish out of 26 teams in the Macomb County Championship and a fourth-place finish in the Catholic League Championship.
The junior varsity squad also competed in the above tournaments, and placed second in the Michigan Catholic Invitational, sixth out of 12 teams in the Macomb County Championship and fourth in the split-squad CHSL Championship.
Buchanan and her varsity cross country runners took their success in the regular season, and carried it into the MHSAA state playoffs.
The boys kicked off postseason play with pre-regional competition at Metro Beach Metropark in Harrison Township.
As a team, the Pilots finished in third place -- one point out of second place.
Meanwhile, Earl and Ross both finished within the top 10 -- Earl in fifth and Ross in 10th -- among 68 individual participants.
Additionally, Trebnik was the race's fastest freshman runner, and recorded an 11th-place finish.
Most importantly, DLS's team performance at the meet allowed it to qualify for the state regional meet the following week at Chandler Park Golf Course in Detroit.
De La Salle, as a team, had a decent day at the regional race. It just wasn't good enough to qualify for the state final meet.
The Pilots would've had to finish inside the top three in order to qualify for states, and instead, produced a fifth-place finish.
It was far from a disappointing performance overall wise for Buchanan's squad, though.
Earl and Ross each qualified for states, with PR times of 16:11.9 and 16:33.7, respectively.
Earl finished fifth among all seniors and sixth overall, while Ross finished third among all juniors and 19th overall.
Meanwhile, Trebnik finished yet another race as the fastest freshman, with a PR of 16:45.9.
Just like Earl, Ross and Trebnik, Devereaux (17:24.3), Nirmal-Kumar (17:36.8), Davis (17:24.8) and Dylan Petruzzello (18:05.2) each posted PRs.
Buchanan was very pleased with what each of the runners accomplished at the meet.
"They did exactly what we needed, and all of them had PRs," Buchanan said. "It was a fantastic day for each of them."
Next up for Earl and Ross was the state championship meet, which took place at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.
Ross finished the state final race with a time of 17:11.73 -- good for 79th in his heat and 169th overall out of 252 total runners.
Meanwhile, Earl recorded a time of 16:40.62 -- good for 53rd in his heat and 105th overall.
Buchanan was proud of the ending to the season for both Ross and Earl.
"The boys performed outstanding. Sure, they weren't happy with their times. But, it's hard to record a PR with the course conditions at MIS and when you're facing the best-of-the-best from around the state," Buchanan said at the conclusion of the race. "They each peaked at regionals, with Preston's time last week having been good enough to put him on the podium today. It didn't happen, though, and that's okay. They both ran super, super well."
Due to COVID, Buchanan and her runners were uncertain if they would even be able to kick off the season, let alone finish it.
Yet, they got to the "finish line," while according to Buchanan, "treating every practice as a gift and every meet as if it was their last."
She credits the boys' dedication to their craft for why they were able to pull off such an impressive season, despite the present tumultuous times.
"Our boys admirably followed the rules, stayed healthy, kept their grades up, persevered, trained hard and had a remarkably good season, despite COVID and all the ever-changing state mandates that the MHSAA, CHSL and school threw at them," Buchanan said.
Jill Suminski and Jerry Jackson, Buchanan's two assistant coaches, also played a pivotal role in the team's success in 2020.
"I commend my two assistants -- Jill Suminski and Jerry Jackson -- for giving their best efforts to meet the physical, mental, rehabilitative and spiritual needs of the boys," Buchanan commented. "We each believe that coaching is a ministry. And as parents ourselves outside of coaching, we truly see these boys as an extension of our own families."
Dealing with the pandemic made the boys work even harder to achieve their goals, and they used that extra source of motivation to push each other, as well -- a sign of the brotherhood that permeates throughout the hallways at De La Salle Collegiate.
And at the end of the day, win, lose or draw, that brotherhood is the most important aspect of competing in athletics as a De La Salle Pilot.