BERRIEN SPRINGS — Bridgman girls and Berrien Springs boys have their eyes on county titles after big wins at Thursday's Berrien Springs Shamrock Cross Country Invitational.
Bridgman scored 55 points in the girls race, beating second-place Lakeshore's score of 75. Berrien Springs boys finished with 44 points, topping Battle Creek Harper Creek's 69.
Both individual champions, Dowagiac's Shawn Little and Niles' Kaylee Thompson, were repeat winners.
Bridgman's victory over a field of mostly bigger schools gives the Bees hope they could end St. Joseph's nine-year stranglehold on the girls' county title. The Berrien County Invitational is Sept. 28 at Riverview Park in St. Joseph.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work over these next (few) weeks," Bridgman coach Spencer Carr said. "There's still St. Joe, we haven't seen them yet, we don't know what they have. If we come out and run a good race, I'd say we'd have a good shot. We'll see what happens."
Karsyn Stewart led Bridgman with a fifth-place finish at 21:11.0. Arie Hackett was sixth in 21:39.8, and Jane Kaspar ninth at 22:21.7.
"We're really happy," Carr said. "Being the first week of school, it can be tough sometimes getting back into things. We just wanted to come out and run a good race and they all ran really well.
"I think we had nine girls run and nine girls set their season-best times."
Lakeshore's first runner across was Rachel Vroegop in 10th at 22:33.3, but she was followed closely by Abigail Winsman (22:40.4) in 11th and Cait Obrien (22:48.2) in 13th. The Lancers also ran without top runner Emily Peters due to injury.
"I was pleased," Lakeshore coach Beau Deja said. "I thought we ran well. I knew we'd have to have pretty much a perfect race to beat Bridgman. No excuses, we weren't full strength, but I went out with the girls I had and said let's give it a whirl. I was pleased with how those girls packed up."
Thompson won with a time of 19:47.3, holding off a tough challenge from Berrien Springs' Erin Moore (19:52.9).
Thompson said she had started to build a lead but battled a cramp late in the race that allowed Moore to gain ground.
"I heard her catching up but she never passed me," Thompson said. "The cramp went away and I was able to finish strong. I wish my time could've been a little bit faster but I'm still happy with my performance today."
Moore led the Shamrocks to a fourth-place finish. Berrien Springs' next runner across was Anna Constable in 14th at 22:51.0.
"Our spread is a little long because we have Erin Moore up front, and then our fifth runner we have quite a big gap," Berrien Springs coach Charles Richards said. "This early it's just about chipping away, and I'm very confident that spread is going to decrease."
Berrien Springs had great depth in the boys race, putting five runners in the top 15 spots. Ashton Sheline was second at 16:41.7, Carter Sheline seventh at 17:32.1, and James Burke eighth at 17:48.7.
"They did well," Richards said. "We have a solid seven right now. We need to drop some time as the season goes on.
"We're in Division 2 now... we're going to have run faster and train harder than we ever have, and we're doing that right now."
Berrien Springs won the county title for the first time last year, and is hoping for a repeat.
"That's a big one," Richards said. "We still have the hardware and we'd like to return it to Berrien in a few weeks. That's definitely one that's circled on the calendar."
Little dominated the race with a time of 16:03, much faster than his 16:46 that won him last year's event. He was close to his personal record of 15:55.2, a mark he hopes to improve on soon.
"It's my senior year," Little said. "I thought maybe a PR in the first couple meets would be great. A lot of college coaches say shoot for 15:30, 15:40 and that's what I think I should go for."
The race was held at Five Pines Ministries for a second straight year, with runners completing two outer loops and one inner loop. Richards is a fan of the course and plans for Berrien Springs to continue using it for its home events.
"The kids can be seen by grandma and grandpa four or five times without moving a step," Richards said. " It's spectator-friendly. It's not the most runner-friendly course, but I try to tell the teams that loop courses aren't that bad. You know what you're getting, you know where you are. You can gauge your place and pace a lot easier."
Team scores — 1. Berrien Springs 44, 2. BC Harper Creek 69, 3. Bridgman 89, 4. Delton Kellogg 96, 5. Lakeshore 97, 6. Dowagiac 161, 7. Eau Claire 197, 8. River Valley 209, 9. New Buffalo 252. No team score: Niles, Lawton.
Top 20 — 1. Shawn Little (Dow) 16:03.0, 2. Ashton Sheline (BSp) 16:41.7, 3. Cole Parker (Dow) 16:53.8, 4. Owen Gilbert (HC) 16:57.0, 5. Race Bettich (Lks), 17:01.2, 6. Luke Blesy (Brid) 17:20.4, 7. Carter Sheline (BSp) 17:32.1, 8. James Burke (BSp) 17:48.7, 9. Matt Lester (DK) 18:01.0, 10. Josh Maurer (HC) 18:03.3, 11. Chipper Steffey (Brid) 18:06.2, 12. Nathaniel Bittner (BSp) 18:12.2, 13. Blake Bess (HC) 18:20.9, 14. Dawson Grizzle (DK) 18:33.9, 15. Sam Markle (BSp) 18:34.8, 16. Micah Ordway (DK) 18:36.7, 17. Justin Johnson (BSp) 18:45.5, 18. AJ Hackett (Brid) 19:00.0, 19. Dakota Foster (HC) 19:00.7, 20. Grant Rose (Lks) 19:05.1.
Team scores — 1. Bridgman 55, 2. Lakeshore 75, 3. BC Harper Creek 76, 4. Berrien Springs 82, 5. Niles 87, 6. Delton Kellogg 126, 7. Lawton 176. No team score: Eau Claire, New Buffalo, River Valley.
Top 20 — 1. Kaylee Thompson (Nil) 19:47.3, 2. Erin Moore (BSp) 19:52.9, 3. Sarah Berning (HC) 20:51.5, 4. Madison Berning (HC) 20:52.7, 5. Karsyn Stewart (Brid) 21:11.0, 6. Arie Hackett (Brid) 21:39.8, 7. Jena Adams (HC) 22:01.2, 8. Aubrey Aukerman (DK) 22:21.5, 9. Jane Kaspar (Brid) 22:21.7, 10. Rachel Vroegop (Lks) 22:33.3, 11. Abigail Winsman (Lks) 22:40.4, 12. Ericka Lopez (EC) 22:40.7, 13. Halena Phillips (DK) 22:46.3, 14. Cait Obrien (Lks) 22:48.2, 15. Anna Constable (BSp) 22:51.0, 16. Kayla Trueblood (Nil) 23:05.7, 17. Shaylynn Reyes (BSp) 23:15.6, 18. Mikaela Owen (Brid) 23:31.7, 19. Summer Fast (Brid) 23:43.0, 20. Cassandra Shortman (Nil) 23:45.1.
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders