The Berrien Springs boys cross country team won its first Berrien County Invitational championship last season and the Shamrocks are back and ready for more.
This year’s meet will be held at Lake Michigan College. The girls race begins at 8:30 a.m., followed by the boys at 9:10.
Berrien Springs returns meet champion Ashton Sheline and three of its top five scorers from last season’s meet. To bring home a second straight championship, the fifth runner will be the X-factor for the Shamrocks.
“To have four runners under 18 minutes right now is okay,” Berrien Springs coach Charlie Richards said. “But we need a fifth runner and we’ve been working hard to build up runners. The gap between our four and five is something we’re looking to close. If we don’t, it will hurt our chances on Saturday.”
Race Bettich and Charlie Ogata lead a Lakeshore outfit that poses a threat to Berrien Springs’ repeat chances. Led by Gus Hinch and Ezra Troyer, Watervliet is one of the deepest teams in the field and should be in the mix.
With top runner Andrew Moyer working his way back into form following a collarbone injury, St. Joseph is hoping for a strong performance.
“It should be very competitive,” St. Joseph coach Mike Mahler said. “Berrien Springs looks good coming into this meet. Lakeshore should be in the mix, as should Watervliet. A few teams could walk out of there with a championship.”
Mahler expects to see fast times on Saturday.
“My kids haven’t seen the course yet but in high school, I ran my regional meet out there,” he said. “The course has been modified since then but it should still be spectator-friendly in a few places. It should be a fast course.”
Buchanan’s Walker Barz, Niles’ Adam Shepherd, and Bridgman’s Luke Blesy will be among the top individual runners in the meet.
2018 county meet champion Kaylee Thompson returns to defend her title for Niles. The Vikings placed second last season and should be a contender again this year.
Berrien Springs and Bridgman have title aspirations of their own. Erin Moore placed second overall for Berrien Springs and Bridgman’s Karsyn Stewart third.
“Erin is doing well and will be one of the girls to beat,” Richards said. “Bridgman’s girl’s team is phenomenal. I would say that they’re the team to beat. They’re young, and like us, they should be good for quite a while.”
Three of Berrien Springs’ top six runners – junior Jezra Reyes, sophomore Victoria Wurzel, and junior McKenzie Geralds – had never run cross country before this year. The trio has become a key component to Berrien Springs’ success.
“I begged them to come out and they’ve helped us a great deal,” Richards said. “They’ve come a long way in a short amount of time.”
Lakeshore’s Cait Obrien placed 15th at last year’s meet and is the team’s top returning finisher. No. 1 runner Emily Peters along with Obrien, Rachel Vroegop, Abigail Winsman, and Haylee Woods combine to make a strong top five for the Lancers.
St. Joseph has won nine straight county invitationals. This year’s Bears team is young but aims to place among the top teams. Sophomore Riley Mullin and freshman Olivia Ippel have been the leaders for St. Joseph.
“Riley has been our no. 1 runner all year,” Mahler said. “Lizzy Nelson is healthy and I think she’ll be a factor. We have a good pack of girls. I think we’ll be in the thick of things.”
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