The 2021 "Welcome Back" edition of the Mid-East Cross Country Championships was nothing short of outstanding. After missing 2020 due to the pandemic, the top seniors from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio took to the course at Indian Riffle Park in Kettering, Ohio, Saturday to compete for state bragging rights. They treated fans to some strong individual performances and great team racing from the athletes, many of which were competing in their last high school cross country performances.
The girls race started with Julia Flynn from Michigan, Grace Hartman from Ohio, and Karina James from Indiana taking charge early on in the first half mile. Hartman and Flynn kept the pressure on through the first 2500m and quickly distanced themselves from James and the rest of the field.
The duo kept the pressure on through two miles, going step-for-step, until Flynn put in a charge before the second uphill. That move broke her from Hartman as the lead quickly expanded up and down the second uphill. No one could respond to Flynn's move as she grew her lead through the finish to win in an outstanding 17:30.23. Flynn's winning margin was just under 26 seconds over Hartman, who dropped under 18:00 at 17:56.11.
James rebounded after getting dropped from the leaders to finish third in 18:09.10. James led a group that included two Michigan runners, Maddy Foster (4th) and Madelyn Frens (5th), and Lucy Westlake from Illinois. The trio was timed in 18:16, 18:17, and 18:21, respectively.
Michigan was nothing short of dominant in the girls race. From the gun the started with the already-mentioned Julia Flynn taking charge and easily winning the individual title. She was followed by teammates Maddy Foster and Madelyn Frens in 4th and 5th place. Lisa Luecke came in came in 7th and was followed closely by Meghan Beute (11th), Chloe Wall (12th), Haley Deighan (13th).
The Michigan team scored a very low 28 total points to easily outdistance runner-up Ohio (60 points). Indiana was close behind with 73 points. Illinois came home 4th with 110 points. Michigan's team total was impressive given that the girls in Michigan raced their state meet and their qualifying meet in back-to-back weekends coming into the race.
The boys individual race was never in doubt as the nationally-ranked William Zegarski from Ohio took charge early and ran relatively solo after the first half mile. Zegarski, even though the winning margin was only 11 seconds, was never challenged. His time of 15:03.86 was impressive on the tough, soft course. Indiana's Cole Raymond separated from the chase group nicely, with a large kick as well, to run a PR in 15:14.48.
The individuals coming in after this really determined the team as well. Michigan's Caleb Jarema was third in 15:21.63. Abe Eckman from Indiana was close behind in fourth with another outstanding time of 15:28.32. Two Lukes, Luke Venhuizen (5th) from Michigan and Luke Ondracek (6th) from Ohio, both came in at 15:30 with Venhuizen edging out Ondracek by .12.
The team race was incredibly close and was actually decided by a quirk in the scoring system used at the Mid-East Meet. To put a focus on all runners being important, all 12 runners from each state stay included in the scoring instead of just seven runners. This allowed Michigan's 8th and 9th runners to bump back Indiana's 5th runner two more points. Michigan slid out 1-point victor over Indiana- 39-40.
Ohio was a very close third place team with 48 points. Illinois fought tough but ran against three outstanding teams to score 135 for fourth place. The meet was outstanding overall and the course was in great condition considering the up and down weather that has hit the area recently.