TUSCOLA — Closeness is a strength for Monticello’s girls’ cross-country team.
They hang out with one another during their free time.
“I see them in school all the time together,” coach Dave Remmert said.
The Sages’ top five pack well during races, too. Leaders Hannah Houska, Emily Foley and Maddie Tutich were within 13 seconds of one another at Saturday’s 35th Tuscola Classic invitational at Wimple Park.
Teammates Audrey Duncan and Maggie Utgaard were separated by 9 seconds, but all were among the top eight runners overall in a field of 162. Monticello’s top-ranked (Class 1A) Sages won team honors.
“We wanted to see how close we could all get together,” Foley said. “Today was a good race. We kept switching (positions) and pushing the pace.”
Houska’s 3-mile time was 18 minutes, 47.73 seconds. Foley came in at 18:58.69 and Utgaard finished in 19:00.78.
“It’s awesome to have tightness like that,” Houska said. “We have to constantly push ourselves harder. It’s a great atmosphere.”
The same is true, even when the girls aren’t running.
“My freshman year, there were 10 girls and that was the right amount to become super close,” Foley said. “That has continued. These girls are my best friends.”
The top area individual was Urbana Uni High freshman Annemarie Michael. She was the runner-up in 18:40.48. The other area top-10 runner was Unity’s Laura Seiler, who was ninth in 19:47.68.
Michael’s time was 92 seconds behind the winner, Effingham St. Anthony freshman Anna Sophia Keller, who took a minute off the best girls’ time since the meet was relocated to Wimple Park in 2004.
A driver in an all-terrain vehicle paces runners, but Michael was at a disadvantage.
“I was running by myself and couldn’t see the golf cart,” said Michael, who still made all of the right turns.
A swimmer much of the year, Michael opted for cross-country this fall.
“I didn’t think I could do both (simultaneously) and do well in either,” she said. “I like running more, but swimming helps sometimes.”
Unity was second and Uni High third in the team chase.
Tuscola’s Eric Ponder took the early lead and never let up, beating runner-up Matt Norvell, from Monticello, to the finish chute by 37 seconds. Ponder’s time of 15:18.75 was the second best by a boy at the course since the race switched sites a decade ago. Only former Monticello runner Steve Schroeder (15:05) had a quicker time.
After Saturday’s finish, Ponder stayed near the finish line and congratulated other competitors.
“I was in that position (trailing the leaders) and would like it if someone else did that,” he said. “It lets them know someone cares about them.”
Last year, Ponder placed 13th on his home course, four spots behind Norvell.
Monticello — which suffered a dual-meet loss Thursday to St. Joseph-Ogden — placed five runners among the top 12 and captured team honors. Like in the girls’ race, Unity was second and Uni High third.
“The kids were able to refocus,” Remmert said. “I was excited to see the times they ran. With all those turns, that tends to slow you down.”
Monticello’s top-five split was 37 seconds, starting with Norvell at 15:56.43.
“We have a solid top five on both the boys’ and the girls’ side,” Remmert said, “but everyone has to bring it at the same time.”
Unity’s Andrew Warnes was third individually. Also in the top 10 from the area in the 188-runner field were Monticello’s Justin Furcich (fifth), Unity’s Austin Woodard (sixth), Monticello’s Jesse Galaway (seventh) and Unity’s Nick Godsell (10th).
Next up for the Sages is Saturday’s Spartan Classic street race in St. Joseph.
“We call it our midseason test,” Remmert said.