KC XC:Team Commitment Pays Off
Boys Cross Country Brought Home SMAC Conference Title
It was a very good year for the Kalamazoo Central Boys' Cross Country team, which brought home a SMAC Conference Championship for the first time since 1996, won the MHSAA Regional Championship meet for the first time since cross country adopted the 3.1 mile race format, and finished fourth and second, respectively at the MSU Spartan Invitational and the Cougar-Falcon Invitational.
In addition, three runners, Habtom Haish, Jackson Henning, and Cian Johnson qualified as All-Conference, and Haish and Henning qualified as All-Regional.
But this good year has been three years in the making, according to runners and Coach Rex Hafer.
“The great success that the 2017 Kalamazoo Central boys' cross country achieved did not start this year but rather three years ago when a group of now six senior boys were sophomores. It was that year that those sophomore boys started to buy into what they could accomplish if they started working hard to achieve their full potential,” said Hafer who was assisted by Jonathan Langworth and Megan Poolman.
Hafer said he started to see more runners participate in the winter running days. Summer running was no longer limited to the more motivated runners, rather a majority of the team turned out every day.
“The mentality that if they wanted any success, they would have to work harder than other teams and harder than they had been willing to work really started to take hold,” Hafer said. “From the beginning of the season the team set their goals as winning the conference meet and qualifying for the state meet. It was amazing to watch them achieve that and so much more.”
Senior Idrees Schieber said it was definitely a building process, starting with those sophomores who made it a goal to some day qualify for state as a team.
That sense of team was strong this year, said senior Jackson Henning, with the upperclassmen providing inspiration and motivation for the younger runners.
The team fielded 21 runners, with the Top 7 fastest forming the varsity team. While that was certainly the school’s largest team in years, it’s also fairly small compared to schools of similar student populations, said senior Jalen Smith.
Smith said that worked to the team’s advantage. “We were able to focus on each runner and to form close connections.”
“What was impressive about our success this year is that we don’t have a history of winning,” Scheiber said. “Portage Central, Portage Northern, they have bigger teams and a history of succeeding. We were really the up and comers, no one was paying any attention to us.”
Hafer said while others may have not realized KC had potential, the team certainly did. They knew they had a nice balance of runners — both in terms of depth from the senior class and from a very strong group of sophomores.
“This combination of top runners with a strong group to back them up would spell success all year long,” Hafer said.
The team was led by Henning, Smith, Schieber, Habtom Haish, Cian Johnson, Owen O’Neil, John Sidwell, Nicholas Doane, Jonathan Sullivan, Caleb Billings, Matthew Bau, Ethan Morgan and several other runners.
The team definitely trained harder than ever before, but “the team grew as much mentally as physicality and endurance,” Henning said. “We just realized we could be that Top 10 team.”
Schieber, Smith and Henning said that even as the team loses that core of seniors this year, they have confidence in the program they’re leaving behind. There is a ton of talent and room to grow.
“The sophomores have definitely inherited our drive and are going to go even further,” Smith said.