By Jason Wesseldyk
Graduation took a serious toll on Saugatuck’s roster.
Gone are three All-State honorees and five of the seven runners who competed in the Division 3 state finals as the Indians captured their second straight state championship.
All told, Saugatuck coach Rick Bauer saw 13 runners graduate from last year’s squad.
“We lost a lot from last year’s team,” he said. “We should be strong up front, but we are going to need the guys to step up in the five-to-seven spots.”
Junior Corey Gorgas leads the charge of returning runners after earning All-State last season. Senior Keegan Seifert also competed at the state finals and will be expected to provide leadership to the less experienced team members.
Seniors Corbin Blink and Armand Carrion also return, as do juniors Ray Bartlette, Ringo Joon, Mason Havath-Garrens, Berkeley Garvelink and Connor Hotary.
“These guys continued have a strong work ethic and have put in a lot of miles this summer,” Bauer said. “If we can stay healthy, we believe we can still be one of the best teams in our conference, regional and the state. Staying healthy is going to be paramount to our success.”
The Indians will vie for their sixth straight SAC title.
“Many teams left the SAC, teams that have been rivals for us for many years,” Bauer said. “Looking at returners from each team, it looks like we should be in the mix again. To do that we will have to stay healthy and overcome the mental part of this sport. Not everyone is able to do that.”
Bauer is also adjusting to his role as a new father after he and his wife, Saugatuck girls’ cross country coach Angelina Bauer, welcomed their first child in June.
“Angelina and I had our first child, Aza Richard Bauer, this spring and the way our kids and parents have embraced him and us has been mind blowing.
“These kids and parents have been so understanding to how having a baby has changed the way we coach. They understand that our focus is on Aza and not cross country and track. They get that while we will continue to coach our priorities have changed.
“We were worried that there would be some backlash as we have lived and breathed cross country for so long. The kids have been wonderful. They have stepped up and have become much more independent. When we do bring Aza to practice the kids treat him like a little brother. We always talk about our program being a family and now it truly feels that way.”
A decade of dominance.
That’s been the story for Saugatuck in the SAC, as the Indians have won 10 consecutive conference championships.
Saugatuck coach Angelina Bauer is hoping to start on a second decade this season.
“Hopefully we’re able to defend our 10-year championship streak,” she said.
Having an experienced group of runners back from a team that placed fourth in the Division 3 state finals should help that cause.
Junior Thea Johnson leads the way for the Indians after placing 11th at the state finals. Fellow juniors Natalie Martinson, Lily Francis, Megan Jenkins and Cecilia Stickel are also back, as is sophomore Jillian Vera.
“This is primarily a veteran group who has put in a lot of work behind the scenes,” Bauer said. “With a year of experience in Division 3 under our belts, we are very enthusiastic to see how we stack up at the state level.”
Newcomers include junior Taylor Conner and the freshmen tandem of Khloe Pratt and Lauren Hale.
“If we stay healthy and continue to have fun working hard together, we hope to stay competitive with the best in Division 3,” Bauer said. “This is such a fun group. We are looking forward to the journey.”