Senior trio leads Saugatuck girls to regional championship
By Jason Wesseldyk
ALLENDALE—The Saugatuck girls’ cross country team wasn’t molded into a perennial power by settling for good enough.
Rather, Indian coach Angelina Bauer sets the bar high for her athletes, who are taught to strive for excellence in everything they do.
Take the Division 4 regional meet at Allendale on Saturday, Oct. 27, for example.
While thrilled that her team claimed ninth regional title in program history, she was less enthusiastic about the way her runners ran the race.
“Obviously it’s always nice to win, but we view our performance on more than where we finish in a race,” Bauer said. “Yes, I’m happy we won and that we’ll have the chance to compete at the state finals.
“But the way we raced isn’t the way we’ve trained to race. And the girls knew it. I didn’t have to say anything to them. They knew we should have done some things differently. But we can’t dwell on it. We have to learn from it and move on.”
Saugatuck finished with 29 points, putting the Indians ahead of runner-up Muskegon Western Michigan Christian with 50 points and third-place finisher Bridgman with 80 points.
The senior trio of Taylor Conner, Thea Johnson and Natalie Martinson led the way for the Indians as they have throughout most of the season.
Conner ran a 19:17 to finish second behind winner Abby VanderKooi of Muskegon Western Michigan Christian at 17:32. Johnson was third at 19:31 and Martinson was fourth at 19:42.
“The fun thing about (Conner, Johnson and Martinson) is that they, although they’ve been our top three all season, they finish in a different order almost every race,” Bauer said. “Taylor might finish first in one race, with Thea finishing first the next and Natalie the one after that. They really push each other and help make each other better.”
While big things were expected from Johnson since she joined the team as a freshman, Martinson and Conner took other paths to their success.
“When Natalie started running for us as a freshman, she was one of our last runners,” Bauer said. “She was 16ths out of 20 runners. But she slowly worked her way up and by the end of the season she’d worked her way into our top seven as a varsity runner.
“And Taylor was a school-of-choice kid, so she had to sit out a season in terms of competition and could only train with us. We’ve had kids do that before and they quit because it’s tough to go through the workouts without the ability to compete. But Taylor stuck with it and has really shined for us.”
Junior Jillian Vera was the fourth runner for Saugatuck, placing eighth at 20:47. Senior Lily Francis secured the fifth and final scoring slot for the Indians thanks to her time of 21:12 that put her in 13th place.
Junior Sophie McQueary joined those five as an All-Regional recipient by claiming the final spot on that list with her 15th-place showing of 21:27.
Senior Kierstyn Stoin was the final Saugatuck runner with a 23rd-place finish of 22:26.
“This is such a great group,” Bauer said. “I’ve enjoyed every team I’ve coached, but there really is something special about this one.”
Bauer hopes that special team is able to accomplish some special things at the Division 4 state meet at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday, Nov. 3.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said. “Cross country can be such an unpredictable sport and you never know how kids are going to run on a given day. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart has won the last three state titles, so they’re not going to go down without a fight. We’ve going back and forth with them in the standings, plus there are other good teams. So it will be interesting to see who it all shakes out.”