A storybook season for Ottawa Hills cross country came to a close on a gusty November weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn as senior Benne Anderson won the Division 1 state championship.
And despite tough conditions for all of the runners, the results were all that veteran coach Dan Ebright had hoped for going into the meet.
“Benne executed the race plan perfectly,” a jubilant Ebright said after the race. “He ran a conservative race with a great kick in the last 100 meters.”
Ebright added that the high winds meant Anderson started slowly (his first mile was a 5:12), but then mile two was a much quicker 4:57 before he finished with a blazing 4:39 to take the tape with an overall time of 15:17, just 1.63 seconds in front of runner-up Seth Norder of Grand Haven High School.
In the girls' race, Benne’s sister Selma Anderson had her best race of the year and earned her second all-state accolade in two years of high school cross country with a 12th-place finish.
“Selma got out well and held her position throughout the race,”
Ebright said. “And then she closed fast to finish 12th.”
The other state qualifier, Liam Walters, also had a solid day, Ebright said, but got caught in the pack at the start and though he eventually broke free and moved up steadily, he ended up just out of the running for all-state honors with a 41st-place finish.
“But Liam had a breakthrough season,” Ebright said. “He improved his PR by 42 seconds, and he gained some valuable experience for next year.”
Ebright was twice a state champion in cross country and still holds the Ferris State University school record in the 10k.
But it’s coaching that he loves now, even after almost three decades of it, including the last 10 years at the helm of the Ottawa Hills programs.
“The last few years,” Ebright said, “it’s been a thrill to watch the evolution of some of the best runners in GRPS history, including both Benne and Selma Anderson and Walters.”
Indeed, the state champion performance at the state meet in November was a great finish to the MHSAA cross country season and a record-setting 2022 campaign for Benne Anderson that has included school records in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs, as well as the 3,200 meter relay. He also was the state champion in the 3,200 meter run at the track and field state finals and led the 3,200 meter relay team to an all-state third-place finish.
The fall 2022 season for Anderson also included a blazing school record of 14:44 at the Portage Invitational, one of the five fastest times ever run on that course and the 11th-fastest time in the country.
“The few guys who have achieved faster times than Anderson are Dathan Ritzenhein and Grant Fisher, both Olympians,” Ebright said. “He ran one second slower than Grant Fisher and three seconds slower than Dathan Ritzenhein on that course, to tell you what kind of company he is in.”
Meanwhile, Selma Anderson, was the top runner on the girls cross country team all season, including qualifying for state. She is also a school record holder in numerous categories, including the 1,600 meter and 3,200 meter relay races, and she and Benne were both 2022 conference champions.
Benne Anderson plans to run cross country and track next year on an athletic scholarship at Syracuse University.
In his absence, Ebright will count on Walters, who was not only a state qualifier but also took third place overall in the conference meet and will be the top returning underclassmen next year. Ebright will also look to Reese Hansen, a sophomore, to be a leader on the girls team.
“Watching and interacting with the athletes as they continue running through the cross country program is what I enjoy most about coaching at GRPS,” Ebright said. “This was our eighth year in a row of having a state qualifier and fifth year in a row with at least one all-state runner, so it is exciting to see the students attain success at that level.”