By Mike Moore
Horton — There were nice wins leading up to this, but in the grand scheme of things, showing off at Portage is a certain coming out party for most cross country teams.
And last Saturday the Hanover-Horton boys squad made sure everyone in Division 3 was well aware of just how dangerous the Comets could be.
As if everyone didn’t already know.
“We’ve kind of been building to this year for a while,” coach Dean Blackledge said. “ The past few years we’ve been right there in the state finals.”
In fact, the Comets placed third last year, and fifth, third and sixth the three years prior to that, respectively.
This group, though, returned some strong senior runners, Blackledge explained, that have set the tone all year.
Landon Melling and Bo Shepherd have been the duo to set the pace, recently placing third and fourth, respectively, at the Portage Invitational.
And speaking of Portage, that may be the biggest reason for optimism moving forward.
In what is one of the biggest runs of the season, not named a state final, Hanover finished first out of 42 Division 3 teams, scoring a 117.
Saugatuck was the next closest with 203.
“The other strength of the team is that third-through-seventh spot,” Blackledge added. “The kids have all stepped up. We’ve had injuries and illness, but we’ve still found ways to win.”
Portage was the biggest victory of the season, but hardly the lone one.
The Comets also took home the top spot at the Bath Invitational, the Hillsdale Invitational, the Springport Invitational, the Carson City Invitational, have not lost a dual meet and placed second at Holly while running without a few regulars in the lineup.
Asked if winning a state title was the goal now, Blackledge said simply, “I think we’d be disappointed with second place.”
“Truthfully,” he added, “it’s not something we talk a ton about, but the guys know it’s out there. There’s a group of teams in the conversation that could do it, and I think we’re in that group. The key for us will be consistency that day. We know we’ll be there and have a chance, but we’ll need five-to-seven guys to have a very good day. After Portage, we feel there’s a target on our back, and we’re fine with that. We’re in the mix, and we’ll take it.”
Mike Moore is a play-by-play commentator and Sports Writer for JTV Sports.
He’s also a Realtor with Real Estate One, specializing with buyers and sellers throughout Michigan, from the Jackson area to metro Detroit. You can reach him at email@example.com or by calling (313) 770-6365 with any inquiries.