Baller wins regional; RC girls qualify for state as team

Morgan Baller (598) gets off to a fast start in the regional cross country meet in Gaylord. She won the event and the Rogers City team qualified for the state finals with a third-place finish. (Photo by Richard Lamb)
Morgan Baller (598) gets off to a fast start in the regional cross country meet in Gaylord. She won the event and the Rogers City team qualified for the state finals with a third-place finish. (Photo by Richard Lamb)

by Richard Lamb–Advance Editor
It’s off to the state finals for the Rogers City girls’ cross country team, led by regional champion Morgan Baller. The girls’ took third in the Division 4 race at Michawaye golf course in Gaylord with a team score of 86 behind regional champion East Jordan with 43 and Ellsworth at 61 team points. Inland Lakes placed fourth at 107 while Onaway finished eighth with 188 team points. The top three teams and the top 15 runners qualified for Saturday’s state finals at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn.
Baller, a freshman runner for coach Rob Kortman, who was named regional coach of the year, set the pace with a time of 19:55.33, nearly one minute ahead of second place Alice Principi of Pellston at 20:36.00. She sprinted ahead of the pack at the opening gun and led as the runners headed into the narrow parts of the course at the half-mile mark.
Jenna Kuznicki placed 12th overall with a time of 21:56.45, which qualified her for the state meet as an individual.
“It is pretty awesome to have a regional champ come out of this and Jenna placing in the top 15. It feels great having the girls’ team make it overall. Everybody picked it up today. Our top five girls all had personal records today and that is what made the difference,” Kortman said.
The coach had praise for the regional champion, who improved as the season went on.
“It is amazing. At the mile, she maybe had only five seconds on the Pellston girl, but at the end she had her by almost a minute. I’m very proud of the girls and how they came together this year,” Kortman said.
Most of the season had been run in warm conditions, including a race on the same course the weekend before. With the temperatures in the mid-40s, runners were faced with different circumstances on the mostly flat golf course in Gaylord.
“It was probably one of the cooler races we’ve had this year, weather-wise. The course held up pretty good except for one corner was a little slippery. Other than that, it held up good, with all the rain,” Kortman said.
Linnea Hentkowski was 22nd with a time of 22:42.02; Cheyenne Bober took 31st at 23:53.79; Kyley LaFleche placed 37th at 24:16.24; Madison Tulgestka was 57th at 27:23.68 and Brooklyn Bober took 61st at 28:28.88.
Onaway’s girls’ squad placed eighth in the regional and did not qualify any runners as individuals. Kennedy Crawford’s 32nd place finish at 23:54.12 led the way for Cardinal runners. Other finishers included Sammy Pasella 34th at 24:10.04; Zebany Box 51st at 26:06.48; Christina Hillaker 55th at 27:14.56; Sierra Riley 70th at 30:47.36; Gabby Miller 71st at 32:31.95 and Carmen Sellke 73rd at 35:18.01.
In the boys’ race, Rogers City’s Phil Grambau fell just outside the top 15 with his 20th-place performance at 18:28.96.  The 15th-place runner had a time of 18:14.25. Onaway’s Teddy Peters followed closely at 21st place with a time of 18:35.49.
“Phil ran his heart out, ran a personal record today, unfortunately it wasn’t enough. The other boys ran well. Jacob Shoemaker, a senior, ran the best race of his career, I’m sure. Injuries hurt us with the boys’ team this year. We weren’t able to run five at regionals, but there is next year. We will build for next year,” said Kortman, who is in his 14th year as coach, said.
For Rogers City, Shoemaker placed 33rd at 19:37.16; Daniel Bielas was 51st at 21:03.45; and Justin Kroupa took 57th at 21:38.44. The Hurons didn’t place as a team, failing to meet the minimum required number of runners.
Onaway took seventh-place as a team with 200 points. East Jordan was first at 37, followed by Ellsworth (54), Johannesburg-Lewiston (67), Fairview (86), Inland Lakes (148) and  Wolverine (174). Mackinaw City placed eighth with 208 team points.
For Onaway, Matt Grant placed 52nd at 21:08.44; Sam Tenant was 58th at 21:41.12; Aidan Fry placed 60th at 22:05.92; Brendan Fenstermaker finished 63rd at 22:36.36 and Spencer Nash took 67th at 23:04.54.
“Overall, I’m very happy with the way the kids finished up. I know a couple of them wanted to finish a little higher than they did today, but there is a bigger picture than how you finish in one race. I know we have had some outstanding performances all year. It has just been a good year from start to finish,” said Onaway coach Marty Mix.
The sport of cross country running offers challenges not found in other team sports, Mix said.
“It is such a mental challenge, as well as a physical challenge. So when they make it though a season and then you have your seniors who culminate their careers, they know they have accomplished something. I think that is the coolest thing and they can take that with them. It teaches bigger lessons than what time they get on the clock. Definitely rewarding,” Mix said.
Saturday’s Division 4 race begins at 9:30 a.m. The gate opens at 7:30 a.m. with the awards ceremony set for 12:15 p.m. following the Division 3 boys’ race. Spectator admission is $8 per person. The MIS is located at 12626, U.S.-12, Brooklyn. The speedway may be accessed off Brooklyn Road from the north off M-50 or from the south off U.S.-12.
While the start and finish have restricted areas, coaches and spectators will be allowed along the course during races.
The course begins on the north side of the speedway, along turns three and four, running through the infield before it crosses the track along the back-stretch and proceeds outside the track before returning to cross the pavement just south of turn three and finishes on the grass at the speedway finish line between the grandstand and the pit area.
Online tickets may be purchased at and parking is included in the admission fee.
Trams will be available to transport spectators from the entry gate ticket area to an area near the start line.