Pumas Set Course Ablaze at Michigan International Speedway
Lezawe Osterink, better known to his friends as Moses, arrived at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) with a clear eyed view to be the first across the finish line on Saturday morning in the Division 4 cross country state finals. That vision was realized and his time of 15:50 put the small school standout among the top runners in the state regardless of class. The state champion’s run was not as easy at it may have appeared to outsiders.
“Going into the race I knew I was the heavy favorite to win, but I really just wanted to post a good time that would compare with (the best times) in the whole state.” His race strategy was to run a 4:55 pace for the first mile and maintain the pace as best he could in the second.
However, a few elements made that strategy shift early on. “MIS is a great course that is smooth and really flat for the most part and would be a really fast course on days that are not windy and muddy like Saturday.” Despite the early morning conditions, which largely began to wane as the sun came out for later races, Osterink found himself alone in first place entering the track portion of the course and had to will himself to the finish. “The hardest part of the race was definitely the last 1k when you enter the race track. That was where I felt like I wasn’t moving, my legs were heavy, and the wind and mud were really bad there.”
Osterink’s strategy may have shifted throughout the race, but his role as the division 4 favorite did not. He entered the final stretch without another runner in sight and never let his competitors close the incredible distance he had put between them. The Potter’s House had its first cross country state champion as Osterink crossed the finish line with more runners in tow to bring it home for the Pumas.
The Potter’s House Boys XC team was plagued with injuries this year and forced the squad to shift strategy and expectations at MIS. The Pumas second finisher on Saturday, Logan Swiney, explained how injuries impacted his strategy going into the season’s final race. “Originally, my plan was to go out conservative and hang back around 30th place. Then I would slowly make my way up and get around top 10.” Things fell apart after the first mile and the impact of injuries and time away from training began to set in for Swiney who managed to overcome the odds and finish 25th and earn all state honors.
Injuries also forced some changes to the makeup of the Pumas roster with Ian Palacios out for the season. Potter’s House adopted the next-man-up mentality and turned to freshman and Moses Osterink’s younger brother, Reed Osterink, who delivered in a big way despite the grandeur of the moment. Swiney commented about the impact the freshman had on the team’s final push during regionals and the state final. “(Reed) has been showing that he is a key factor on the team and will continue to be one in the next three years. I was very proud of his clutch performance in the regional as well as state.”
The Puma boys managed to finish 12th overall out of the top 27 division 4 teams in the state and all runners finished sub-20 minutes, one of just five teams in division four to claim that feat.
The Puma girls cross country team also qualified for state, a first for the girls team and both squads were thrilled to attend and compete as a program. The girls, for their part, were led by sophomore, Ivy Andreas, who finished 14th overall in division 4 with a time of 20:01. Hannah Geaney crossed a little over a minute later and a slew of Pumas followed close behind. The efforts of the historic run placed the girls 15th, a tremendous accomplishment, as they came into Saturday ranked 25th out of 27 of the top teams in division 4. They ran with a desire propelled by the history they were making as a unit and passed ten teams predicted to finish ahead of them.
Andreas noticed how hard it was to compete in such a unique format as the state final. “It was hard to get out front when there are so many girls running.” Despite the difficult circumstances, Andreas knew what her goals were on Saturday. “My plan was to not focus on the time as much as just placing top 20. I was ranked 17th in division 4, so I just wanted to fulfill that prediction. It was hard to get out in front during that first mile, so I had to pass a lot of girls in mile 2 and 3.” The two-sport fall athlete, who also stars as the Libero on the Pumas volleyball team, did just that and finished ahead of predictions.
The Pumas bring home three all state runners and the hardware to prove it, but while those mementos will be cherished, taking the course at MIS as a team one last time this season was a priceless experience.
Swiney remarked, “I have ran at MIS every year since I was a freshman. I can still remember looking out of my bus window seeing the huge grandstands and realizing how naïve and simple minded I was in the past. I joined cross country because I was good at track and wanted to hang out with my friends. Going to state wasn’t even a thought I considered. (MIS) is special. It’s the place that every XC runner in Michigan dreams of going.”
Andreas noticed how unique the fan support was in such a large stadium in her first appearance at MIS. “It was a really incredible experience. I honestly felt super important running so close to a huge stadium and seeing countless people rallied all throughout the course to watch the race.”
Oosterink’s drive was not satisfied with an individual state championship on Saturday. The junior is ready to come back for more in 2022. “The team did good for having many injury problems this season. I think we all had a higher team placement in mind, but we did our best and we had some great times. (I am) already thinking about contending for a championship next year!”
1 Lezawe OSTERINK 15:50.60
25 Logan SWINEY 17:08.33
145 Caleb KOOYER 19:00.79
160 Reed OSTERINK 19:14.91
178 Zechariah RUBINGH 19:33.47
179 Noah FINTON 19:33.78
180 Malachi VERWYS 19:37.61
14 Ivy ANDREAS 20:01.67
60 Hannah GEANEY 21:13.47
126 Erika VERBEEK 22:25.44
197 Samara SUWYN 24:22.14
199 Megan VERMERRIS 24:30.10
216 Lydia VERBEEK 25:36.82
228 Sara KOOISTRA 26:44.06