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Posted on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 9:29 a.m.

Saline boys and girls cross country teams push each other to the top

By Pete Cunningham

The Saline High School boys cross country team is ranked third in the state in Division 1. The girls team is ranked number one.

The Saline boys team has 81 runners. The girls boast 139.

The Saline boys cross country won its regional at Lake Erie Metropark on Saturday. So did the girls, but they did so with a perfect score.

Compared to almost any program in the state, the Saline boys cross country team is elite, but it’s often considered Frank Butler to the Annie Oakley that is the girls team. That’s fine by boys coach Carl Spina, who says the “Anything you can do I can do better,” competition between the teams is helpful.


The Saline girls cross country team won a state title in 2009 (above) and returns to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn this weekend as the No. 1 team in the state. file photo

“There is a definite bit of brotherly and sisterly competition there,” Spina said. “It’s healthy. It’s fun. The boys want to match the girls and the girls want to match boys.”

At Saturday’s regional, the teams had tongue-in-cheek bets about which team would score fewer points. The cocksure boys team offered to give the girls points. The girls team refused, and proceeded to place 1-2-3-4-5 in the race.

While the teams enjoy competing with each other, they are also each other’s biggest supporters. The camaraderie between them is a reflection of the mutual respect between Spina and girls coach Mike Smith.

“A lot of the kids are pretty close. With numbers what they are, that’s a good thing,” said Smith, who coached both teams from 1977-93.

Both Spina and Smith said it would be dream come true if the teams could sweep the Division 1 state championships at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. It would be the first time in Division 1 since Rockford did so in 2002 and just the fourth time ever in Division 1/Class A.

Saline's boys team has never won a state title, but has finished second three times. The girls team won its first-ever championship in 2009.

“It’d be pretty neat for our programs, for our school,” Spina said.

The boys team is an experienced group with four runners from last year’s fifth place team, including top seniors Nick Renberg and Spencer Bishop, who finished seventh and 48th respectively.

It was a pair of experienced seniors that helped the girls win its first ever state championship in 2009, when Alex Leptich (a four-time medalist) and Kate Carter (a three-time medalist) placed fifth and tenth, respectively.

If the girls win this time around it will be with a younger crew. The top three runners for Saline have run in just one state meet between them.

Smith is fine with that.

“Lack of experience at the state meet is sometimes a curse, but it’s also sometimes a blessing,” Smith said. “Not knowing what’s out there isn’t always bad.”

“That would be great. We’ve been dancing around that for a few years,” Smith said.


The MHSAA cross country state championships will take place this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and, as usual, Washtenaw County will be well represented. Ten teams and seven individual qualifiers will be competing.

Following is a breakdown of who to watch from the area:


Qualifying teams (regional place): Dexter (1st), Saline (1st), Pioneer (2nd).

Regional medalists/individual qualifiers (School, regional place): Nick Renberg (Saline, 1st), Spencer Bishop (Saline, 3rd), Logan Wetzel (Saline, 6th), Anthony Lamus (Saline, 9th), Costa Willets (Pioneer, 2nd), Galen Burrell (Pioneer, 3rd), Jacob Higle-Ralbovsky (Huron, 4th), Matt Greve (Dexter, 6th), Eddie Codrington (Pioneer, 7th), Taylor Neely (Dexter, 8th), Joe Wendorf (Dexter, 14th).

Returning state medalists (place): Renberg (7th), Neely (11th), Vermeulen (15th).


Qualifying teams: Saline (1st), Dexter (2nd).

Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Alexandria Cell (Huron, 2nd), Rosanna Neuhausler (Pioneer, 5th), Lauren Halpern (Skyline, 11th), Elise Dombkowski (Dexter, 7th), Elianna Shwayder (Saline, 1st), Lauren Green (Saline, 2nd), Abby Rentschler (Saline, 3rd), Amy Creutz (Saline 4th), Alyssa Cummings (Saline, 5th).

Returning state medalists: None.


Qualifying teams: Milan (2nd), Chelsea (2nd).

Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Nathan Anderson (Milan, 3rd), Ike Fink (Milan, 4th), Bryce Bradley (Chelsea, 2nd), Austin Horn (Chelsea, 6th), Jacob Stubbs (Chelsea, 11th).

Returning state medalists: Bradley (2nd).


Qualifying teams: Chelsea (1st), Milan (2nd).

Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Maegen Hopins (Chelsea, 5th), Danielle Dahl (Chelsea, 6th), Jessi Battaglia (Chelsea, 12th), Elaine Johnson (Chelsea, 13th), Tess Odegard (Milan, 5th), Chabrielle Gollman (Milan, 12th).
Returning state medalists: None.


Qualifying teams: None.

Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Ronnie Milbocker (Whitmore Lake, 3rd), Matt Kemner (Manchester, 12th).

Returning state medalists: None.


Qualifying team: Father Gabriel Richard (1st).

Regional medalists/individual qualifiers: Alia Benedict (Manchester, 3rd), Andrea Bodary (Father Gabriel Richard, 4th), Lucy Bratton (Father Gabriel Richard, 10th), Nina Sapienza (Father Gabriel Richard, 11th).

Returning state medalists: None.


Qualifying teams: None.

Regional medalist/individual qualifier: Ashwin Fujii (Greenhills, 1st).

Returning state medalists: None.

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached by email at or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.


Pete Cunningham

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

Whitmore Lake senior, Ronnie Milbocker, placed third at the Division 3 regional at Lake Erie Metropark and will compete Saturday at MIS as an individual qualifier. His name was originally not on the Division 3 individual qualifiers list and has since been added.