by Calli Newberry
The North Branch girls cross country team is well on its way to making history.
The Broncos have never won a title in cross country, not just a BWAC title, but any conference title, and this year’s team is determined to change that. After losing in a tiebreaker to Croswell-Lexington in the first BWAC Jamboree two weeks ago, a few different runners on the team stepped up en route to a first-place finish on Tuesday evening in Almont.
North Branch won with a final score of 40 points, while Cros-Lex took second with 54 and Imlay City finished third with 71. With the score now tied between the Broncos and Pioneers, the overall conference champion will be decided in a few weeks at the third and final BWAC Jamboree.
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“It is really great because at school we have banners hanging up in the gym and there’s nothing up there for cross country,” North Branch senior Haileigh Bissett said, “so if we could get up there this year, especially my senior year, that would be great for us.”
Bissett led her team and the conference for the second time in a row with a time of 20.27.51. Four other teammates joined her in the top 15, which was exactly what head coach Jason Castle wanted.
“It’s good for the girls because they want that league title and they know they have a chance,” Castle said. “I said if we can get five girls in the top 15, we’ve got a chance, and we had five girls in the top 15, so there’s girls stepping up…They’re peaking at the right time.”
One of those girls was senior Alyssa Bussure, who finished 32nd in 24:43.1 at the first BWAC Jamboree, and on Tuesday, she took 11th in 22:13.61.
“It was her best race in four years I’ve ever seen her run,” Castle said. “She stepped it up a lot.”
Bussure said she’s been encouraged by one of her teammates and is motivated to help her team finally win a title.
“It’s my senior year,” she said. “I just want to give it my all.”
Another motivated senior hails from Imlay City, Elizabeth Sliman, who took second overall in 20:48.27. Last year, her best place in the conference was eighth and she never broke the 21-minute barrier, but this year she’s consistently running in the 20-minute range and has taken second in the last two league meets.
The Pioneers fought for their second-place finish with three runners in the top 10: freshman Eva Thompson in third, sophomore Morgan Newton in fourth, and sophomore Abagayle Barkley in ninth. Their times were 20:56.13, 21:06.79, and 21:46.97, respectively.
And rounding out the top 10 finishers, freshman Brooklyn Khon from Armada took fifth in 21:06.92, sophomore Brianna Albers from Richmond was sixth in 21:19.72, North Branch sophomore Grace Clemens was seventh in 21:41.60, Imlay City junior Jenna Denver was eighth in 21:41.60, and North Branch junior Karlie Schlaud was 10th in 22:09.48.
The final BWAC Jamboree will be held at North Branch High School, setting the Broncos up for success on their home course. The race is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 19.