Liggett cross country hopes to earn trip to state finals

By: Mark Vest | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 17, 2012

 Liggett’s Madison Jerome runs at the Wayne County Championship Oct. 6. The Knights will compete in a regional tournament later this month.

Liggett’s Madison Jerome runs at the Wayne County Championship Oct. 6. The Knights will compete in a regional tournament later this month.

Photo by Phil Langford

As recently as five years ago, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett didn’t have a cross country team.

The program, despite its history of success, was shut down due to declining enrollment and a lack of interest, according to current coach and school principal Trey Cassidy.

But when Cassidy arrived at the school five years ago, his passion for running drove him to begin an effort to re-launch the program. 

His efforts paid off, and four years ago, cross country was back at Liggett, with Cassidy himself at the helm.

In fact, seniors Kevin Allen, Connor Borrego, Joe Renzi and Haleigh Ristovski represent the first graduating class of Liggett runners since the program made its return.

Cassidy appreciates what his seniors have done to help the program enjoy a re-birth.

“Four years ago, this group of seniors were our pioneers,” he said. “They started this thing. Those seniors have been tremendous leaders for us, and they’re really good kids; they’ve committed themselves for a long haul. I’m just pleased to have (them) part of the program, and I think they’re really good role models for younger kids, and other kids in the school.”

A relatively new program isn’t preventing Cassidy from creating big goals. The girls team has made it to the state finals for the past two years in a row, and Cassidy is aiming for more of the same in 2012.

“We set a pretty clear goal for ourselves of making it to the state championships,” he said. “The girls have a really good shot to make the top three (in regionals) and earn a spot. The boys are neck-and-neck with about four other teams all vying for that third spot. It’s going to be (a) very, very exciting race (Oct. 27), when we go to our regional and see if we can make it. That was the goal (at the) start of the season — make it to the starting line at the state championships. We continue to hold that as our goal. I think we’re real close to being able to achieve that.”

In order to make a trip to the state finals, Liggett will have to finish in the top three at regionals, and so far this season, the  girls team has proven it is capable of doing just that.

The girls squad has finished in the top three in two Michigan Independent Athletic Conference meets and took first place in the Oakland Christian Small School Race.

As far as the boys go, Cassidy is hoping they will also be taking a trip to the state finals. He believes it has been approximately nine years, including the five years the program didn’t exist, since they have done so.

Allen qualified for the final as an individual  last year, and Cassidy said his senior commented that he “doesn’t want to go alone” this season.

Between the boys and girls, the Knights have 16 runners on the squad. By comparison, Grosse Pointe South has approximately 120 runners on the team alone. Cassidy believes running against larger teams is beneficial for the growth of his program.

“It’s hard to compete when you’re talking about drawing from thousands of kids at a school, versus just a couple hundred,” he said. “I feel like they’ve really learned a lot from competing at these bigger races against these larger schools, faster teams and more competitive environments. When we were at the Wayne County Championships, we got to see Grosse Pointe South race ; the girls team is ranked among the best in the country. By being in the same race with those girls, we had to elevate our game. We had to be stronger and faster for the kind of intensity that comes from racing against top-caliber, nationally ranked teams. That’s a great opportunity.”

Cassidy believes Liggett’s cross country program has come a long way over the past four years, and he is confident more good days will follow.

“The loss of these seniors is going to hurt us a little bit, but we’ll rebuild,” he said. “We got a great middle school program. … They’ve been successful, and we want to tap into that.

“We’re looking for talented athletes, smart kids (and) folks who can contribute to this success in all areas of our school.”

Liggett will compete in a regional race Oct. 27 hosted by Algonac. The boys team is scheduled to race at 10 a.m., while the girls race is scheduled for 11 a.m.