South girls cross country looks to make states for 38th year in a row

By: Mark Vest | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 10, 2017

If consistency is the benchmark for success, it might be hard to top what Grosse Pointe South’s girls cross country program has accomplished over the years.

South has qualified for the state finals 37 consecutive years, which coach Steve Zaranek said is the longest streak in the state.

To qualify for the state finals, a team has to finish in the top three at regionals.

South will have a chance to continue its streak when it hosts a regional Oct. 27 at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

“It does say a lot for the program because consistency’s something we really strive for,” Zaranek said. “There’s no other team that’s ever been close to that. We’re real proud of that, and that’s something we’re (going to) work to continue this year and years to come.”

Although South finished second to Utica Eisenhower for a Macomb Area Conference Red Division dual meet championship, there is still a big accomplishment out there for the taking.

The MAC division meet is Oct. 21 at Lake St. Clair Metropark, and it is where each division from the conference gets together to compete.

South has done well there before, and Zaranek has a lofty ambition again this year.

“(The) goal is to win the whole thing,” he said. “I think one of the really nice aspects of our team is that we’ve been first or second in the MAC — whether it be at dual meets or the MAC championship meet — every year since we’ve been in the MAC, so it’s been a few decades. … I think we’re right in contention again this year at that MAC championship meet. Eisenhower will be favored because they won the dual meet portion, but we’re close; we’re really, really close.”

Zaranek said there are 95 girls on the team, and he described the makeup of his squad as superb and hardworking.

The “extreme conditioning” involved is one reason why Zaranek thinks cross country tends to attract the best student-athletes that schools have to offer.

“There’s not many kids or adults who can go out and run four-, five-, six-mile runs, do these intense hill interval workouts, and be able to handle all this nonstop competition,” he said. “It says a lot about their character. It’s one of the few sports where (when) the gun goes off, there’s no break. There’s no timeout; there’s no whistles. It’s pure nonstop, very difficult competition. You need kids involved with very high character and an understanding of full commitment.”

Some of the runners who have made a commitment this year are senior captains Natalia Szura, Leah MacKay, Sophie Leslie and Sam Flower, who Zaranek described as great leaders.

Zaranek said South usually gets between 90 and 120 girls on the team, and while those kind of numbers could be a strong indication that girls enjoy being a part of the program, the coach has been having a pretty good time himself.

“Having started here in ’79 with the first team, it still is just as fun, just as exciting,” Zaranek said. “I have coaches with me who have been with me for a very long time. We’re all on the same page. We love what we do, and we love it because of the kids we get. … That’s what keeps us coming back and just as eager as the first year.”