By RJ WALTERS and THOMAS MARCETTI / Hillsdale Daily News
While Lyle Kafer has had to settle for second and third place in the final team standings at the cross country state championships the past two seasons, a recent trip to Reno, Nev. has the Hillsdale High School seeing gold.
Amongst a blustery snowfall, closely resembling Michigan this time of year, Kafer was part of the Project 8 cross country team that won the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships last weekend.
According to Kafer, who finished 15th (16:39) in a field of 180 young men from all over the country, the conditions were terrible with a foot and a half of snow and a winter storm warning present, but that’s part of what made the experience unforgettable.
“A lot of people were freaking out so I pulled my team aside and said ‘It’s not a race about time, it’s about who’s got the most heart. We’re the toughest team out there,'” he said.
His words proved to be true, although winning the meet wasn’t always a foregone conclusion.
Project 8 is a team complied from all over the state, from places such as Saugatuck, Potterville, and Detroit.
The team qualified for the Junior Olympic Nationals by finishing fifth in its regional meet, but on Dec. 12 Project 8 was determined to be better than its past record would indicate.
“The favored team (West Coast Gazelles) was ahead most of the race, but about halfway through one of my teammates came up behind me and said ‘We’re right behind you, we’ve got this,'” Kafer said. “That made all the difference.”
Teammate Dale Mitchell finished third and Project 8 runner Nichola Flietstra placed 11th as Kafer’s group turned in a total team time of 1:22:56, over a minute-and-a-half ahead of the Gazelles.
Kafer said everybody was very happy to cross the finish line and survive the elements, and with so many talented runners there wasn’t as much room to pass as usual.
“There were so many kids to elbow through — throwing ‘bows as we call it,” he said. “I was throwing ‘bows the entire race.”
Kafer’s mother Angie Rogers said it was wonderful to be a part of.
“They gave it their all and I’m a really proud parent.”
Now Kafer will turn his attention to indoor and outdoor track, where he feels it should not be a stretch to expect state championship medals in both.
“I know I have high goals but with my teammates and coaches beside me I think — I know I can do it,” he said.