Pirate News: Five-time state champs.

November 12, 2021

Pictured, left to right, Coach Terry Tatro, Jessica Jazwinski, Alyson Enns, Abigail Pretty, Savanna Owens, Lauren VanderLaan, Lexie Beth Nienhuis, Audrianna Enns and Coach Linda Tatro. – Contributed photo

Pirate News: Five-time state champs.

Pirate News is a presentation of Hart Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press.  

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The Hart High School Girls Cross Country Team won its fifth consecutive Division 3 state title last weekend, and the Pirate boys squad finished as state runner up for the second year in row at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.

The Pirates are the fourth Lower Peninsula team to win five straight state championships, joining Charlevoix boys (1987-91), Rockford girls (1998-2002) and Dexter boys (2002-06).

The girls finished with 143 points — 36 points ahead of Kent City with a surprising second-place finish.

Sophomore Alyson Enns, who has battled an injury for more than a month, placed second overall with a team-best time of 17:59.67. Freshman Jessica Jazwinski was third overall in 18:00.59. Enns’ older sister, senior Audrianna Enns, placed fourth with a time of 18:32.27.

Freshman Lexie Beth Nienhuis just missed all-state honors, which go to the top 30 finishers, as the Pirates’ fourth finisher and 31st overall in the race (19:36.65). Junior Abigail Pretty was Hart’s fifth placer and 159th overall (21:47.49).

“That last 800 was probably the hardest I’ve ever ran in my six years of cross country (including middle school),” said Abigail. Her position as the team’s number-five runner was critical, because she had to surpass enough competitors to gain the team’s number-one slot. “I was number seven on the team coming into that race, and I ended up scoring.” 

Abigail fought for the number-seven position right up until the end of the season to have a chance to compete at the state finals, said Terry. 

“What was going through my head was: Do I want to disappoint my entire team if I’m fifth where it’s not close enough to where I need to be?”

Pictured, front row left to right, Seth Ackley and Clayton Ackley; back row, left to right, Max Stitt, Wyatt Dean, Coach Terry Tatro, Coach Linda Tatro, Noah Bosley, Max Nienhuis and Josef Bromley. – Contributed photo

Despite suffering an injury to her left foot, Lexie Beth pushed ahead and completed the race. “It was about a quarter mile after the two-mile mark, and I think I just stepped wrong and twisted my foot completely to the side. There was a shot of pain up through my leg. I knew something was wrong but I wasn’t about to let it stop me.” 

Lexi Beth’s injured foot was in an air cast this week. 

Hart’s boys team finished second behind St. Louis, just like in 2020. Coach Terry Tatro said the Pirates held a narrow lead after the two-mile mark, but St. Louis kicked it into gear over the final mile-plus.

Three Hart boys runners earned all-state honors with top-30 finishes: Junior Clayton Ackley — first cousin to Audrianna and Alyson Enns – in 10th place (16:19.34); junior Wyatt Dean at 26th (16:43.31); and senior Noah Bosley, who finished 29th (16:44.16).

“I thought we still had a chance to win it when Noah and I came in together,” said Wyatt. “I knew it was going to be close. I think we have a better chance next year if we all come back stronger than we did.”

“I was just glad I finished — the last 100 meters were hard,” said senior Max Nienhuis, who is Lexie Beth’s cousin. As he crossed the finish line, he saw his female teammates signaling #2, indicating the team finished second. This year was special for the senior who ran in the state finals for the first time. 

“Max really stepped up this year,” said Coach Tatro. He finished fourth on the Hart team. 

A total of 258 runners competed in the boys’ race, and 256 ran in the girls’ race, said Linda.

The incredible legacy of this Pirate Powerhouse is driven by many forces, including long-time husband-and-wife coaching duo Terry and Linda Tatro. Terry, a retired Michigan State Police trooper from the Hart post and avid runner, began coaching the team 23 years ago. Linda came on as assistant coach in 2008.

Another force is the program’s family atmosphere. The athletes call Linda “Mama Coach,” and Terry and Linda both have a strong bond with the runners as if they are their own kids. There are also several real family connections on the teams.

“I think it keeps everybody tighter. The kids get along so well,” said Terry. “They are a family even if they’re not siblings or cousins. You’d have to see it to believe it how close they are and how tight they are. They care for each other.”

Many of the athletes come from running families, such as the Ackleys and Ennses, said Linda. “There are generations of running. They know what it takes to be a successful runner.”

“Knowing that you are so close to these people makes you want to run harder for those people,” said Lexie Beth. “Just like wanting to do good for the people on your team is so much more impactful than wanting to do good for your parents.”

All of the girls eagerly waited at the finish line for their teammates during the state meet, said Abigail. “They wanted to wait for everyone, and we all went back to the box together.”

“When we run together, it just makes running better,” Wyatt said. “It’s a lot more fun. and it makes us push harder.”

“It makes running a lot more enjoyable,” said Max. The close bonds also add to the competitiveness. 

“The girls and boys, although they are two separate teams, are one cross country family,” said Linda. “That is also a dynamic that is different from most sports. We train, travel and compete together.

“They’re one of the best groups we’ve had come through as far as being close,” said Terry. “They work with each other; push each other; and have fun doing it.”

Being in the “500 Mile Club” keeps the runners in fantastic shape over the summer. It is an incentive to run 500 miles beginning in June until the first conference meet, which is an average of 30-35 miles per week. “If they do that, I can almost guarantee they will be all-conference, all-regional, all-state,” said Terry.

“When asked, ‘What do you think has contributed to the success of this team?’” Lexie Beth said, “Them (meaning the coaches).” Coach Tatro was named Coach of the Year by the Michigan High School Athletic Association last season.

“I have never had a coach like them. They push me every day. You come to practice, and you see your coaches smiling at you, and all of a sudden, you’re excited.” 

“Practice was the best part of my day,” said Max. “Every practice, they’re always all smiles.”

Tatro has led a team or individual runners to state 21 years out of his 23-year coaching career. 

Many of Hart’s cross country athletes have gone on to succeed in the sport at the college level. The coaches stay in touch with many of their former athletes on a regular basis.

The Hart community showed its pride for the Pirates last Saturday with a police and fire escort and cheering fans as the team bus rolled into town after the championship.

No team in the Lower Peninsula has captured six state titles, so it will be even more exciting to see what unfolds next year. “I’m excited,” said Terry.

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