BY DENNIS CHASE
BENZONIA — This is Benzie Central's time of the year.
The Huskies tuned up for next weekend's Division 3 state cross country races by sweeping the regional here Saturday.
The boys finished with 47 points, Mason County Central 61 and Manistee 115.
The girls, the defending state champions, had 52 points, Mason County Central 69 and Manistee 85. The top three teams advanced.
Alyssa Bennett powered the girls, finishing third overall and just a few seconds off the school record in 18:20.
"Alyssa got a huge PR today," Benzie coach Asa Kelly said. "She's dropped nearly a minute and 10 seconds off the PR she had coming into the season. That has to do with having really good teammates, solid training and a great commitment."
Benzie, ranked No. 2 in Division 3, got a solid performance from Bryce Cutler, who was fifth (18:56). Makayla Huddleston (19:32), Rachael Peabody (19:57) and Sarah Jones (20:01) were all in the top 20.
"We got out nice and strong right from the get-go," Kelly said. "That will wake some people up downstate and should put us right in the mix (for a state title)."
Bennett, a transfer, is in her first season with the Huskies.
"Benzie has a tradition of doing really well at states," she said. "I'm going to give it all I have, do all I can, to represent Benzie the best I can next Saturday."
Manistee's Annie Fuller won the girls race in 17:42. She passed Charlevoix's Amber Way just before the turn to hit the homestretch. Way was second in 17:47. Both times were personal bests for the sophomores.
"I didn't know what kind of time we were going to pull because this is a fast course," Fuller said. "I decided not to do anything more than what it took to win. I decided to stay behind (Way) right until the last stretch instead of running full out the whole time.
"I needed to get in front of her at the turn (before the homestretch). I always rely on my kick at the end."
Way lowered her PR by 20 seconds.
"I knew she (Fuller) was going to be right there," Way said. "Near the end, I thought I had her, but she just took off. That's OK. I tried. I did what I could do. I'm very happy with the race today."
Manistee freshman Ashley Lindeman finished fourth (18:27) while Charlevoix's Olivia Certa was seventh (19:20).
The Benzie boys ran strong, putting five in the top 13. Justin Prange placed eighth (16:32.3), Kyle Bailey ninth (16:32.69), Max Gaft 11th (16:35), Ismael Halaweh 13th (16:39) and Jared Bluhm 16th (16:44).
"We had seven runners under 17 (minutes)," Kelly said. "That was the goal today and we got it. Our first five guys were 12 seconds apart. It was easily our best race of the season.
"The guys came ready to race. We've been flat the last few weeks. We talked a lot about what they were capable of doing today and they were ready. They couldn't wait to put the spikes on this morning. When the gun went off, it showed."
Prange, a Kingsley transfer, led the way.
"I guess we saved it for today," he said of the team's performance. "We didn't taper this week, we're saving that for next week so we can peak at the state finals."
Mason County Central's Chase Bennett ran a blistering 15:24 to win individual honors.
"I knew it would be a great day to run," he said. "We were hoping to win it, but Benzie looked strong."
Kingsley's Jake Keena placed second in a school record 15:52. He ran a 17:01 on the same course early in the season.
"I had a Mason County runner (Zac Benham) on my back the whole way," he said. "That kept pushing me. I tried to stay as consistent as I could and hope for the best."
East Jordan's Josh Wojan came in fifth (16:16).