Four-time state champs.

November 15, 2020

Hart Girls Cross Country runners celebrate after their fourth straight state title. Pictured left to right: Savanna Owens, Lauren VanderLaan, Layla Creed, Lynae Ackley, Savannah Ackley, Audry Enns, Alyson Enns and Coach Terry Tatro. Contributed photo.

Four-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 fourth consecutive Division 3 state title last weekend, and the Pirate boys squad finished as state runner up at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.

Freshman Alyson Enns led the way for the Pirates with a second-place finish with a time of 18:05.07. Senior Savannah Ackley placed third at 18:31.89; junior Adrianna Enns took fifth place (18:43.25); and senior Lynae Ackley finished 10th (19:15.04). Junior Lauren VanderLaan placed 68th (21:02.51); senior Layla Creed was 87th (21:17.64); and sophomore Savanna Owens was 137th (22:01.26).

The overall winner of the race was Western Michigan Christian junior Abby Vander Kooi who won her third straight title with a time of 17:12.47, breaking the record previously held by Pirate Adelyn Ackley who ran it in 17:40.6 in 2016.

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, began coaching the team 22 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.

Hart Boys Cross Country runners celebrate their second place finish at state. Pictured left to right: Alex Enns, Spencer Vander Zwaag, Wyatt Dean, Mickey Tubbs, Noah Bosley, Seth Ackley and Clayton Ackley. Contributed photo.

“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.”

“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 than most sports. We train, travel and compete together.

Audry Enns, Layla Creed, Lynae Ackley and Savannah Ackley share an emotional moment and embrace after clinching the team’s fourth state title. Contributed photo.

“Our boys had the best finish ever in Hart High School Cross Country with a state runner-up finish. They put it all out there and fell just 13 points short of a state championship. If each guy could have moved up just one or two runners, it would have been theirs.”

Savannah and Lynae Ackley finished their high school careers with four state titles.

“It was really special,” said Lynae. “Especially coming on as a freshman and helping them win the first state championship. It was really neat to get through and work our hardest and finally get here this year to win four consecutive state championships and look back and say, ‘Wow, we’ve done our best and accomplished our goals.'”

Senior boys Spencer Vander Zwaag, Mickey Tubbs and Alex Enns share hugs following their team’s state runner-up finish. Contributed photo.

“It was really cool just to get four consecutive state championships in a row,” said Savannah. “Just to be able to do that as a team is really special to us, and I always thought that would be really cool to get a four-way state title because our team seemed to be really strong. It’s really exciting.”

“It was really cool coming out as a freshman,” said Alyson Enns. “We had a really good team this year again. Just helping them win this year was really special.”

The athletes with their coaches, Terry and Linda Tatro. Contributed photo

“It was really exciting,” Adrianna Enns. “My eighth grade year they got their first state title, so that was really cool to come onto the team and go to state. This year it was just as nerve-racking as all the other years. I mean you’re ranked first, but you never what’s going to happen.”

Every state title win is special, but each one has a different dynamic, said Linda. “You have a different cast of characters, and there is a different scenario every time. This year with all of the different protocols we had to follow, it was all different.”

This year’s road to the state title was met with COVID-19 curves. Just a week after the state competition, in-person instruction at high schools, as well as high school sports, were suspended for three weeks across the state due to an order by the Department of Health of Human Services. The Pirates took a proactive approach to the pandemic as cases locally and across the state have been on the rise. The runners transitioned to virtual learning and remained in their “pod” for the last few weeks to stay healthy.

Contributed photo

“It actually made the practice part of it easier having the kids at home,” said Terry. “I think they were a little more relaxed and rested being at home instead of being at school all day. They came in a little more refreshed and ready to run. In that aspect it was good, but then again they were missing all their friends and I know a couple of them weren’t really happy about doing it. But it worked out for the best, because some of the schools were losing runners towards the end.”

When the Benzie Central school district shut down its campus due to the virus, the venue for the regional competition had to quickly change to Buckley, Oct. 31.

The Pirate teams had to adapt to sudden changes throughout the season due to the health crisis. “Every week there was something new going on,” said Terry. “It changed constantly.”

Contributed photo

Mama Coach took the runners’ temperatures at every practice and recorded them to follow health protocols.

As cases began quickly rising in recent weeks, concern grew. “Right up to the state finals, we were just hoping to get the state finals in,” said Terry. “It was changing constantly. We’re lucky it pulled off.”

A lot of routine and team traditions “were thrown right out the window” due to COVID-19, said Linda.

Practices ran longer than normal, because the runners were so happy to spend time together after being isolated most of the day with virtual learning.

“When we started our summer running program in June, they had been out of school since March,” said Terry. “The first day we met for summer running, it was like a family reunion. They were so excited to see each other, because they hadn’t seen each other for weeks.”

During the state finals, the competition took place in two heats to lessen the amount of contact for runners. “It was definitely a lot different,” said Adrianna Enns. “And running against all those girls that you’re used to — because half of them are in a different race — it was definitely different.”

Another bump in the road was competing without spectators due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions.

The Hart community showed its pride for the athletes with a police and fire escort and cheering fans as the team bus rolled into town after the championship, Nov. 7.

“This year was so much different, because I got fifth, so I actually scored,” said Lauren VanderLaan who was one of Hart’s top five finishers. “Last year, I got seventh on the team, so it meant a lot more to me. It was an amazing feeling when we got done — we just won a state championship, and I actually scored points for that and it was so cool.”

Senior Layla Creed credited the JV runners for their support of the varsity athletes. “A lot of it wouldn’t have happened without everyone we have on our team. There is so much support that comes out of our JV team.”

“And a shout out from all of us to the rest of the team who worked so hard all season and supported us in the post-season as best they could when we couldn’t have spectators,” said Linda.

The athletes noted that their competitors were gracious and showed enormous sportsmanship and support for their win.

“That’s one thing about cross country that I think differs from any other sport is that they’re ferocious competitors on the field, but when it’s over they’re hugging and congratulating each other,” said Terry. “If you were to see the finish line, you have girls from all other teams helping each each other and hugging each other. It’s really unique about this sport.”

Rockford holds the record with five consecutive state titles in cross country, and it looks like Hart is on a path to match or surpass that record in the coming seasons.

“I’m sure they will be eyeing that up next year,” said Terry.

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