Hobbs Kessler crossed the finish line on Friday all by himself – there wasn’t another runner in site when he stepped across the finish line with the third fastest time in the 25-year history of the MHSAA State Finals at Michigan International Speedway.
The senior had a look of complete exhaustion on his face, and a few steps later would fall to the ground in a heap of satisfaction and pain. But there also was a feeling of doubt – as in did I really win. That wouldn’t be answered for another 20 minutes or so when the second Division 1 race would be completed.
All Kessler knew at that moment was he left his best out on that course. If he had to do it again, he couldn’t have done it any better.
“I’m proud, because that was 100 percent of what I could give,” Kessler told a handful of reporters a few minutes after picking himself up off the grass.
A few minutes later, Hartland’s Riley Hough crossed that same finish line all by himself with a time of 14 minutes, 49.62 seconds. The junior defeated Kessler’s amazing time of 14:51.79 to finish first overall in the Division 1 boys’ cross country state finals at MIS.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MHSAA decided to split the state finals into two races for each division to limit the number of participants for each race. The first race was for Regional third-place teams and individual qualifiers and the second race was for Regional winners and second-place teams. The final results would be determined by times.
So Kessler and Hough, the two heavy favorites, didn’t get the chance to run head to head. It might have turned out different had they been on the same course at the same time – as it was on Aug. 25 when Kessler outran Hough to the finish line in a dual-meet.
But Kessler took the high road when asked if he was disappointed that he didn’t get the opportunity for a fair fight.
“I can’t control anything he does,” Kessler said in his interview before Hough’s race had left the starting blocks. “I’m inclined to think he’s going to do great. He’s super talented and tough.
“It’s not the way I would’ve liked it, but I can’t complain too much. I did not think there was going to be a state meet. It was more of a gift. You can complain about the format, but it still resembles a state meet pretty similarly. It’s a blessing we got something in.”
Hough’s finish was the second-fastest time in MIS history, trailing only three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford who went 14:10.4 in 2000.
Kessler, who was sixth at last year’s state finals with a time of 15:36.1, said Friday’s race was one of the hardest races of his life.
“It’s beautiful out, great running weather and the course is the best it’s been in a few years,” he said. “I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I wanted to put up a really good number considering all the really talented runners who have run on this course.”
Kessler said since he crossed the finish line last year, this race has been on his mind and has been his focus.
“Every day I’ve thought about this race,” he said. “Even during quarantine I got up every day and did what I needed to do to prepare for this race. And training for this race has made me a better runner so even if I don’t win I will be disappointed but the process and experience has gotten me into the college I wanted to go to and opened a lot of doors.”
Kessler considers himself more a “racer” than a “time trial-er” and his running style is to run alongside his competition and pick a spot to separate himself near the finish line. He wasn’t given that chance on Friday. But he was given a chance to show what’s important – class and sportsmanship.
“This is the opportunity we were given and I’m really grateful for it,” he said.
Well said. And well done.