Nov. 1—LELAND — Firsts in sports are often cause for celebration, and Leland could celebrate a lot come Saturday.
The Leland boys soccer team has five multi-sport athletes who helped the Comets advance to the Division 4 state semifinals for the second straight year last Thursday. Two days later, those same five helped the Leland boys cross country team qualify for the Division 4 boys cross country state finals for the first time in program history.
The only catch, however, is that both the boys soccer state championship game and the cross country state championship meet happen to fall on the same day — Saturday — at nearly the same time — 10 a.m. for the soccer match and 10:50 a.m. for the boys race — at different places about 70 miles apart.
"It's fantastic, but it's not unbelievable because they worked hard for it," Leland cross country head coach Karen Kirt said. "It's something we've been hoping and working towards for many years. Agustin [Creamer], Jimmy [Alpi], Logan [DeFour], and Sawyer [Couturier] —they are all seniors — and this has been something they've wanted for years."
If eighth-ranked Leland (18-4-1) beats top-ranked Muskegon Western Christian on Wednesday at East Kentwood in the soccer semifinals, the five players have already decided they will play in the soccer state finals at Grand Ledge High School. The soccer team hasn't won a Division 4 state title since 2018.
"It's great for the players, the school and the cross-country program. It's a little extra training they get on the weekends," Leland soccer head coach Rob Sirrine said.
Kirt said she won't be sad if the five players are not able to participate in the cross country championships. She's only sad that she won't be able to attend the soccer game because the cross country state finals will be at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
"When this happened years ago when they went to state finals, we were able to finish our cross country race because it was only the girls who qualified, and see them win it at the end," Kirt said.
Sirrine said before the season started, the five players had to decide which sport would be their primary sport — all of them put down soccer.
Leland allows their students to play two sports in the same season because the enrollment is about 130 students, so many of their students already play multiple sports.
All of the players who qualified for the state finals on Saturday have starting roles in the soccer team. Seniors Agustin Creamer and Logan DeFour, are starting defenders, along with Jimmy Alpi in the net — who already has three shutouts this postseason.
"It feels good because it doesn't happen that often," said Creamer on the possible scenario on Saturday. "We weren't sure that we were going to make it."
The five players who qualified for states on Oct 28. in Buckley were Creamer, who placed 11th with a time of 17:11.20, freshman Evan Keen placed 18th with a time of 17:42.50, DeFour finished 33rd with a time of 18:30.20, senior Sawyer Couturier placed 42nd with a time of 19:11.30, and Alpi finished 43rd at 19:13.10.
Having five multi-sport athletes in the same season hasn't changed the way Sirrine coaches. Sirrine said practices the past few weeks haven't been too hard for the players because he doesn't want to have his players burnt out or get sick.
"We've been taking it fairly easy at practice; and not necessarily for those guys, but in general because it's the time of year when guys start to get sick — and they've had a long season," Sirrine said. "You also add the stress of the playoff games. So it has crossed my mind of being overexertion."
Sirrine added yoga into the mix at practice to help clear the minds of his players so they're not overly stressed. Kirt said she doesn't put too much on the runners to keep them fresh for the next race.
"Sundays are often the runners off-days if you run, but it depends if you can handle it," Kirt said. "You have to give your legs a rest. You can stretch or do yoga, but you have to give them a rest because they aren't going to be fresh if you keep putting miles on them."
Many of the soccer players started doing both sports at an early age. Alpi began cross country in seventh grade and grew up playing soccer since he was just a youngster.
"My dad was a runner and an assistant cross country coach at a middle school, so I wanted to give it a shot," Alpi said.
Sirrine said he was taken during the first day of practice when they did preseason scrimmages.
"It looked as if they didn't miss a beat from last year. Not just those five, but everyone on the team," he said.
Alpi and Creamer credits cross country for helping them be the players they are today. Both of them have played extensive minutes over the past two postseason games. When Creamer does get subbed, it's only for a few minutes and he's back to flying around for the ball.
"Cross country has played a huge role," Creamer said. "The team's fitness level has improved over the years. Through the years, running long distances has helped us."
Creamer said his love for running started in elementary school, but during his sophomore year, Kirt approached him to see if he'd be interested in joining the team. Creamer said he fell in love with the sport immediately because of the challenges it brings.
Alpi said cross country has helped him to be more strategic in the net, improving his mentality between the posts and below the crossbar. Couturier joined the cross country team his freshman year before joining soccer shortly after.
Kirt has been an elementary school teacher for almost 30 years and has taught some of the soccer players. Kirt is also Couturier's sixth cousin and had him as a student.
Just like being a teacher, Kirt said each class is special, but this year's cross country team is near the top.
"I find this year special and also different because they're hard-working and committed," she said. "That's why this hasn't come to fruition until now."
Kirt gave Creamer and Couturier their flowers for being the leaders who've helped make it work by communicating with her about their soccer games while going above and beyond.
"Their hard work and commitment to make the meets and to train outside of the season, on the weekends when there weren't any soccer games while pulling everyone with them, I've not seen that in the past so that's what makes this team special," she said.
Come Wednesday, whether the soccer team wins or loses, both programs — and those five student-athletes — have no doubt accomplished a great feat.