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| 4 min. read | by: Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com |

The Dexter Dreadnaught Cross Country team came into this year with a clear goal. A state title. 

After a third-place finish at the Division 1 state finals last year, and after not having qualified for states the year prior to that, the Dreads returned five runners from last years team. 

“This is what we’ve worked for the entire season,” said fourth year Dread head coach Drew Collette, before Saturday’s state championship meet at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS). “Everything we’ve worked for since June, we’ve been focused on peaking for the state meet. We stated this goal. We said it out loud every day since we started training in June. Every one of these guys believes were in the right place. They believe in where we are and that the best is still to come Saturday. We’re excited to go out there and prove it.” 

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Before the season even began, the belief that this team should compete for a state title was one shared amongst the runners. 

“Everyone knew we were going to go for a state championship,” said senior Owen Huard. “We got together during team camp and sat our seniors down and said, ‘here’s what we’re working for day in and day out. That’s been our team goal since day one. That’s what we remind each other every day in practice, workouts, and each repetition. That’s been our mindset, to be the best in the state.”

“Everyone knew that was the goal,” added senior Nathan Larson. “At team camp this summer we had a talk with the 10-11 guys that we thought would be narrowed down to our top seven, we talked about what we need to do. Everyone needed to know that if something goes wrong. Someone else has to step up.” 

That someone stepping up ended up being junior Conor Kolka when junior Sam Melvin was lost for the year with a stress fracture in his femur. 

“That gave us some stress in the middle of the year,” said Collette. “but then Kolka stepped up and set a thirty second PR at the Portage Invite, that low range where we needed him to be.” 

In addition to this being the last run for the five seniors, it will also be the last for Collette as coach.

Collette moved to Kalamazoo at the end of last season but told the team that he committed to them and he could be there as much or as little as they wanted him, essentially, did they want him to be their coach for their last year? 

“When he did ask I was like, ‘yeah I can’t imagine anyone else coaching us,’” said Huard. “Drew is down to earth, acts like one of the guys when he’s here, it’s different than most coaches. Most are an authority figure, but he comes down to where we are as athletes and can relate us. That is what makes him a great coach.

“He’s been there for my whole progression,” said senior Seth Read, who had Collette as a coach during his freshman track season when Collette was an assistant coach before he took over as head coach. “Supporting me when I had a hip injury. He’s supported us and helped make goals and work towards them. He’s been a really good coach, always been there to talk about how it’s going and what we can do better.” 

“It was exciting, for me, for those guys and their families to say we want you to be our coach,” said Collette. “I was excited about that, just to finish their career with them. Their high school years with one coach. Really to hand the torch off to the next guy and this program to be at an elite level again.”

The fingerprints of Collette are all over the program with this senior class that he was able to coach all the way through. 

From Huard earning an offer from Michigan State, to senior Finn Bell having the chance to improve his time by six minutes from his freshman year, to building the program shaped around guys like Larson, Collette has been a driving force behind the work ethic of this Dread cross country team. 

“I think we’re the most hard-working class Dexter has probably seen,” said Huard. “Drew’s done a great job of homing in on, ‘you’ve got to work hard to see the benefits.’ One of the reasons were the best in the state, our work ethic is in a different spot.” 

“Drew has had a huge impact on the program,” said Bell. “He really emphasized you can’t get far in this sport unless you put in the work. Eventually he kept saying it and working us and I guess it stuck because here we are.” 

Larson told The Sun Times that while Collette credits him with being one who started the change, it wouldn’t have happened without Collette. 

“My freshman year, if you didn’t want to train, no one was going to make you,” said Larson. “When Drew came he was like, ‘if you’re going to be on a cross country team, you have to put in the work. Drew has proven time and time again he knows what he’s doing.”  

Regardless of the outcome on Nov. 2 at MIS, the cross-country team is in a better place than it was four years ago because of Collette. 

“I’m really proud of these guys because they believed in something,” said Collette. “Believed in what I had and our program and they’ve been committed to that growth and each other. Ultimately, it’s all I’ve ever asked from them, to give 100 percent of themselves and to their teammates. They’ve done that and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s great to see people run well, but better to see them grow as people. Improve as individuals and accomplish these huge goals and go on and go to college. Get scholarships, get some money doing this. Have a better life because they committed to a simple thing  called running. That’s what makes me proud. I love these guys.” 

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