2011 Finals: Dream Finishes

December 16, 2011

BROOKLYN – West Bloomfield junior Erin Finn said she dreamed of winning an MHSAA cross country championship since she first learned to walk.

But it took a few more seconds Saturday to realize she’d actually done it.

Finn edged Rockford senior Taylor Manett and Grosse Pointe South junior Hannah Meier by just more than a second to claim the Division 1 championship at the MHSAA Cross Country Finals at Michigan International Speedway.

Finn finished fourth as a sophomore, and didn’t run much as a freshman because of an injury.

“I finished the race and I was talking, and it was ‘OK, cool, it was a good race. I finished.’ And a couple of minutes after I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just won the state championship race.’ I’ve been dreaming about this since I could walk,” Finn said.

“I guess it’s just, how many times do you get to say that? You finish races and don’t think much of it. You think of your time, start thinking of cool down and everything. But this is it. This is it where all comes together. And it took a second to register that this is what I’ve been working on forever.”

Twins Hannah and Haley Meier were Grosse Pointe South’s top finishers at both the 2009 and 2010 Finals, as their team finished third and sixth overall, respectively.

But the sisters and their teammates claimed the program's first MHSAA championship on this day, placing Hannah third, sophomore Kelsie Schwartz 10th and Haley Meier 12th individually. Freshman Ersula Farrow came in 15th as Grosse Pointe South edged Saline by five points. 

“Haley was faster than me in seventh grade and the beginning of eighth grade, and Kelsie was faster than me too,” Hannah Meier said. “We always run together. We’re like sisters, even thought one is my sister. (Schwartz) pushes us too. “

Click for full Division 1 girls results.

Division 1 boys: Friendly Final

Most elite runners at Saturday’s Finals were familiar with each other from racing over the years and especially this season.

Few knew their competition as well as White Lake Lakeland senior Garret Zuk.

He attended elementary school with Highland Milford sophomore Brian Kettle and junior Cody Snavely, who finished second and fifth, respectively, in the final Division 1 race of the year.

Not that that knowledge helped Zuk. But it definitely was a fun coincidence that those were two of the many he outlasted to claim the championship. The top six were separated by just 17 seconds, and Zuk purposely started out slower than the pack so he could surpass it at the end.

“I knew it was just all guts. There’s really nothing left,” Zuk said. “My legs were done. It was just keep moving forward. It was all I could do.”

Zuk finished in 15:21.2, with Kettle second at 15:24.3 and Saline’s Nick Renberg third at 15:28.6.

Senior Paul Asum finished 13th for Milford to give that team an unbeatable group up front. The Mavericks finished with a score of 128, 44 fewer than runner-up Hartland.

“The fact that we could have three guys up front was really good. We have been very consistent,” Kettle said. “It was a great thing we were able to keep getting better and improving.”

Click for full Division 1 boys results.

Division 2 girls: She’s the Bos

The Division 2 Finals field included two previous champions in Allendale senior Ali Wiersma and Zeeland West senior Rachele Schulist.

Grand Rapids Christian junior Julia Bos became the next.

From arguably the most competitive field of this season’s Finals, Bos emerged, running a 17:24.7 to edge Cedar Springs freshman Kenzie Weiler by 11 seconds. Wiersma and Schulist came in third and fourth, respectively.

“My coaches were telling me to kinda sit behind and let them block the wind, and make my move later on in the race. But I don’t really feel comfortable with that,” Bos said. “Because today especially, I could tell they were saving their energy because they know that’s what I do.

“So I thought I’d just take the lead right away and do something different. It was risky, but it turned out to be successful.”

East Grand Rapids had two runners following the front pack closely. Senior Kassidy Clark was the team’s top finisher in 10th, and senior Jessie Baloga was 19th – giving the Pioneers enough edge to claim the team championship.

“Our little motto is ‘Run as one,’ so we try to pack it up really strong,” Clark said. “Jessie Baloga and I are usually in the front leading, and we’re two seniors so that’s pretty cool. … We set the tone for the race.”

Click for full Division 2 girls results.

Division 2 Boys: From 2 to No. 1

Chelsea senior Bryce Bradley and Mason’s team had little room for improvement after runner-up finishes in 2010.

Saturday, they both took the final step.

Bradley won the individual championship in 15:20.6, one second faster than Dearborn Divine Child senior Nicholas Soter. And the Bulldogs, who finished second to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern last season, finished with 92 points to clear the field by 37.

“We’ve been working for it for a really long time. To get it, it’s a real honor,” said Mason junior Tanner Hinkle, who finished fourth individually. “I think we just got a couple grades with some kids with talent and also the willingness to work. The combination of that, we got pretty lucky.”

Bradley had finished behind Hinkle at their regional after taking a wrong turn, but he was plenty familiar with the MIS course. He spent the entire summer preparing for this day, logging 950 miles – 290 more than he had before his junior season.

“Last year, I was actually hoping to be in the top 10. So finishing in second place was more than I hoped for,” Bradley said. “I was trying to not go down in places this year.”

Click for full Division 2 boys results.

Division 3 Boys: Expect the unexpected

Zach Zingsheim always has fashioned himself more of a track runner.

But that likely changed Saturday at MIS.

The Lansing Catholic senior relied on some of his middle distance track speed at the end – making his final kick at the 3-mile mark – and claimed the Division 3 boys individual championship in 15:48.2.

Zingsheim was nearly a minute faster than 2010, when he finished 23rd.

“I started running cross country in middle school. Cross country was the first thing I knew, but when I entered high school I found my niche in track,” Zingsheim said. “(But) I knew if we wanted to meet our goal of trying to win the state meet as a team, I needed to really improve.

“So this past summer, I worked even harder than ever. I became a distance runner.”

The Cougars fell just short of that team goal, finishing second to Grandville Calvin Christian for the second straight season.

Calvin Christian placed four runners among the individual top 10 – third place Josh Kersjes (15:56.9), fifth place Zac Nowicki (15:59.9), eighth place Simon Reidsma (16:03.8) and 10th place Justus Pinckney (16:08.5). All but Nowicki are seniors.

The finish also was the Squires’ third-straight among the top two in Division 3. They were runners-up in 2009.

“Especially in training, it’s just nice to run with guys who are at the same talent level, who want to achieve the same things,” Kersjes said. “We’ve definitely stepped up our training as we’ve gotten older.”

Click for full Division 3 boys results.

Division 3 Girls: Winning feeling

BROOKLYN – Benzie Central seniors Theresa Warsecke and Amber Peabody remembered what it was like to win an MHSAA championship, having been freshmen when the team won three years ago.

They also knew what it was like to come close, with Benzie Central finishing third in 2009 and then second last season.

“Seeing how excited Hanover(-Horton) was last year, we wanted that again,” Warsecke said. “That just made us want it that much more again after getting second last year.”

Benzie Central finished 20 points ahead of runner-up Kent City to claim the Division 3 championship at MIS. Warsecke finished seventh individually in 18:57.1, followed by sophomore Bryce Cutler (19:20.6) in 15th place and three more teammates between 30th and 38th.

The individual race was a little more open with Allendale and reigning Division 3 champion Ali Wiersma moving up to Division 2 this fall. Manistee senior Kelly Schubert ran with the opportunity, finishing in 17:58.6 to claim the individual championship by nearly 25 seconds.

She had finished seventh in 2010, and didn’t even know her time immediately after Saturday’s race – just that she kept pushing through the final mile.

“I was actually happy for once at the state meet,” Schubert said. “I’d been here sophomore year and junior year, and I was kinda disappointed both those years. I was hoping to do better. But this year I’m satisfied.

“I just decided not to worry about it, and just run because that what I like to do.”

Click for full Division 3 results.

Division 4 Boys: Going out strong

Spencer Nousain’s high school cross country career ended with perfection.

After three top-10 MHSAA Finals finishes – including Division 4 second places the last two seasons – the Concord  senior cross the line first Saturday in 15:55.8.

But he was just the start for the Yellow Jackets. Four more teammates crossed among the top 25 individuals to give Concord its second MHSAA championship in three seasons – and finish a 2011 season that included first places in every meet it ran.

“We’ve been working so hard for this moment. To have it all come together my last race is just amazing,” Nousain said. “When I win, I’m probably the only person on the team that’s happy. When the team wins, everyone is happy. And it’s just nice to see them be happy.”

Nousain finished five seconds ahead of Saugatuck junior Sean Kelly (16:00.3). Yellowjackets freshmen Jacob Hall (16:40) and Jesse Hersha (16:40.6) finished 11th and 13th, respectively. Junior Parker Saenz (16:41.9) and sophomore Mason Nousain (17:10.9) – Spencer’s brother – rounded out Concord’s scoring coming in 14th and 25th.

Spencer Nousain’s individual success was the result of some trial and error. He said he overtrained as a freshman and sophomore, then undertrained as a junior. He prepared for this season just right – and let everything fly in his final race.

“I had nothing to lose. Might as well give it all I have, and that’s what I did,” Nousain said. “So it worked out perfectly.”

Click for full Division 4 boys results.

Division 4 Girls: Champions again

Breckenridge sophomore Kirsten Olling wants to win four MHSAA cross country championships.

She’s halfway there.

Olling won the first race of this season’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Finals today at Michigan International Speedway, clearing the field by nearly 38 seconds with a winning time of 18:02.7.

Olling was hoping to break 17 minutes. But despite a slow first mile and no one to push her after that, she still cut seven seconds from her 2010 finish.

“I thought I would be more nervous last year than this year, but I think I was more nervous this year. This year ... everyone was aiming for me,” Olling said. “It just means that there is more of a target on my back now.”

Hesperia won the team Division 4 championship, also for the second straight season. North Muskegon came in second. Black River senior Nicole Zeinstra, an individual qualifier, crossed second after Olling.

Senior Alexa Rumsey finished third overall and best for Hesperia, which saw all five of its scoring runners finish among the individual top 25. Four of those five scored at last season's final as well.

"Our top competition was North Muskegon, and we raced against them before and we beat them every time. I knew they were close to us though, so I knew we had to work really hard, but we did," Rumsey said. "It was tougher the first one (in 2010). There defintiely was a lot more pressure this time. We just did everything the same, worked hard and tried not to worry about it too much."

Click for full Division 4 girls results.

Top: West Bloomfield junior Erin Finn crossed the finish line first to claim her first Division 1 championship.

D3 Girls: Manistee's Kelly Schubert improved from seventh as a junior in claiming Saturday's Division 3 individual championship.

D4 Boys: Concord's Spencer Nousain ended his high school cross country career with an individual championship that also helped the Yellow Jackets to the team Divisioin 4 title.
(Photos courtesy of RunMichigan.com)


Speedy & Skilled, Krueger Again Boosting Niles' Cross Country, Tennis Teams

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

October 3, 2023

NILES – On any autumn weekday afternoon, Aiden Krueger can be found using his legs to carry him across the campus of Niles High School.

Southwest CorridorAfter cross country practice, the Vikings' senior literally runs over to the tennis courts to work out with the boys tennis team.

The fall dual-sport athlete has managed to make a significant impact on both programs during his career at Niles.

In cross country, Krueger is a two-time Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals qualifier and recently broke a long-standing school record in the 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) race.

In Saturday's Berrien County Meet held at Lake Township Park in Bridgman, Krueger's first-place time of 15:55.5 broke Jeff Ort's 33-year record of 16:05 set in 1992.

Breaking the school record was one of two main goals that Krueger, the Vikings' No. 1 runner, and his head coach Tony Todd and assistant coach Jason Todd set prior to the start of the 2023 season.

"It felt great to take down a school record that's been there for so long. On the day of the Berrien County Meet, my coaches and I talked about how I felt that day. They could tell I was feeling really good, so we went for it," Krueger said. "I felt great the entire race, and my body responded very well. My coaches were at the one and two-mile mark to let me know where I was at. I was able to squeeze out a record time, and the feeling of being able to share that moment with my family, coaches and teammates was unmatched. It's a day that I'll cherish for a very long time."

While Krueger always has shown a natural ability for running, he soon realized he needed to increase his offseason training in order to reach his career goals.

"Aiden is naturally gifted. He broke the eighth-grade two-mile record in cross country, so we knew he was going to be a special runner. What we didn't know at that time was how strong of a runner he was in terms of his mental preparedness. He was a quick study coming into the program as a freshman, but natural ability will only take you so far. There is a lot more that goes into becoming an elite distance runner," Tony Todd said.

Despite running very little over the summer prior to the start of his freshman season, Krueger still managed to post some respectable times in the 17:20s, but he narrowly missed qualifying for the Finals.

Following a couple of years of running track & field for Niles, and with running higher mileage the last three summers, Krueger feels he has prepared himself well enough to attain his ultimate goal of earning all-state (Top 30) at this year's Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Michigan International Speedway.

"Aiden isn't afraid of hard work. He ran 55 miles per week this summer, and up to this point we haven't backed him off from that number very much," said Niles' head coach. "We've been concentrating on consistency, and once the state meet is about a month away we'll start him on more speedwork."

Krueger, a three-time all-Wolverine Conference and all-Regional runner as well, has the opportunity to graduate as one of Niles' most decorated athletes ever with 14 varsity letters.

Well-respected by his teammates, Krueger was selected as one of the Vikings' team captains this fall.

"Aiden is a very positive person and is always encouraging his teammates," said Niles' head coach.

Entering Tuesday's Wolverine Conference tri-meet in Sturgis with the host Trojans and Otsego, Krueger hadn't lost a league race yet and finished first individually in five of Niles' first eight meets. He ran 16:40 or better in five of those meets as well.

As the season progresses and Krueger prepares for this weekend's prestigious Portage Invitational, he knows what he has to do to reach those goals.

"Right now it's real important for me to get out fast and get into a good position so I can figure out when exactly I need to sit back and when I need to move up," Krueger said.

"As we reach the bigger meets like conference and Regionals, there are a lot of good runners. My coaches help me familiarize myself with who is at those races and who I need to go out and run with. I thank God who gave me the ability to run, along with the support of my coaches and family."

Krueger plans to end his competitive running career once he has finished high school. His parents, Robert and Korrie Krueger, own Milano's Pizza in Niles, and his future plans are to help out with the family business or attend trade school.

Krueger didn't play tennis as a freshman, but made an immediate impact as a doubles player the last two years on the varsity. Since cross country is Krueger's priority sport, Niles head boys tennis coach Jill Weber felt it would be more beneficial for the team if he played singles this fall.

Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season."Aiden was real receptive to the change. As coaches, we just thought it would be easier to replace him in singles rather than have a doubles partner be forced to play with someone they weren't familiar with," said Weber, who has coached the Niles boys team the last 18 seasons and the girls squad for 20 years.

Krueger was sporting a record of 13-2 and was undefeated in the Wolverine at No. 2 singles at the end of last week. His only losses came in nonleague matches to Coldwater and Kalamazoo Christian.

"Aiden has an extraordinary work ethic. He works really hard, but at the same time he enjoys it and has fun. He usually only needs two or three games to figure out what he needs to do to win a match," Weber said. "I have so much confidence in him to get the job done."

Weber is amazed at how Krueger juggles his time off the court with school and cross country.

She used Saturday, Sept. 9, as an example of his commitment to both sports.

Krueger started that day competing with the cross country team at the Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix Mini-Meet, a race he won in a then personal-best time of 16:31.4. He then jumped in the car with his parents, who drove him to Mattawan where the Vikings' tennis team was competing in a tournament.

"Mattawan was gracious enough to put Aiden on one of the later courts so he could play all three of his matches once he was finished with his cross country meet," Weber explained.

Krueger won all three of his tennis matches.

"That was a pretty exciting day for Aiden. He just takes it all in stride and isn't a showboat on the court. When he's on the court he has a way of making friends with his opponents and makes good calls and shows good sportsmanship. A lot of people have nothing but good things to say about him," Weber said.

"As far as his ability on the court, Aiden is a very tricky player to figure out and has a lot of weapons. He has a good dropshot, can lob the ball, hit an angle shot or hit an approach shot and draw you out of position."

Krueger is well-respected by his tennis teammates as well.

"Everyone loves Aiden. He likes to joke around, but he truly enjoys every one of his teammates and respects them all equally. He's a good student and had the team over to his house for a team dinner recently," Weber said.

Knowing how important Krueger's senior season of running was to him, Weber spoke with Tony Todd before the year began about his role with the tennis and cross country teams.

"I understood how important running is to Aiden this year. The last thing I want to do is stress a kid out. He's done a nice job for us in tennis, but we're not expecting a great deal out of him. I want him to be able to concentrate on his cross country goals," Weber said.

Krueger's older brother Andrew Krueger played tennis for Niles a few years ago, and that sparked Aiden's interest in the game.

"I participated in some summer tennis camps back when I was in seventh grade. I liked my experience playing doubles the last couple years, but singles is a challenge because you have only yourself to rely on and the court is smaller," Krueger said.

Krueger describes himself as confident on the court, and he considers himself more of baseline player.

"I'm really comfortable on the baseline, and my tennis goals are to just try and finish the year with the best record I can in the conference and help my team do as well as we possibly can," Krueger said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Niles’ Aiden Krueger crosses the finish line after winning his race during a home meet this season against Edwardsburg. (Middle) Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season. (Top photo by Scott Novak/Leader Publications. Middle photo by Kelly Sweeney/Leader Publications.)