CHASSELL — Small school. Big tradition.
That’s pretty much the way it is at Chassell High School, which captured both the girls and boys Upper Peninsula Division 3 cross country championships Oct 20 at Munising.
Both teams won for the fourth time in five years, with the girls retaining their title and the boys edging 2017 champ Brimley by seven points (47-54)
“These folks brought it against some strong competition,” said sixth-year coach Marco Guidotti. “This team is grateful to race against such strong competition from all over the U.P. They’re grateful for family, friends and teammates that support them through it all. It’s nothing short of a privilege to have the opportunity to coach athletes of such character with steady support systems around each and every one.”
Guidotti and four seniors had a chance to reflect on this season and the program’s success Tuesday afternoon.
“It felt great for all of us, especially us seniors,” said Abraham Gockenbach. “We lost to Gogebic and Houghton this year, but we didn’t get crushed. We knew if we could compete with them, we’d be in the race (at Munising). Getting the championship trophy after a season of hard work was rewarding.”
Kurtis Kytta said competing with D-1 runner-up Houghton and D-2 runner-up Gogebic (Wakefield-Marenisco/Bessemer) helped prepare the Panthers for the Finals.
“The Finals kind of leveled the playing field because we were able to compete with schools our size,” he added. “Our (Copper Mountain) conference has been real hard the past couple years, and it pushed us to work harder. When we first started (in 2014), we never thought this would happen. We knew we had to keep working hard.”
Lela Rautiola remembers taking top individual honors as a sophomore two years ago. Cedarville, however, was crowned team D-3 champion.
“We were real close to Cedarville,” she said. “I walked away from that with mixed feelings. I was happy that I won, but disappointed the team didn’t win. I think that motivated the whole team.
“It feels pretty awesome to win it. This year we lost to Hancock in the first meet (Jeffers Invitational at Atlantic Mine on Aug. 28). It was a little disappointing at first, but it made us want to work a little harder. Then, we were runner-up to Marquette at Presque Isle (Park) in the next meet (in Marquette), which pumped us up a little.”
Jenna Pietila fondly recalled the Panthers winning the Houghton Invitational on Oct. 4.
“That was our last meet with Houghton and Hancock this year, and it kind of set the tone,” she said. “Knowing we could compete with them gave us a good feeling going into the conference meet and Finals.
“I remember when I was in eighth grade, we had no idea what to expect in the Finals (at Marquette) and we won it. It was total excitement. We weren’t expecting that to happen. We didn’t know what we were in for coming in.”
Competition had been tight among Chassell, Houghton and Hancock all of this season.
"We’re really grateful to be in position to compete that well against bigger schools,” said Guidotti. “We have an area with great coaches who show a lot of devotion to their programs. We started with a handful of guys and two girls. Now, it stretches down from the senior class through sixth grade. Being good teammates and leaders are things we put a pretty big premium on. It’s all for one and one for all.”
Guidotti also is grateful for the support the team has received.
“The support we’ve had is remarkable, and I think it’s undoubtedly linked to the team’s desire to keep proving that hard work pays off,” he said. “Every fall, my wife Sarah picks up the slack to keep our family running smooth at home, all while teaching and remaining such a positive influence on these athletes and the rest of the incredible Chassell family. It’s the only way I can devote the time I do to the team.
“Runners’ families open their homes and host team dinners to help them bond and eat well before races, and our local VFW opened its doors for a tremendous meal toward the end of the season.”
The Panthers also were treated to a meal the evening before the Finals.
“We went to Mr. Guidotti’s in-laws in Marquette and had spaghetti, bread and fruit,” said Pietila. “Then, we stayed overnight in Munising and did a lot of team bonding. It’s fun to be together as a team. The bus rides got pretty interesting, and we tried to have fun at practice. The whole season was fun.”
The Panthers then received a hero’s welcome upon their return from the Finals.
“Parents and fans organized the most wonderful welcome-home celebrations for the team with firefighters giving their time to lead us back to the school from the (Houghton-Baraga) county line,” said Guidotti. “Our community has expressed unwavering support to let us know they have our back. Chassell is a small town, but it sure feels big with the school and community support we’ve experienced.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Chassell's Lela Rautiola (263) leads the pack on its first pass by the crowd at the U.P. Division 3 Final at Pictured Rocks Golf Course in Munising last month. (Middle) The Chassell boys and girls teams hold up their newest championship trophies. (Below) Chassell's Ben Tuomi (486) edges Ishpeming's Jordan Longtine (931) at the Tracy Strom Memorial Invitational held in Ishpeming earlier this fall. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)