FLAT ROCK — It was a history-making day for the Sault Ste. Marie High School girls Saturday as they were crowned Upper Peninsula Division 1 cross country champions for the first time with 34 points.
“This is huge for our program,” said Sault coach Jim Martin. “We’re still pretty young. Both of our teams work so hard, and they enjoy each other’s company.
“We have a lot of respect for Marquette’s program. Their coaches and kids have a lot of class. Our depth made the difference today. We have 11 girls running under 22 minutes right now.”
Marquette senior Becci McNamee won the 3.1-mile race at Beauchamp’s Grove in 19 minutes, 6.4 seconds on a sunny and seasonably cool day. She was followed by Sault senior Courtney Arbic (19:33.9), Negaunee freshman Emily Paupore (19:45.4) and junior Clara Johnson (19:46.2) and Kingsford sophomore Peyton Johnson (19:51.2).
“I don’t think anybody outside of Marquette expected me to win this race, especially by that much,” McNamee said shortly after running a personal-best time. “My tonsils got infected a couple weeks ago, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do this race. I was about 30 seconds better here than I was last year. The best I had done this year was a 19:57 (in the Marquette County meet Sept. 8). I tried to go with the same strategy as I did in the county meet, and it worked.”
The team title was a dream come true for the Blue Devils, especially for seniors Courtney Arbic and Josie Roos, who was eighth in a personal-best 20:04.3.
“This feels awesome,” said Arbic. “We’ve been training real hard all year. This is the best team we’ve had. We’re all good friends, and we definitely have a strong core. We tried to stay together as a pack. I started a little slower than some of the runners and tried to work my way up, then tried to pick it up after Mile 2. The last mile is usually my fastest.”
Roos, who’s leaning toward attending Northern Michigan University next year, said the Blue Devils have been working toward this for five years.
“We’ve been talking about this since we were in seventh grade,” she added. “I’m so glad we finally won it. We’ve been waiting for this so long. I was excited for this meet when I woke up this morning. I was real happy to get a PB.”
The Blue Devils had to overcome some adversity during the meet as their lead runner McKenzie Kalchik developed breathing issues and was forced to drop out.
“When the girls saw McKenzie go down, they stepped up their game,” said Martin. “I couldn’t be happier and more proud of them, especially our seniors.”
Ishpeming was crowned champion for the third straight time with 62 points, followed by Munising with 70, Hancock 101, St. Ignace 124 and Newberry with 134.
Ishpeming also had adversity to overcome as some of its runners were feeling well under the weather last week.
“We had four girls on antibiotics,” said Ishpeming coach P.J. Pruett. “Some of them had bronchitis and pneumonia. Fortunately, they felt better today.”
Munising junior Alyssa Webber earned top individual honors in 19:59, followed by teammate Maddy Peramaki (20:32.8); Gogebic (Bessemer) senior Lily Wieringa (20:44.8), Iron River West Iron County senior Emmy Kinner (21:11.1) and Ironwood sophomore Emily Carey (21:15.7).
“It was a fast race,” said Webber. “The girl from Gogebic was ahead of us for 1½ miles. We knew she was good competition. Maddy ran a PR (personal record) today. I’m excited for her. Coach (Fran DesArmo) is happy, and we’re all happy.
“It was a little cold at first, but I warmed up during the race. This is definitely better weather than we had for last year’s Finals (wind and rain).”
The Cedarville girls won for the first time in five years with 34 points, followed by two-time reigning champion Chassell with 46, Dollar Bay 81, Rock Mid Peninsula 88 and Stephenson 90.
“We grew all year long and got better,” said Cedarville coach Ryan Wilson. “We had good senior leadership this year. The kids are going to go home and talk about being U.P. champions. They ran some of their fastest times today.”
Chassell’s Lela Rautiola won at 20:12.2, followed by Cedarville senior Emma Bohn (20:27.2), Painesdale-Jeffers’ Gracia Asiala (20:46.7), Eben Junction Superior Central freshman Danika Walters (21:09) and Dollar Bay’s Cami Daavettila (21:14.8).
The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Courtney Arbic (155) paces Sault Ste. Marie’s runners on the way to the Division 1 title. (Middle) Ishpeming’s Kayla Kaukola finished ninth in leading the Hematites to the Division 2 championship. (Below) Cedarville’s Emma Bohn (343) stays just ahead of Chassell’s Lela Rautiola in Division 3; Rautiola won the race but Cedarville won the team title. (Photos by Jamie Tasson and Cara Kamps.)
Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.
Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Jill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.
“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”
Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.