Ackley, St. Francis Hold off Charging Cougars

November 5, 2016

Second Half reports

BROOKLYN – The finish line couldn’t arrive soon enough for Hart sophomore Adelyn Ackley.

There was no one in front of her at Michigan International Speedway as she sprinted down the final stretch Saturday in the MHSAA Division 3 cross country meet.

It’s what was behind her that had Ackley running scared.

Hot on her heels was Lansing Catholic junior Olivia Theis, the only Division 3 runner to beat her this season.

“It was a terrible feeling,” Ackley said. “I thought she was right there. At first, I thought the finish line was closer, so I dug. Then I realized it’s a lot farther.”

Ackley was able to hold off Theis, winning with a time of 17:40.6. Theis was a close second in 17:41.3, as the top two runners cleared the rest of the field by 42.9 seconds.

“I was getting there,” Theis said. “I just couldn’t pick it up any more. I was ahead, then she pulled ahead and I couldn’t catch her.”

Ackley and Theis raced head-to-head in the two biggest regular-season invitationals of the season. Ackley was third behind two Division 1 top-seven finishers in the Spartan Elite Race at Michigan State, with Theis taking fourth. In the Portage Invitational, Theis was first in 17:21, with Ackley taking second by 12 seconds.

Ackley was a distant second at last year’s Final to Traverse City St. Francis’ Holly Bullough, who now runs for Michigan State University.

Ackley went through the mile in 5:46, backing off about 700 meters into the race after a blistering start.

“I had a really fast start,” she said. “Then I realized I was going like a 4:41 pace for a mile, so I slowed down and followed Olivia.”

Ackley ran negative splits, running the second mile in 5:41 and the third in 5:39. Theis also ran a well-paced race, going 5:47, 5:40 and 5:42 for the first three miles.

Despite Theis’ performance, Lansing Catholic couldn’t keep St. Francis from repeating as Division 3 team champion.

St. Francis, which lost only two runners from its top seven of 2015, put five runners in the top 24 in the team race. Junior Joyana Tarsa was seventh in 19:13.6, sophomore Katelyn Duffing ninth in 19:23.1, senior Emmalyne Tarsa 14th in 19:37.2, freshman Libby Gorman 23rd in 20:13.5 and sophomore Christine Scerbak 24th in 20:18.0.

Lansing Catholic put three runners in the top five in the team race, but had to count 31st and 47th places. Olivia Theis was second among team runners, Lauren Cleary was third and Jaden Theis was fifth.

Benzie Central was third with 125 points.

Click for full results.

The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hart’s Adelyn Ackley (right) charges toward the finish in Division 3 just ahead of Lansing Catholic’s Olivia Theis. (Middle) St. Francis’ Joyana Tarsa (1680) leads a pack including Benzie Central’s Lucy Karpukhno (1526). (Click to see more from

Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

BROOKLYN — Emily Tomes of Grand Rapids Catholic Central might be the first MHSAA cross country champion to go all season without winning a meet until it mattered the most.

There are two good reasons for that.

First, she runs in the Grand Rapids area, which is a hotbed for high school cross country. Her biggest league rival, Selma Anderson of Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, was the runner-up in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final on Saturday.

Second, she was adjusting all season to a significant change in her training volume.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.As a result, she had five second-place finishes in nine races and didn’t run faster than 18:25.5 until her conference and Regional meets.

“I ramped up my miles, so my legs felt tired for a lot of my races,” Tomes said. “So, that’s why I recently started running sub-18. My legs started to get used to the mileage. I was just trying to wait until this meet. This is when I was going to try to run my best.”

Tomes was the Division 2 champion, running a time of 17:31.4 on a Michigan International Speedway course that yielded fast times all day.

She won a kick down the stretch against St. Joseph senior Gail Vaikutis, who took second in 17:33.6.

“I feel like I do rely on my kick quite a bit, but I just knew it could help me pass those girls and it gives me a lot of confidence moving forward, ” Tomes said. “I have a couple postseason meets, so I’m really looking forward to those.”

It was anyone’s race when a pack of five runners reached the two-mile mark within one second of one another. It was a two-runner race coming down the straightaway, with Tomes passing Vaikutis in the final tenth of a mile.

“I don’t normally run in packs,” Tomes said. “This season kind of started off slower for me, so I wasn’t used to racing with these girls. I know they know how to run really fast. If I could just let them carry me along, it would help me out.”

Grand Rapids Christian won the team championship with a score of 112 points. Last season’s champion Otsego was second with 131.

The Eagles won their seventh MHSAA championship and first since 2014.

Senior Natalie VanOtteren, who defeated Tomes by 17 seconds at Regionals, led Grand Rapids Christian by placing fifth in 17:58.2. Sophomore Lilah Poel was 20th, sophomore Ellie Scholma 30th, senior Payton Holtz 31st and senior Naomi Nelson 65th for the Eagles.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Emily Tomes, left, breaks away from St. Joseph's Gail Vaikutis during the closing stretch of the Division 2 Final. (Middle) Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish. (Photos by Dave McCauley/