Beal City Repeats, St. Phil Soph Surges

November 1, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half 

BROOKLYN — Ava Strenge's goals were constantly being upgraded as she made her way along the five-kilometer cross country course at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday. 

She didn't come into the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 meet as one of the favorites, having placed 73rd last year on what was admittedly a bad day.

"I was hoping for a top 10, at best," the Battle Creek St. Philip sophomore said. 

Then the race started to unfold. Strenge found herself near the front of the pack, within striking distance of first place.

"Maybe at the mile point, I was second or third, and I thought I could do a top three," she said. 

And winning?

"I didn't think about that until that straightaway," she said. 

Turning on the jets down the final long straightaway at MIS, Strenge won a three-girl battle for the championship with a time of 18:54.5.

Sophomore Alexis McConnell of Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart was second in 18:58.1, while freshman Mary Ankenbauer of Kalamazoo Hackett took third in 18:58.6. 

"I was really relieved," Strenge said. "Usually the straightaways are where people get me, because I'm not a good sprinter. I can't go that fast."

Strenge beat her personal best of 19:14.6 set in the regional meet. 

It was a much better finish to the season for Strenge, who ran 21:13.3 at MIS last year after dipping below 20 minutes four times during the season.

"The nerves," she said, trying to offer up a reason for last year's disappointment. "I might have overtrained that last week, because it was my first year and I was really excited. I might have overdid it." 

Beal City, which returned six of seven runners from last year's championship team, repeated as the team title winner with 94 points.

Hackett was second with 108, followed by Sacred Heart with 130. 

Senior Emily Steffke and junior Hannah Steffke led Beal City, taking fifth (19:15.0) and sixth (19:26.0), respectively. Senior Hayley Neyer also made the top-30 all-state range, placing 27th in 20:17.6. Freshman Madeline Steffke, the only newcomer to the lineup, was 41st in 20:40.6. Sophomore Ariel Salter completed the scoring, taking 55th in 20:55.4.

Hackett had four runners cross before Beal City’s fourth did, but there was a 16-point difference between the schools' fifth and final scorer. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Battle Creek St. Philip’s Ava Strenge capped her sophomore season by improving 72 places to win the LP Division 4 title. (Middle) Beal City’s Emily Steffke (745) and North Muskegon’s Avery Lowe race for top-five finishes; Lowe ended up fourth and Steffke fifth for the team champion Aggies. (Click to see more from

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

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 EversJill 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.