Breckenridge Star Finishes Historic Run

November 2, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half 

BROOKLYN — Kirsten Olling's greatest competition wasn't on the course at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday.

The names she was chasing were names from the past, some of the greatest runners in the history of Michigan cross country. 

Olling put her name among the elite by winning her fourth MHSAA Finals championship, doing so in a Lower Peninsula Division 4-record time of 17:44.9.

She became only the third girl to win four outright MHSAA championships and fifth to win four races at the LP Finals. Carrie Gould of Burton Bendle and Flint Powers Catholic won four in a row from 1992-95 and Katie Boyles of Rochester Adams did so from 1997-2000. Theresa Padilla of Camden-Frontier (1984-87) and Valarie Ambrose of Riverview Gabriel Richard (1981-84) won four races in an era in which there were team and individual races, but didn't always have the best overall time in their classes. 

"It's amazing," Olling said. "Today was my last high school race, so it's the best thing ever to know I'm out there now."

Barring a disaster — and they happened to two other runners in the past who were going for their fourth titles — Olling was going to join Gould and Boyles. Her focus on Saturday was to take down the Division 4 course record of 17:54.9 set by Marissa Treece of Maple City Glen Lake in 2006. Treece and Olling are the only Division 4 girls to break 18 minutes at the MHSAA Finals, both doing so twice. 

"My main goal for today's race was time," Olling said. "With me, that's mostly my own competition — how fast can I do this? That was my main goal for this season, to get the course record."

The Division 4 girls race was the first of eight on a course that was soaked by rain overnight and early in the morning. It didn't seem to slow up Olling, who wouldn't let the conditions become an excuse. 

"I was so nervous, but I was saying to myself, 'OK, no matter what the conditions are, I have to do this,'" she said. "It doesn't matter if I have to kill myself to do it; I've got to do it."

Olling hasn't had a close finish in any of her four championship races. This one was the largest gap, as Tessa Fornari of Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes took second trailing by 57.8 seconds. It was the largest margin ever in a LP Division 4 race, eclipsing Treece's 57.4-second victory in 2006. 

Olling would've loved to add a team championship to her resume, but Breckenridge came up just short. Beal City won with 120 points, followed by Breckenridge with 136 and Bear Lake with 158.

Beal City flew under the radar all season, not even receiving honorable mention in either of the two state rankings. It was a puzzling slight, considering Beal City finished fourth last season, 10th the previous year and had made the top 10 four of the last seven years. The Aggies returned their top three runners and four of the top five from a team that was 42 points out of first place last season.

Sophomore Hannah Steffke led Beal City, placing 10th overall in 19:27.0. Also scoring for the Aggies were senior Hannah Neyer (19:57.0), junior Emily Steffke (20:12.5), freshman Ariel Salter (20:52.6) and freshman Brenda Faber (21:04.2). Faber's finish was a huge key for the Aggies, as she took 44th among team runners. Last year, the Aggies' No. 5 runner was 76th among team runners. The top four Aggies pretty much fell in line with last year's lineup.

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PHOTO: Breckenridge's Kirsten Olling sprints down the stretch Saturday on the way to her fourth MHSAA individual cross country championship (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.