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

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.

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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/