BROOKLYN – People in Aiden Harrand’s support system saw potential in her before she saw it in herself.
She was having a strong start to her freshman year at Buckley two years ago, but Harrand had no idea how good she could become.
Other people around her could see the greatness within her, however.
“My freshman year, I had all the people around me kind of saying, ‘You could win the state meet your freshman year,’” Harrand said. “I didn’t really believe it. Well, I started looking at the rankings and stuff, and I really could. But I had a rough morning that year. It didn’t turn out like I wanted. It lit something inside me like, ‘I want to get this done. I want this to be my main goal.’”
It took two years, but Harrand has fulfilled the promise that her coaches and teammates forecasted for her. She won the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship Saturday with a time of 19:05.89 on a wind-swept Michigan International Speedway course.
Harrand was a contender her first two years, placing fifth as a freshman and second last year.
This year, everything came together.
“Both years, I was ranked 1 and 2 for both of them,” she said. “I didn’t quite get there. This year, I was able to do it.”
Getting her training plan and nutrition dialed in helped Harrand achieve her goal. So did showing up at MIS as the member of a qualifying team after racing her first two years as an individual qualifier.
“Mentally, it feels a lot better having a team, because you’re not only running for yourself, but you’re running for the people with you,” she said. “It just feels better.”
Harrand won 11 of her 12 races this year, finishing second at the Sparta Invitational to Kent City sophomore Lila Volkers, who was fifth in the Division 3 race.
Harrand won her Regional meet with a season-best time of 18:11, but MIS wasn’t going to yield personal records Saturday.
“I wish it went a little faster, but because of the wind and the weather, it was kind of hard to push through it,” she said. “It’s always crazy here.”
Johannesburg-Lewiston won its first team championship, scoring 118 points to beat last year’s program-best sixth-place finish. Hillsdale Academy was second with 151 and Whitmore Lake was third with 192.
Sophomore Allie Nowak was third in 19:20.80, freshman Yolanda Gascho was seventh in 20:04.18, junior Madalyn Agren was 49th in 21:17.05, senior Adelaida Gascho was 54th in 21:26.87 and junior Rosalinda Gascho was 58th in 21:32.23 for Johannesburg-Lewiston.
PHOTOS (Top) Buckley’s Aiden Harrand pushes toward the finish line at MIS on Saturday. (Middle) Allie Nowak runs third for Johannesburg-Lewiston in leading the first-time team champion’s placers. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)