MUNISING — Tara Kiilunen was nearly overcome with emotion shortly after the conclusion of the Division 1 race at Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals at Pictured Rocks Golf & Country Club.
The Calumet High School senior became the first girl to be crowned U.P. champion for the fourth consecutive year, covering the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 44.7 seconds.
“This is an amazing feeling for me,” she said. “Each year you win it, there’s more pressure. This was probably the most nervous I was for a race. I just appreciate the efforts of our coaches and my family. They’ve always been supporting me. I’m grateful for everything.”
Calumet, which placed four among the top eight, was crowned team champion for the third time in four years with 41 points, followed by Escanaba with 62, Sault Ste. Marie with 84 and defending champion Marquette with 96.
For more than 2.5 miles, however, it looked as though Kiilunen would be forced to settle for the runner-up spot.
Marquette freshman Lindsey Rudden, the pre-meet favorite, appeared to be well on her way to victory.
Then, the unthinkable happened to the Great Northern Conference champion.
Rudden, who was undefeated before Saturday, passed out and needed to be helped off the course.
“People kept telling me you’re gaining on her, then I passed her in the last 800 meters,” said Kiilunen. “That’s very unfortunate for the Marquette girl. She’s a tough runner. There will be so many more races for her to win and break records. She has a real bright future.”
Kiilunen also earned her fourth West-Pac Conference title at Atlantic Mine on Oct. 11 and was named U.P. Female Runner of the Year the past three seasons.
“This just goes to show it’s never over,” Calumet coach Arne Kinnunen said. “Everything happens for a reason. Although, what happened to Lindsey is unfortunate. But how often does anybody win the U.P. Finals four years in a row. Tara is just an incredible runner and she showed that by winning 44-of-46 races through her high school career.”
Her sister, freshman Leah Kiilunen, was runner-up on Saturday at 19:50, with Menominee junior Kameron Burmeister third (19:53.3).
“The Menominee girl was pushing me the whole way,” Leah Kiilunen said. “Her coaches were giving her advice, and I was listening to them. I knew what she was going to do. Although, I can’t help but feel sorry for Lindsey because she had such a great season.”
Newberry edged Ironwood 50-52 for its first U.P. Division 2 title on this sunny and seasonably mild day. Hancock placed third with 79 points.
Ironwood junior Jessica Gering, crowned Indianhead Conference champion last week, captured her first U.P. title in 20:40.9. Gering, who took slightly more than a week off mid season due to shin pain, was followed by senior teammate Hannah Palmeter (21:27.9) and West Iron County’s Rebekah Serbinski (21:31.6).
“The shins felt better when I came back, and I got a little stronger toward the end of the season,” Gering said. “I’m just happy to win one. Overall, our team did well. Newberry has a great team. We just have to keep working together and helping each other out. Everybody was happy with how they did.”
St. Ignace senior Sarah Cullip, who earned the Division 2 title the past two seasons, added a Division 3 crown to her collection in 19:36. She was followed by teammate Lily Calcaterra (20:47.4) and Rudyard senior Leah Jarvie (20:53.3).
The Saints also were crowned U.P. champions for the first time in school history with 40 points, followed by Dollar Bay with 74 and Rudyard with 81.
“This feels awesome,” said Cullip, who also captured the Straits Area Conference title on Oct. 9. “This proves that hard work pays off. Lily was right there to push me. The competition was a little different for us this year. I just kept my eye on the competition and incoming freshmen. I was extremely nervous before the race. I just wanted to keep up the pace I’ve been working on.”
Cullip, expected to be a key player on the Saints’ basketball team, is looking forward to this season. St. Ignace captured the Class C state title in 2011 and reached the semifinals last year.
“I’m real excited for basketball,” said Cullip. “Teammates who aren’t out for fall sports are in the gym practicing hard everyday. We’ll have to prepare for little different competition (in Class D) this year.”
PHOTO: Eventual runner-up Leah Kiilunen of Calumet (9) leads a pack at the Division 1 race at Saturday's Upper Peninsula Finals at Munising (Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com/Paul Gerard).
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.
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.
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/RunMichigan.com.)