Calumet's Kiilunen Wins 4th U.P. Final

By John Vrancic
Special for

October 20, 2012


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.”

Division 2

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.”

Division 3

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.”

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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 Gerard).

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.