Concord Senior Rises, Irish Stay on Top

November 4, 2017

Second Half reports

BROOKLYN — When Samantha Saenz of Concord needs training partners or racing advice, she leans upon the school’s boys team.

“I don’t have many girls on my team, so I train with the boys, so that helps,” she said. “They’re fast.”

So is Saenz.

Moving through the pack for four years, she found herself alone in front throughout the entire race Saturday on her way to the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 individual championship at Michigan International Speedway.

She became Concord’s first female Finals champion since Jenny Franssen won Class D in 1982.

The school has produced nine boys individual titles won by six runners. Saenz knows two of them, 2009 champion Kyle Stacks and three-time winner Jesse Hersha, who was a senior in 2014 when Saenz was a freshman.

“Jesse Hersha gives really good advice,” Saenz said. “I learned that pain is temporary and pride is forever. Kyle Stacks also helps with our team.”

Saenz ran a solo race up front, posting a time of 18:16.8. She has been all-state all four years, improving from 22nd as a freshman to seventh as a sophomore to third as a junior.

“It feels so good,” she said. “I’ve been working for it for four years. I finally got it. I’m so happy.”

Finishing second for the second year in a row was Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior Bailley McConnell, who finished in 18:44.1. Teammate Scout Nelson was third in 18:46.6.

McConnell and Nelson led Sacred Heart to its third straight team championship with a score of 39 points. Ubly was second with 138 and Lansing Christian took third with 141.

There were four McConnell sisters on last year’s championship team. Alexis McConnell graduated and junior Cammie McConnell was injured Saturday, so it was just Bailley and sophomore Desiree McConnell representing the family this year at MIS.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Bailley said. “This year it was a little different, because last year I had my two sisters actually run with me the whole time for most of it, whereas this year I ran with different teammates because I wasn’t able to run with my younger sister as much.”

Completing the scoring for Sacred Heart were Desiree McConnell (eighth, 19:21.0), Lauren MacDonald (19th, 19:56.3) and Rowan Fitzpatrick (23rd, 20:01.8).

The Irish’s score was the 10th-lowest by a girls team champion in any division or classification since the MHSAA began sponsoring a girls meet in 1978. Last year’s Sacred Heart team set a Division 4 record that ranks sixth all-time with a score of 34 points.

“It’s really nice,” Bailley McConnell said. “Working together, we’re able to stay pretty consistent, and we try to work with each other to know what we’re supposed to do.”

Junior Haili Gusa led Ubly to its runner-up finish, placing seventh in 19:15.6. It was Ubly’s best team finish, surpassing a fifth-place showing in 2004.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Concord’s Samantha Saenz pulls away from the field in winning Saturday’s Division 4 race. (Middle) Sacred Heart’s Scout Nelson, left, and Bailley McConnell led the Irish to a third straight team championship. (Click for 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.