By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
While the best part of a cross country or track race is the sprint to the finish line, it was actually having the race be over that excited Audrey DaDamio the most.
Growing up, DaDamio loved watching older sister Rachel, who finished second at the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final and won the 1,600 meters at the LPD1 Track & Field Finals the following spring. But Audrey enjoyed a postrace ritual with Rachel even more.
Once a race was over, Audrey DaDamio would join her older sister on the track or at the end of the cross country course and do a cool-down run with her, the only time the two could run together at meets since they were six years apart.
“I was such in awe watching her race,” DaDamio said.
Fast forward a few years, and more and more race fans are finding themselves in awe of watching Audrey DaDamio run.
Now a junior in high school and member of Birmingham Seaholm’s cross country team, DaDamio should be on the short list of contenders at this year’s Division 1 meet Nov. 2 at Michigan International Speedway.
DaDamio is off to a terrific start to this season. She won the first Oakland Activities Association Red jamboree in September in a time of 18:02.16. This past Saturday, she was the individual champion at the Oakland County meet held at Kensington Metro Park, besting a competitive field in a time of 18:09.3.
DaDamio also finished fifth in the “elite” race at the prestigious Spartan Invite at Michigan State University and has built on a performance that exceeded her expectations at last year’s LPD1 Final at MIS, where she finished 11th.
“My goal was to be top 20, so coming away 11th, I was really excited about that,” DaDamio said. “It definitely made my goals for this season a lot higher.”
DaDamio said she started running track in fifth grade, mainly because she was inspired by Rachel’s accomplishments.
“My goal was to be how she is,” DaDamio said of Rachel, who went on to run cross country and track at Notre Dame.
Before the MHSAA spring track season in March, DaDamio competed at an indoor national track event in New York, where she finished 15th.
She then finished fifth at the Division 1 Track Finals in the 3,200-meter run and placed seventh in the 1,600-meter run to set the stage for this cross country season.
Seaholm head coach Craig McCardell said a big reason for DaDamio’s success is how well she knows her body and how to train.
“She intuitively knows when she can train hard and when she knows her body needs to recover,” McCardell said. “From this, she has avoided interruption in her training caused by injuries.”
DaDamio didn’t run in the second OAA Red jamboree because of soreness after running in a meet a couple of days prior. Instead, she rested up for her winning performance at the county meet and has her eyes set on the third league Jamboree, the Regional meet, and of course, the Finals.
DaDamio said she has a goal of finishing among the top three in Division 1, and hopes learning some technical aspects of the course the last two years will pay dividends in November.
“Last year was kind of my first taste of being in a lead pack and being with girls who I know are very fast,” she said. “You have to put yourself into a position to be successful. Last year at states, by the two-mile mark, I wanted to be in the chase pack. That’s what I did, and it worked out. Hopefully this year, it will be kind of the same thing. That second mile, it’s going to be really hard. But I just have to stay mentally in the race.”
PHOTO: Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey DaDamio races to an 11th-place finish during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Seaholm cross country.)
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.)