Second Half reports
BROOKLYN — Two familiar last names battled for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 girls cross country individual championship Friday, but in separate races.
In the end, Birmingham Seaholm senior Audrey DaDamio had the fastest time in the two heats that were run in a cross country final that was redesigned to limit the size of races in the year of COVID-19.
DaDamio, who ran the first heat with individual qualifiers and runners from third-place teams at Regionals, crossed the line at Michigan International Speedway in 17:46.07.
She had to wait for the second heat to be run before celebrating her MHSAA championship. In that race, Ann Arbor Pioneer freshman Rachel Forsyth took first place in 17:55.60.
Both girls have older sisters who had second-place finishes at the MHSAA Finals. Rachel DaDamio was runner-up in 2014, and Anne Forsyth was second in 2016.
Audrey DaDamio improved every year at MIS, finishing 62nd as a freshman, 11th as a sophomore and fifth as a junior.
“It’s really special,” DaDamio said. “I’ve been dreaming about crossing the line since, honestly, probably middle school, but really freshman year when I was here in the 60s. I was like, ‘How do girls run so fast?’ To have worked to put myself in this position where I’m contending for a title is something really special. I’ve had a lot of good role models on the team and in my family to help me believe in myself so I could get there. I’m really thankful to have them.”
DaDamio ran pretty much a solo race, leading by six seconds at the mile and 15 seconds at two miles.
Forsyth wasn’t made aware of DaDamio’s time before she raced. She had more of a battle on her hands, outkicking Traverse City Central’s Julia Flynn (17:59.18) and Plymouth’s Lauren Kiley (18:03.92) to win her heat. An exhausted Forsyth slowed up right before the finish line.
Forsyth has a strong support system which includes her older sister.
“She helped me a lot,” Forsyth said. “Honestly, me and my sisters feel some pressure, obviously, just coming from a great family. It’s not anyone’s fault. My dad said it doesn’t matter what time you run; just go out there and do your best.”
DaDamio expressed gratitude for the opportunity to have an MHSAA championship meet, but missed the opportunity to race the other top runners in the state.
“I’m really excited we have a state meet,” DaDamio said. “I know a lot of states don’t have that. I’m just grateful to be here. I was kind of thinking about that during the race to kind of give me an extra boost. It’s a little upsetting not to be able to race a lot of girls I know from other teams. Some of the girls in the other race, I was excited to work with to push each other.”
Forsyth, like her older sister, led Pioneer to a team championship. The Pioneers scored 129 points, with Traverse City Central taking second with 168.
Cookie Baugh was fourth among team runners in 18:10.78, Sarah Forsyth was 20th in 19:22.88, Charlotte Batra was 34th in 19:47.28 and Emily Cooper was 48th in 20:04.36 for Pioneer.
PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey DaDamio runs the final stretch of her championship-winning race Friday at MIS. (Middle) Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Rachel Forsyth paces the second heat in leading her team to the title. (Click for more from 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 email@example.com 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.)