Anna Jensen opened her freshman cross country season at Midland Dow by taking second in the Pete Moss Invitational at Benzie Central, finishing in 18 minutes, 9.9 seconds.
In her second meet, she won the Lancer Invitational in Midland with a time of 18:37.7.
Before her third meet, she went to the doctor, because she didn’t feel right while running in the previous two.
There she received a diagnosis that wasn’t pleasant, but also could be what vaults her to the type of season she knows she’s capable of having.
“I was kind of disappointed with how I was doing at the very beginning of the season,” Jensen said. “But I just focused on running for my team and not getting down on myself. I was going to keep working and hoping my times would eventually come.
“Then I got my iron tested and found out my ferritin levels were low. It’s not a good thing, but finding out that I did have low ferritin was a relief, because it was an explanation for why I was running poorly.”
Poorly, of course, is a relative term. If the 18:09.9 from her first meet was still her season’s best, Jensen would rank as the 17th fastest runner in the state this year, all divisions.
But Jensen is used to going even faster.
Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron, and a low ferritin level indicates there is an iron deficiency. Fatigue is a major symptom of an iron deficiency, and Jensen's mother noticed during those early races that her daughter didn't seem to have the same type of endurance she once did. Now that it's being treated, and her levels are coming back to a normal level, her times are more in line with what she expects from herself.
In each of her last three races, she has broken the 18-minute mark. At the Heritage Invitational on Oct. 8, she ran 17:40.7, which has her ranked seventh in the state.
“She handled it better than I would have expected,” Jensen’s mom, Lara, said. “She didn’t get upset. She was a good sport and she always ran hard and always tried to do whatever she could for her team. I was thrilled and I was pleased because she didn’t get down on herself.
“I could tell when she was running that she wasn’t right, because I could tell she was struggling to catch her breath. Now she looks much more like I’m used to.”
Jensen has been turning heads on tracks and 5K courses since well before she put on a Dow uniform.
As an 11-year-old, she won the women’s division and placed fourth overall out of nearly 1,500 competitors in the Dow Run/Walk. The next year, she ran 17:18 to repeat as women’s division champion, and took second overall.
Her personal bests in the 800 (2:12), 1,600 (4:50) and 3,200 meters (10:33) – set while she was in middle school – would make her an all-state runner most years, and an MHSAA Finals champion in some.
Following Dow’s 2015 Division 1 Regional meet, she ran in an open race on the course and recorded a time that would have won had she run with the high schoolers.
Midland Dow coach Jed Hopfensberger has had some fast runners come through his program over 16 years. But anyone like this?
“Not this fast,” he said. “I have a school record based on who runs the fastest time at the state meet, and that’s 18:09. We’ve had some pretty good kids, too.”
So what’s the secret? Besides a good amount of natural foot speed and the time she’s put in, it’s Jensen’s other sport, swimming, that may have contributed the most to her success.
“My guess is it’s because swimmers develop pretty good lung capacity, so part of it is that fitness level, having that lung capacity,” Lara Jensen said. “You’re working really hard and doing it for hours. Also, I think swimming is good overall conditioning for your whole body with very low impact.”
Lara Jensen swam for two years at Purdue University, and said the family had Anna in the pool at a young age swimming competitively. She’s good at that, too, but the decision to run cross country rather than swim this fall at Dow wasn’t as difficult as the Jensens thought it might be.
“It seemed like it would be a tougher decision before the track season had started,” Anna Jensen said. “I had a lot of success in the winter in indoor track and I just kind of knew that running was my passion. I love swimming, but running was the thing I love to do the most. It’s such a stress reliever. I love everything about running, and that’s what I knew I wanted to do in high school.
“I will actually be swimming for my boys high school team this winter, so that’s going to be really fun.”
Jensen will compete with a strong Dow team Saturday at the Division 1 Regional meet at Delta College. Dow enters as the favorite based on simulations by Athletic.net. According to those, teammates Maija Rettelle, Emily Wall and Anastasia Tucker join Jensen to give Dow four of the top five runners at the meet.
The MHSAA Lower Peninsula Finals will be held Nov. 5 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
As she still has yet to qualify for that meet, looking too deep into the future may seem premature. But Jensen’s times already make her a Division I college prospect. While coaches can’t directly contact her yet, they’ve made it known to others that they’re interested.
“I would love to be in a position where I could get some scholarship money to run for a Division I college,” she said. “Depending on how fast I can get, I would love to run after college, maybe professionally.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Midland Dow's Anna Jensen runs through a fan-packed stretch during a cross country race this fall. (Middle) Jensen passes a flag during one of her races. (Photos by Craig Adams.)
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 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.