Second Half reports
BROOKLYN – Zofia Dudek wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a potential MHSAA champion cross country runner during her freshman year.
She not only wasn’t running in Michigan, she wasn’t running in the United States.
Dudek was in her homeland of Poland when she was in ninth grade after two years in Florida and one year in Indiana because of her father’s job as a visiting professor of economics.
When Maciej Dudek was hired at the University of Michigan, Dudek enrolled at Ann Arbor Pioneer for her sophomore year.
From a school that has produced some of the top distance runners in Michigan history, Dudek may be the best of them all.
She won the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship Saturday with a time of 17:00.4, the fourth-fastest time by a girl at Michigan International Speedway.
Dudek had the fastest time in the state this year, a 16:46.9 performance on Oct. 11 in Ypsilanti, but the muddy conditions at MIS made it a tough day for chasing personal records.
“It was mostly just going for place and trying to do my best out there,” Dudek said.
Dudek proved to be a solid addition to the Pioneer team two years ago when she placed 20th at MIS in 18:13.0. She improved to third last year in 17:59.8.
“My sophomore year when I got 20th place, I thought that was amazing,” Dudek said. “I thought I could never be one of the top five runners. Now it just feels amazing to be able to do this.”
The potential successors to Dudek’s throne made their presence known Saturday, as the next five places were taken by a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors.
It was the freshman, Arianne Olson of Holland West Ottawa, who took runner-up to Dudek with a time of 17:53.0. Olson had no intention of trying to chase Dudek when runners took off from the start line.
“Not really, because I saw her times were a lot faster than mine, so I was just going to run my own race,” Olson said.
Dudek’s victory led Pioneer to its first championship since 1997 and fourth overall. The Pioneers scored 80 points to finish 33 ahead of Traverse City Central.
Pioneer had been second twice and fourth once in the last three years before ending its championship drought.
“It definitely helped a lot having people to push me in workouts and racing,” Dudek said. “It’s just amazing and helps me a lot.”
Sophomore Sarah Forsyth was ninth in 18:14.4, sophomore Cookie Baugh was 32nd in 18:50.2, senior Anna Vogel was 36th in 19:01.2 and sophomore Charlotte Batra was 39th in 19:07.9 to round out Pioneer’s scoring.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Zofia Dudek charges down the stretch at MIS on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of the Division 1 field. (Middle) Pioneer’s Sarah Forsyth (1106) leads another pack, just ahead of Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills’ Adit Dau (1973). (Photos by Matt Yacoub/RunMichigan.com.)
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.)