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.)
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.)