BROOKLYN — The clock was ticking on Madelyn Frens’ hopes of winning an MHSAA cross country championship in her final season at Grand Rapids Christian.
After running a blistering time of 17:56.0 on Aug. 28 at the Pete Moss Invitational at Benzie Central, Frens was sidelined with a stress reaction in her right femur.
Cross country season is short. Any time away from training and racing makes it less likely a runner will be successful come championship time.
But after going nearly four weeks without a race, Frens returned without missing a beat. With five races as a build-up for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final, Frens pulled away from a five-way battle for the championship to win in 17:52.30.
The time away from running was actually beneficial for Frens.
“I was able to have a lot of time just to think about myself and what running actually means to me,” she said. “It doesn’t define all of who I am.”
It was in her second race back, an Ottawa-Kent Conference White jamboree Oct. 6 that she won in 18:11.9, that Frens knew she was still on track to become a Finals champion.
“I was like, ‘I’ve still got this; my team’s got this,’” Frens said.
Her team finished second with 99 points behind East Grand Rapids, which had 66.
It was the third MHSAA team championship in four years for East Grand Rapids, which took second last year to Petoskey. Grand Rapids Christian was third last year.
East Grand Rapids put four runners in the top 15, with sophomore Drew Muller placing fifth in 18:23.28, senior Ainsley Workman ninth in 18:55.57, freshman Sadey Seyferth 12th in 18:58.41, sophomore Sophia Lado 15th in 19:05.87 and junior Abigail Petr 52nd in 19:50.93. All seven Pioneers broke 20 minutes.
Following Frens across the line were four sophomores who will likely have more battles just like this in the next two years. Early leader Mary Richmond of Frankenmuth was second in 17:56.01, Meghan Ford of Mason was third in 18:10.81, Natalie VanOtteren of Grand Rapids Christian was fourth in 18:13.46 followed by East Grand Rapids’ Muller in 18:23.28. There was a 22-second gap after that before the next wave of runners reached the line.
It was the most competitive race of the day, with five runners within three seconds of one another at the two-mile mark. Frens was fourth at the mile and third at the two mile.
PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Christian’s Madelyn Frens pulls away during the final stretch of Saturday’s LPD2 championship race. (Middle) Drew Muller leads a group of eventual high-placing East Grand Rapids runners in their team title pursuit. (Click for more from 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.)