Finals Preview: Running for Another First

October 31, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Three of last season's girls cross country team champions are again ranked among the top three in their respective divisions heading into Saturday's MHSAA Finals at Michigan International Speedway. Three of last season's four individual winners also are back for another title try.

Just pencil them in for first again, right? Cross country isn't that easy to forecast.

West Bloomfield's Erin Finn, Grand Rapids Christian's Julia Bos and Breckenridge's Kirsten Olling all are back to defend their 2011 MHSAA championships. But they'll face a number of challengers, most they've run against but a few newer faces as well. Same for most of the favored teams, which have likely crossed paths at least once this fall. But often that doesn't matter when they're coming down the MIS home stretch.

Here's a look at some of the teams and individuals expected arrive on the medal stand by the time Saturday's races are done. Click for Saturday's race schedule and links to all qualifiers.


Reigning champion: Grosse Pointe South
2011 runner-up: Saline
2012 top three: 1. Birmingham Seaholm, 2. Saline, 3. Grosse Pointe South

Seaholm moved ahead of Grosse Pointe South about two weeks ago as the favorite in Division 1, with the top four from last season’s fourth-place Finals finisher back and led by senior Aubrey Wilberding – who crossed 11th in 2011. Saline finished second last season on the strength of four placers among the top 33, and five of the team’s top six from that day are back. But don’t be shocked to see a repeat from the Blue Devils, with all five of last season’s placers back in the lineup. They took five of the top nine at the Regional.

Individuals: Seven of last season’s top 10 will be back at MIS, with West Bloomfield senior Finn and Grosse Pointe South senior Hannah Meier regarded nationally, the latter a bit more from her track prowess. Finn won the title last season in 17:22.6, and Meier was third in 17:24.1.


Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2011 runner-up: Cedar Springs
2012 top three: 1. Ada Forest Hills Eastern, 2. Spring Lake, 3. East Grand Rapids

Forest Hills Eastern is looking to make a giant jump from last season’s 14th-place finish, and is paced by Regional champion and senior Clara Cullen – with junior Mary Kostielney taking seventh and freshman Lauren Allard 10th last week. Cullen finished 18th individually at last season's Final. Spring Lake didn’t even make the Final as a team last season, but now-senior Brittany Beeler finished 13th individually and was one of three from her team among the top 18 at a strong Regional last weekend. East Grand Rapids graduated its top two from last season’s championship team, but got a sixth-place Regional finish from sophomore Kaela Theut. Grand Rapids Christian, led by individual reigning champion Bos, beat both Spring Lake and East Grand Rapids at the Regional and is ranked No. 4.

Individuals: Bos, a senior, won the Regional in 17:18.21 and edged Cedar Springs’ Kenzie Weiler by 11 seconds in last season’s Final; Weiler is back this fall as a sophomore. Three more of the 2011 top 10 also are back, with Remus Chippewa Hills senior Megan O’Neil and Cedar Springs senior Katie Weiler following Kenzie for the top three spots at their Regional after the latter two finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at last season’s Final.


Reigning champion: Benzie Central
2011 runner-up: Kent City
2012 top three: 1. Grandville Calvin Christian, T-2. Benzie Central, T-2. Jackson Lumen Christi

Calvin Christian enters as the favorite on the strength of six of the top seven from last season’s eighth-place finisher. Six of those seven finished among the top 17 at the Regional. Benzie Central placed six of the top 19 at its Regional, and junior Bryce Cutler finished 26th at last season's Final. Lumen Christi finished fourth in 2011 in large part thanks to two freshmen who are now even better sophomores – Aubrey Penn and Caitlin Clark, who are both coming off top-47 Final finishes.

Individuals: Seven of last season’s top 10 also return in this division, headlined by reigning runner-up and senior Raquel Serna of St. Louis and Ida sophomore Ashley Sorge. Serna ran an 18:21.4 at the Regional to beat a groupby 32 seconds that included two more returning top-10 Finals finishers. Sorge also won her Regional, by 28 seconds, in 19:02.3.  


Reigning champion: Hesperia
2011 runner-up: North Muskegon
2012 top three: 1. Harbor Springs, 2. Bear Lake/Onekama, 3. Beal City

Harbor Springs finished fifth in Division 3 last season and has four of those top six runners back this weekend. Bear Lake/Onekama finished 12th in Division 4 last season with only one senior; the other six runners all are back, including four who were freshmen in 2011. Beal City returns five of its top seven from last season’s 10th-place team, and freshman Hannah Steffke finished third at the Regional.

Individuals: Breckenridge junior Kirsten Olling has won the last two Division 4 Finals and did so last year by nearly 38 seconds. She won her Regional last week by 1:20 with a time of 18 minutes flat. Montabella junior Taylor Smith finished runner-up at that Regional, and might be the second-fastest in the entire Division 4 field after finishing fifth as a sophomore.

PHOTO: Breckenridge's Kirsten Olling rounds the final bend before re-entering the MIS track area during last season's Division 4 Final. (Click to see more from

Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

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.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.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.

Click for full results.

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/