By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
All three individual champions from 2014 will run at Saturday’s MHSAA Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals, sponsored by Michigan National Guard, and two team champions from last season are favored to repeat.
Marquette in Division 1 and Chassell in Division 3 are ranked No. 1 in the final coaches association Upper Peninsula polls after also winning last season. But this time, Marquette will have to compete as well with Ishpeming Westwood, which moved up from Division 2 and features the reigning individual champion from that race. And Chassell won’t get the push from last season’s runner-up St. Ignace, which moved up into Division 2.
Here's a look at some of the teams and individuals expected to contend in all three races at Beauchamp Grove in Gladstone. Click for Saturday's race schedule and a list of all qualifiers.
Reigning champion: Marquette
2014 runner-up: Sault Ste. Marie
2015 top three: 1. Marquette, 2. Sault Ste. Marie, 3. Negaunee.
The Redettes are running for their third straight championship and fourth in five seasons with a lineup led by Michigan State University recruit Lindsey Rudden. She’s seeking her first cross country championship to go with five MHSAA Finals records in track and field, and finished runner-up as a sophomore. Even with Rudden missing a flag and finishing well back in 2014, Marquette still placed five among the top 10 – including runner-up Amber Huebner and eighth-place Becci McNamee, both juniors – while senior Holly Blowers has the second-fastest time in UPD1 this season. Three of Sault Ste. Marie’s top six from last season’s runner-up finish also are back, led by fourth-place junior Courtney Arbic and fifth-place sophomore Mackenzie Kalchik. Negaunee sophomore Clara Johnson finished sixth last season as her team came in ninth; the Miners are expected to follow her up the standings.
Individuals: Eight of the top 15 from last season will run again Saturday, led by reigning champion Leigha Woelfer of Gladstone, a junior. She finished fifth at the Great Northern Conference meet behind four Marquette runners. Calumet seniors Alexa Anderson and Leah Kiilunen also should be in the hunt again after finishing 13th and 12th, respectively, in 2014. There will be another reigning champion in the field as well – Ishpeming Westwood senior Kathryn Etelamaki finished first in Division 2 last year but her team is in Division 1 this weekend. She’ll be joined by teammate Amber Gransinger, also a senior, who was 15th in Division 2 in 2014.
Reigning champion: Ishpeming
2014 runner-up: Hancock
2015 top three: 1. Gogebic, 2. Ishpeming, 3. Hancock.
Only four full teams ran in the Division 2 Final last season, and one of them wasn’t the Bessemer/Wakefield-Marenisco co-op commonly known in the U.P. as Gogebic – those schools ran solo in Division 3. However, the top finishers from both schools are back for the new team this fall, 10th-place junior Lily Wieringa and 30th-place sophomore Melissa Wanink. They hope to finish ahead of an Ishpeming team that brings back its top five from last season – third-place junior Khora Swanson, fourth-place sophomore Kayla Kaukola, sixth-place sophomore Desirae Fernandes, eighth-place sophomore Chloe Sjoholm and 11th-place sophomore Mariah Bertucci. Hancock senior Madisyn Wright finished fifth last season, and senior Ashley Aho was 12th as the team attempted to defend its 2013 title.
Individuals: In addition to the numerous Ishpeming and Hancock runners back from last season’s top 15, senior Kyra Johnson finished fourth for Norway and is the highest returning finisher to this division. Junior Callie Kammers and sophomore Mia Singleton were 12th and 15th last season in Division 3 for St. Ignace, which was team runner-up in that race.
Reigning champion: Chassell
2014 runner-up: St. Ignace
2015 top three: 1. Chassell, 2. Dollar Bay, 3. Munising.
Reigning champion Chassell is the favorite with all six runners from last season’s team back in the lineup, including three who finished back-to-back-to-back among the top 10 – fifth-place freshman Lela Rautiola, sixth-place senior Shitaye Sam and seventh-place senior Shumete Sam. Junior Cami and senior Carli Daavettila are back for Dollar Bay after finishing eighth and 14th, respectively, last season as the team placed third behind St. Ignace, now in Division 2. Munising was seventh in 2014, but sophomore Alyssa Webber was individual runner-up and leads a team made up almost entirely of underclassmen.
Individuals: Three of the top five from last season are back, led by champion Natalie Beaulieu of Newberry, now a senior, and third-place junior Emma Bohn of Cedarville. Rounding out the total of 10 top-15 finishers returning are ninth-place senior Bridget Stoetzer, also of Newberry, and 13th-place Caitlyn Havelka, a senior at Stephenson.
PHOTO: A pack of Ishpeming runners, plus Norway’s Kyra Johnson (white long-sleeve shirt) emerge from the start during last season’s U.P. Division 2 Final.
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.)