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.

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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/

Forsyth Closes Career as Legendary, Romeo Caps Memorable 1st Title Run

November 4, 2023

BROOKLYN — Dathan Ritzenhein’s time of 14:10.4 at the 2000 MHSAA Cross Country Finals has become the stuff of legend.

During the 23 years that have followed, no other runners has come remotely close to breaking the record set by the three-time Olympian from Rockford.

Years from now, perhaps Rachel Forsyth’s performance Saturday at Michigan International Speedway will be just as revered.

She not only set the girls course record, she obliterated it.

Running solo from the gun, Forsyth ran a scorching 16:28.5 to shatter the course mark of Lansing Catholic’s Olivia Theis in the 2017 Division 2 race.

It’s worth noting that some of the greatest high school cross country runners in the country have graced MIS since the MHSAA moved its Finals there in 1996.

Megan Goethals of Rochester (2009) and Zofia Dudek of Ann Arbor Pioneer (2019) won Foot Locker national championships. Others have gone on to become college All-Americans.

It wasn’t even Forsyth’s fastest time this season. She ran 16:07.5 to win her Regional meet. Forsyth was more fixated on beating that time than taking down the course record.

Midland Dow's Victoria Garces (200) and Romeo's Annie Hrabovsky run side-by-side down the closing stretch. “I just handled it like a normal race,” Forsyth said. “Me and my friends goofed off. We got ready as we normally did. No one put too much pressure on it.”

It was the second MHSAA championship for Forsyth, the other coming two years ago when she ran 17:09.32.

After that, she began to struggle with an eating disorder which put her life in jeopardy.  She was hospitalized at the University of Michigan’s Mott Children’s Hospital and was then admitted to the Eating Recovery Center in Illinois.

She was finally healthy enough to rejoin her team on the race course in late September last year, but had lost much of her spectacular fitness. She finished 62nd in last year’s state meet.

“It’s very surreal, because I missed so much,” Forsyth said. “So, to be able to be at my best …”

At this point, Forsyth began choking up before she finished the sentence … “is very special.”

Forsyth said the process of making healthy decisions is still difficult, “but the benefits of doing what I have to pays off 100 percent.”

Forsyth reached the finish line before anyone else hit the three-mile mark in the 3.1-mile race. Finishing a distant second was Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills senior Selma Anderson, whose time of 17:13.6 would have ranked 11th in MIS history coming into a record-setting day across the board.

“It was pretty cool to watch, but I know I couldn’t run with her,” Anderson said. “So, I was just going to focus on my race.”

Forsyth hoped to cap her record-breaking day with a team championship celebration, but Romeo had something to say about that, putting up a winning total of 65 points to claim its first Finals championship and after finishing runner-up a year ago. Pioneer was second this time with 126 points.

Freshman Annie Hrabovsky of Romeo established herself as a future championship contender, placing fourth in 17:28.7. Sophomore Natalia Guaresimo was seventh, sophomore Emmerson Clor 13th, junior Lillian Deskins 22nd and junior Olivia Purdy 41st for Romeo.

The Bulldogs had four runners cross before Pioneer had two.

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PHOTOS (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer's Rachel Forsyth takes the final paces of her record-setting run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Midland Dow's Victoria Garces (200) and Romeo's Annie Hrabovsky run side-by-side down the closing stretch. (Photos by Dave McCauley/