Second Half reports
BROOKLYN — Shepherd’s Amber Gall set the bar for Hart’s Adelyn Ackley back in middle school.
It was the desire to beat Gall, whose times caught her attention, that drove Ackley to start training seriously back then.
“I raced her in eighth grade once at the MEGASTAR meet,” Ackley said. “When we were both in eighth grade, we raced the 3,200. My dad and I trained over the winter so we could race her, because we saw her time and she was really good. That’s how I got into running, too. She got me into running.”
Ackley and Gall put on a show that day as eighth-graders in the 2015 Mid Michigan MEGASTAR Meet at Shepherd, running times that would’ve been phenomenal for most high school athletes. Ackley edged Gall by half a second with a time of 11:02.37.
They’ve continued to race in close proximity to one another through high school. In their final cross country meets in their school uniforms, Ackley held off a strong challenge from Gall to win her third MHSAA Division 3 individual championship in 17:42.8 on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. Gall was second in 17:53.6. The rest of the field was 47 seconds back.
“Amber Gall was right on my tail right up until the two-and-a-quarter-mile mark,” Ackley said. “I slowly pulled away once we got on the track. I was hoping to make a move after the mile or after the mile-and-a-half. I tried to make a move there. I did, and she hung on. I made another move once we got on the track, and I broke her there.”
Gall has finished second to Ackley the last two years, though her time Saturday brought her considerably closer than in 2017, when the gap was 26.8 seconds. In 2016, Ackley was first and Gall took fifth. In 2015, Ackley was second and Gall was third.
With two Ackley sisters and a cousin in its top four, Hart repeated as team champion with 43 points, beating Grandville Calvin Christian by 100. Hart had its five scoring runners across the line before Calvin Christian’s top runner finished.
Sophomore Savannah Ackley was seventh in 19:15.1, freshman Audrianna Enns was 10th in 19:26.8, sophomore Lynae Ackley was 13th in 19:31.8 and sophomore MacKenzie Stitt was 14th in 19:34.2 for Hart.
PHOTOS: (Top) Hart’s Adelyn Ackley stays a few paces ahead of Shepherd’s Amber Gall during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Hart’s Savannah Ackley approaches the finish line on the way to placing seventh. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.
Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Jill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.
“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”
Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.