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.)
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.)