HOUGHTON — Nearly two weeks have passed since the Houghton girls captured their second-straight Upper Peninsula Division 1 cross country title.
The memories, however, could last a lifetime.
Houghton scored 52 points in the U.P. Final on Oct. 23 at Gentz’s Homestead Golf Course in Chocolay Township (near Marquette), followed by Marquette’s 69, Negaunee’s 83 and Sault Ste. Marie’s 94.
“Overall, it was a pretty good season,” said senior Ingrid Seagren, who was crowned U.P. individual champion for the first time. “I’m grateful I had the opportunity to run. We really wanted to win, and it was exciting to do that.
“This has been a great experience. My teammates and coaches were so amazing.”
Junior Claire Filpus, who missed last year’s U.P. Finals due to COVID-19, placed third in her first championship meet try. “This season was exciting,” she said. “Winning as a team makes you so happy. This was a learning experience. I was a little nervous at first, but I just wanted to see what I could do. I couldn’t run in last year’s Finals, and I know my mom (coach Traci Welch) was upset she couldn’t be there.”
Senior Paige Sleeman went to the Finals as the reigning individual champion. Although she missed time this fall due to illness, she still took eighth.
“I was out three weeks with COVID, but tried to work out on my own,” she said. “I just wanted to try to help our team win its second U.P. title in a row. I knew we could do it.
“I think beating Negaunee the last couple times was a confidence boost. We’re fortunate to have a lot of kids come out. Some schools couldn’t field a full team. We knew it was going to be tough to defend our title, but we all knew we could win it. Coach Erik (Johnson) told us to run our hardest for 25 minutes.”
This marked the fifth consecutive year Sleeman was part of a U.P. championship team, including three seasons at Chassell and two at Houghton.
Although Welch was unable to attend last year’s Finals, she said COVID had an even greater effect on this year’s team.
“That’s why we lost the (Western Peninsula Athletic) Conference,” she added. “We were a couple runners short. Some of the girls didn’t have the same kind of season as last year, but they all ran their hardest. They handled their nerves well.”
Junior Jewel Laux, who overcame her bout with COVID, ran a personal-best time (22 minutes, 46.1 seconds) at the Finals.
“I hadn’t done a lot of conditioning during the summer, but I like the encouragement I got,” she said. “I didn’t start running until school started. The improvement I made was a highlight. That kind of helped me get better.”
Senior Jaden Serafin said she also enjoyed this season.
“I did okay,” she added. “I enjoyed the camaraderie. Everybody on jayvees and varsity is close knit. It’s fun being on the team. I know a lot of people on the team from the past few years.”
“It was really fun,” freshman Katie Sarau added. “I got a lot of encouragement, and that really helps me a lot. It was really exciting being on varsity, although there were more schools than I’m used to seeing at the Finals.”
The Finals were naturally a learning experience for freshman Kiira Niska as they were for Sarau.
“I was nervous, but it was fun,” she said.
Welch was happy with the way the girls overcame adversity.
“We lost Myah Campioni to a fractured ankle,” she said. “Kiira also had some injury issues, but kind of took Myah’s place and really stepped up. I don’t think Erik and I knew what our Finals lineup would be until after the conference meet.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) Houghton's Paige Sleeman (97) and Ingrid Seagren (95) lead the UPD1 Girls Final at Gentz's Golf Course on Oct. 23 in Marquette. (Middle) Houghton's Claire Filpus takes third place in the Division 1 race. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)