Houghton Girls Overcome Obstacles to Reign Again

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

November 4, 2021

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.

Houghton cross country“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.)

Performance of the Week: Ann Arbor Pioneer's Rachel Forsyth

September 1, 2023

Rachel ForsythRachel Forsyth ♦ Ann Arbor Pioneer
Senior ♦ Cross Country

The latest in a long line of Pioneer distance stars, Forsyth began her final high school cross country season with a nearly 26-second victory in the big-school race at the Benzie Central Pete Moss Invitational on Saturday. She ran a personal-record 17:09.24, which says a ton considering her past work; Forsyth was the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final champion in 2021 as a sophomore and the 2020 runner-up in her first trip to Michigan International Speedway. What's more, she was followed in this Benzie race by reigning Division 3 champion Jessica Jazwinski of Hart in second and last year's Division 4 champion Aiden Harrand of Buckley in third as Pioneer finished second as a team against an elite field.

An injury delayed the start of Forsyth's junior season last fall until the end of September, and she ran only 62nd at the LPD1 Final five weeks later. But she was clearly back to unstoppable during track season, setting personal records in the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and 400 while going undefeated in individual events for the spring and winning LPD1 Finals championships in the 800, 1,600 and as part of the 3,200 relay. She and her siblings have enjoyed an incredible run of success over the last decade; older sister Anne Forsyth was a four-time top-15 cross country finisher at LPD1 Finals and runner-up as a junior in 2016, and sister Sarah Forsyth twice finished among the top 10 individually and as a senior with Rachel in 2021 helped Pioneer to the team title. 

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