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.)

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 11, 2023

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 EversJill 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.