By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN — Holly Bullough of Traverse City St. Francis had raced Amber Way of Charlevoix numerous times, but never with as much at stake.
Bullough closed a gap of about 75 yards and used one final surge in the last 10 yards to beat Way to the finish line and win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 cross country individual championship on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Bullough's time of 17:51.3 put her a scant 0.2 seconds ahead of Way.
Bullough and Way were in separate divisions last year, Bullough finishing third in Division 4 and Way taking a close second in Division 3. They were in the same regional this year, with Way winning in 17:51.61 and Bullough taking second in 17:54.16.
"I love it when Amber's there, because she pushes me so much," said Bullough, a junior. "She helps me a lot."
Bullough's late push caught Way by surprise. When the two met up shortly after the finish, Way said, "Where did you come from?"
With a strong wind going through her ears and the focus of trying to reach the finish line, Way never heard Bullough coming.
"I didn't see her," said Way, a senior. "I was kind of a little stupid there. I eased up at the end; that's where she got me. I heard people screaming and thought maybe there's someone behind me. I couldn't hear anyone. I know I didn't want to look back."
Way also took second in a close race last year, finishing second to two-time champion Gina Patterson of Macomb Lutheran North by 1.5 seconds. Patterson placed fifth in 18:29.6 on Saturday.
It was the final state meet for a strong group of runners who have been near the top of the Division 3 ranks for the past four years.
Way has finished in the top nine the last four years. Manistee's Annie Fuller, who was third in 18:15.7, has been in the top 11 all four years. Ida's Ashley Sorge, who took sixth in 18:52.7, had made the top eight all four years. Fourth-place Allison Vroon of Holland Black River has made the top five the last three years.
Returning all seven runners from a team that placed 10th in last year's MHSAA final, Ithaca won its first title with 147 points, beating defending-champion Shepherd by 11.
Ithaca was running in only its third MHSAA final, qualifying for the first time in 2005.
The Yellowjackets won with a strong pack. Sophomore Courtney Allen led the way by placing 12th in 19:06.9, sophomore Amelia Freestone was 33rd in 19:56.0, and the final three scoring runners were within 11.9 seconds of each other. Hannah Thayer (20:17.0), Blaire Showers (20:23.0) and Alyssa Mankey (20:28.9) completed the scoring.
Ithaca will be favored to repeat, with Thayer being the lone senior on the team. Shepherd's No. 1 and No. 4 runners are seniors. Shepherd had three finishers cross before Ithaca, but its fourth and fifth runners didn't cross until Ithaca had five runners home.
PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City St. Francis’ Holly Bullough (left) follows just behind Charlevoix’s Amber Way before moving ahead down the stretch to claim the LP Division 3 championship. (Middle) Manistee’s Annie Fuller (right) and Holland Black River’s Allison Vroon sprint the final meters on the way to finishing third and fourth, respectively. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
Rachel 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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(PHOTOS by Run Michigan.)