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.)
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 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.