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.)
BROOKLYN — Emily Tomes of Grand Rapids Catholic Central might be the first MHSAA cross country champion to go all season without winning a meet until it mattered the most.
There are two good reasons for that.
First, she runs in the Grand Rapids area, which is a hotbed for high school cross country. Her biggest league rival, Selma Anderson of Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, was the runner-up in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final on Saturday.
Second, she was adjusting all season to a significant change in her training volume.
As a result, she had five second-place finishes in nine races and didn’t run faster than 18:25.5 until her conference and Regional meets.
“I ramped up my miles, so my legs felt tired for a lot of my races,” Tomes said. “So, that’s why I recently started running sub-18. My legs started to get used to the mileage. I was just trying to wait until this meet. This is when I was going to try to run my best.”
Tomes was the Division 2 champion, running a time of 17:31.4 on a Michigan International Speedway course that yielded fast times all day.
She won a kick down the stretch against St. Joseph senior Gail Vaikutis, who took second in 17:33.6.
“I feel like I do rely on my kick quite a bit, but I just knew it could help me pass those girls and it gives me a lot of confidence moving forward, ” Tomes said. “I have a couple postseason meets, so I’m really looking forward to those.”
It was anyone’s race when a pack of five runners reached the two-mile mark within one second of one another. It was a two-runner race coming down the straightaway, with Tomes passing Vaikutis in the final tenth of a mile.
“I don’t normally run in packs,” Tomes said. “This season kind of started off slower for me, so I wasn’t used to racing with these girls. I know they know how to run really fast. If I could just let them carry me along, it would help me out.”
Grand Rapids Christian won the team championship with a score of 112 points. Last season’s champion Otsego was second with 131.
The Eagles won their seventh MHSAA championship and first since 2014.
Senior Natalie VanOtteren, who defeated Tomes by 17 seconds at Regionals, led Grand Rapids Christian by placing fifth in 17:58.2. Sophomore Lilah Poel was 20th, sophomore Ellie Scholma 30th, senior Payton Holtz 31st and senior Naomi Nelson 65th for the Eagles.
PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Emily Tomes, left, breaks away from St. Joseph's Gail Vaikutis during the closing stretch of the Division 2 Final. (Middle) Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)