BROOKLYN — A year ago, Lani Bloom of Ithaca was in first place with a decisive lead, less than 100 meters from the finish line at Michigan International Speedway.
But then she fell and was reduced to a slow crawl.
As she desperately tried to reach the line on her hands and knees, three runners passed her. It was the second year in a row that Bloom led coming down the stretch at MIS, only to experience a catastrophe. She was 18th in 2019 after leading with 800 yards remaining, collapsing after crossing the line.
So, that fist pump she gave when she crossed the line at MIS on Saturday was almost as much for the fact she finished upright as it was for winning the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 individual championship.
There would be no drama awaiting Bloom on the home stretch this year, as she cruised through the finish line in 17:29.69, winning by 30 seconds ahead of Hart sophomore Alyson Enns.
“I was in the same position last year,” Bloom said. “I was ahead by quite a bit. I just fell. This year, I made a conscious effort, I got to that point and I said, ‘You have never run this part of the course. You have crawled it for the past three years. It’s time to run it. It’s time to finish it.’”
Perhaps because of her past issues at MIS, Bloom showed empathy for fellow runners who were struggling after crossing the line.
She helped sixth-place Mylie Kelly of Benzie Central get back to her feet and moving, then helped hold up two teammates who were completely spent after racing 3.1 miles.
“Usually if I’m feeling good enough to stand up on my own, I’m feeling good enough to help people,” Bloom said. “The girls I went back for are girls I’ve competed against, ran with forever now. It seems they’ve given me so much respect that the least I could do is hold them up at the end.”
Bloom went through the mile mark in 5:38.1, holding a 7.8-second lead over Hart freshman Jessica Jazwinski. The lead stretched to 19.2 seconds when Bloom reached two miles in 11:17.3.
“I was expecting them to hang on to me for a little longer,” Bloom said. “I was reading these Michigan Speed Ratings. He said these girls get out hard and dare the field to hang on. I said, ‘I’m going to do that. I’m going to see who is ready to race today.’”
Following Bloom across the line were three Hart runners who took places two through four. Alyson Enns was second in 17:59.67, Jazwinski was third in 18:00.59 and senior Audrianna Enns was fourth in 18:32.27.
Hart’s strength up front was able to offset more consistent top-five finishes by the other contenders. Hart scored 143 points to win its fifth consecutive Division 3 championship by 36 points over Kent City.
The fifth-straight Finals title tied Rockford’s run in Class A/Division 1 from 1998-2002 for longest championship streak in Lower Peninsula girls cross country history.
Kent City’s top five runners were in the top 72 overall and top 53 among team runners, while Hart counted a runner who was 159th overall and 111th in the team race.
Lexie Beth Nienhuis was 31st in 19:36.65 for Hart, while Abigail Pretty completed the team score by taking 159th in 21:47.49.
PHOTOS (Top) Ithaca’s Lani Bloom approaches the finish line on the way to winning the LPD3 individual championship. (Middle) Hart’s Alyson Enns (255) and Jessica Jazwinski (257) lead the way as their team wins a record-tying fifth-straight title. (Click for 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.)