BROOKLYN – Cross country races can be won between the ears before runners ever step foot onto the course.
Attitudes were tested as rain began to descend on Michigan International Speedway and the wind picked up just before the start of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 girls race late Saturday morning.
Hart sophomore Jessica Jazwinski was loving life as she prepared to race.
“As a distance runner, I really try to love the wind,” she said. “Distance running and cross country is just a tough sport. The wind just adds to it — and the rain, too. It’s super fun.
“I was just thinking these conditions are just gonna feed my great race. This is real cross country. Yeah!”
Jazwinski overcame the elements to run the fifth-fastest Division 3 time ever, winning with a time of 17:36.70. She has two of the top-five times in Division 3 Finals history, having run 17:31.4 to place third last year.
“Today my race plan was just to go out hard and try to hold on to my pace,” she said. “I feel like I tried to race a lot like Steve Prefontaine, just go out and hold on.”
Lansing Catholic senior Hannah Pricco was second in 18:17.59, Onsted sophomore Emmry Ross was third in 18:20.96 and Hart junior Alyson Ens was fourth in 18:28.52.
“I love having great teammates to work with and encourage each other,” Jazwinski said. “We really try to encourage each other so much throughout the races. Throughout this year, some races she’s been a minute behind me, some races she’s been five seconds. I don’t want her to ever beat me, so that pushes me so much. I know she’s trying to race me and get up there with me.”
The only downer for Hart was having its string of Division 3 championships end at five with a fourth-place finish. Hart had two runners in the top four, but its No. 3 runner was 68th.
“I would totally trade my individual title for a team title,” Jazwinski said.
Traverse City St. Francis emerged from a close battle to win its first title since 2016 with 134 points. Pewamo-Westphalia was second with 142 and Lansing Catholic third with 165.
Sophomore Betsy Skendzel led St. Francis, placing seventh in 18:48.33. Completing the team score were senior Sophia Rhein in 26th (19:43.27), sophomore Grace Slocum in 33rd (20:07.95), junior Rylee Duffing in 60th (20:44.82) and junior Margot Hagerty in 63rd (20:45.78).
Lansing Catholic had three place in the top 10, but didn’t get another finisher until 103rd.
PHOTOS (Top) Hart’s Jessica Jazwinski pushes toward the finish during Saturday’s LPD3 Final. (Middle) Traverse City St. Francis’ Betsy Skendzel leads the way for the eventual team champion. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/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.)