Jazwinski Brings Hart Individual Title as St. Francis Moves to Front of Team Pack

November 5, 2022

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.”

Traverse City St. Francis’ Betsy Skendzel leads the way for the eventual team champion. 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.

Click for full results.

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.)

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 11, 2023

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 EversJill 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.