Neighbors North Central, Bark River-Harris Teaming Up in Cross Country

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 21, 2022

POWERS — Student-athletes from Bark River-Harris have waited a long time for their opportunity to participate in cross country.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to start a program at BR-H, a handful of its students are finally getting their chance to run this fall by combining forces with neighboring North Central through a co-op venture.

Wes Knauf, a sophomore at BR-H, led the Jets by placing sixth in the Munising Invitational on Aug. 23, covering the hilly 3.1-mile course in 20 minutes, 37 seconds.

“During the fall, our biggest sport is football,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to have cross country. I wanted to run cross country because I want to get better. This gives me more conditioning for track. I enjoy it. I started a little nervous, but now I feel more comfortable with it.”

And the BR-H students were welcomed with open arms.

“Overall, I’m happy with the way the teams have progressed, and we’re happy to have a full girls team,” second-year North Central coach Mike Jenkins said. “We have only three boys, but we couldn’t ask for a better three.”

Three of the team’s five girls are from BR-H, including junior Julia Olson and sophomore Hope Varoni, who also play volleyball for the Broncos and were big contributors as the girls track & field team won the Upper Peninsula Division 2 championship in June.

“(Cross country is) pretty busy and demanding on my body,” said Olson. “At first I was pretty nervous, but now I’m enjoying it.

“I enjoy running through the woods. It was really hot (Sept. 7) at Manistique. It reminded me a little bit of last year’s track Finals (at Kingsford) because of the heat. This definitely helps for other sports because you’re better conditioned.”

Julia Olson runs a leg of the 1,600 relay for Bark River-Harris this past spring at the UPD2 Track & Field Finals. Varoni led the Jets at Munising by placing 15th.

“I was pretty nervous, but I’m also pretty competitive,” she said. “I’m a middle distance runner in track, so this helps my conditioning for sure.

“It feels great to have this opportunity. We’re like a little family. When we go on road trips, it’s a great time. That gives us a chance to bond as a team.”

The North Central girls team finished second at Saturday’s Superior Central Invitational, with Varoni finishing third in the individual standings. Knauf was third in the boys race.

“It’s great to have Wes,” said North Central sophomore Alex Pipkorn. “We don’t have a full team, but it’s great to compete anyway. Anything helps. The more runners we have, the better it is.”

North Central sophomore Ella Riley also plays volleyball for the Jets.

“It feels real good to have a full (cross country) team,” she said. “I enjoy having the girls from Bark River-Harris with us. … I think our team has lot of potential. I think we can do a lot with that.”

BR-H junior Faith Javurek needed a little bit of convincing prior to joining the team.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’ve been running at home because I couldn’t make it to many of the practices, but it’s exciting.”

Sophomore Madelyn Corrigan, who joined the team last week, was set to make her debut at Superior Central.

“It was kind of hard on the first day,” she said last week. “I’m kind of nervous going into the first meet, but I’m doing it to get in shape for basketball.”

Senior Jesse Sampson said he’s more of a middle-of-the-pack runner, but also sees the wide-view benefits of running with the team. He finished 32nd at last season’s UPD3 Cross Country Finals, when the Jets had four racers – one short of getting to compete as a full team.

“I’m mostly competing with myself,” he added. “Three miles isn’t crazy long.

“The most rewarding part of cross country is meeting different kids and making friendships. It’s a benefit having Wes on the team. Competition-wise we don’t have enough for a team score, but it’s light-hearted and fun.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Powers North Central’s Jesse Sampson (283) runs during last season’s UPD3 Cross Country Finals. (Middle) Julia Olson runs a leg of the 1,600 relay for Bark River-Harris this past spring at the UPD2 Track & Field Finals. (Photos by Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.)

Performance of the Week: Holland West Ottawa's Helen Sachs

September 22, 2022

Helen SachsHelen Sachs ♦ Holland West Ottawa
Cross Country ♦ Sophomore

Sachs ran what was the second-fastest time in the state this season, 17:15.8, to win the Elite race at the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 16 at Michigan State University's Forest Akers East. On Tuesday, she took over the top spot on fastest times list with a 17:01.6 personal record at the first Ottawa-Kent Conference Red jamboree. She's won three of four races this season, finishing second only to teammate Arianna Olson at the season-opening Under the Lights Invitational on Aug. 26 at Grand Rapids South Christian. Olson's 17:11.30 in that race was the only time faster than Sachs' best before this week. 

An immediate standout last season, Sachs went on to finish fifth at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final as Olson placed third and West Ottawa as a team was runner-up. At this past spring's LPD1 Track & Field Finals, Sachs finished fourth in the 3,200 (10:26.59), sixth in the 1,600 (4:52.38) and ran on the runner-up 3,200 relay (9:04.06) as West Ottawa finished fourth as a team. Her 17:01 earlier this week was nearly 25 seconds faster than her season-best cross country time a year ago. West Ottawa finished second as a team in the Spartan Invitational Elite race, to Ohio championship contender Hilliard Davidson. 


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2022-23 Honorees

Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8:
Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1:
Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25:
Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report

(Photos courtesy of Helen Sachs.)