BROOKLYN – How strong of a cross country conference is the Ottawa-Kent Conference White?
So good that Drew Muller of East Grand Rapids didn’t even win the two conference jamborees she raced this season.
Yet, she was first when it mattered the most, winning the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Muller crossed the finish line in 18:18.47 to win by 9.36 seconds over Otsego freshman Emma Hoffman.
The winner of all three O-K White jamborees was Grand Rapids Christian junior Natalie VanOtteren, who was fourth in 17:55.3. Six of the top 10 runners were from the Grand Rapids area.
“It’s been like this a lot during the season,” Muller said. “All the teams we race against in our conference are so stacked. Everyone who runs there is so amazing, so it makes it fun.
“It helps so much. Everyone we race against are such good friends. It makes it even more fun. It makes you love the sport even more.”
Muller ran with some familiar faces much of the race before making a break entering the track with one kilometer remaining.
“I was feeling pretty fatigued, but I found my group I run with a lot and we stuck with it together and kind of powered through,” she said. “In the back stretch, I took a chance and went at the 1K, which I’ve been doing in a couple meets before this. It’s worked pretty well. I was pretty fatigued, but it’s good, good to be done.”
Muller’s first words with reporters after the race were, “That hurt a lot.”
Muller became an MHSAA champion after finishing fifth in Division 2 both of the last two years. She applied lessons learned from her first two trips around the MIS course to put it all together Saturday.
“My past races were pretty rough,” she said. “It was definitely a learning experience.
“Definitely in the past, I’ve gone out a little bit faster as we entered the stadium. I feel there’s so much energy, it’s kind of hard not to. A lot of people I race also go out really fast, so I try to go with them. That didn’t really help in the past. This year, I feel like I have more endurance to keep up and have a good kick.”
The only title that eluded Muller was the team championship, something East Grand Rapids captured last year and three of the last four seasons.
Instead, it was Otsego that returned to the top for the first time since winning back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016.
The Bulldogs scored 87 points to beat East Grand Rapids by 11. Grand Rapids Christian was third with 153.
Otsego put four runners in the top 14. Hoffman was second in 18:27.83, junior Logan Brazee was seventh in 18:42.95, junior Megan Germain was eighth in 18:47.56 and sophomore Taylor Mitchell was 14th in 18:57.08. No. 5 runner Rebekah Stachura crossed in 86th place in 20:12.64 to complete the team score.
East Grand Rapids had three runners in the top 15, then got a 39th and a 55th from its other two scoring runners.
PHOTOS (Top) East Grand Rapids’ Drew Muller charges toward the finish line during the LPD2 Final. (Middle) Otsego’s Emma Hoffman, left, and Frankenmuth’s Mary Richmond follow Muller down the stretch to finish second and third, respectively. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)