By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
BROOKLYN — Gina Patterson of Macomb Lutheran North was one of the favorites to win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 cross country championship, based on her performance last season.
She may have been the only person who didn’t view herself as one of the runners to beat.
Perhaps it was the power of tempered expectations that relieved her of any pressure. Whatever it was, Patterson dominated a field that featured some of last year’s top finishers to win going away with a time of 17:43.4 Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Patterson was sixth at the MHSAA Final last season, finishing behind three runners who were in Saturday’s race.
St. Louis senior Raquel Serna was the runner-up for the second straight year, finishing in 17:59.8. Shepherd junior Kaylie Rhynard, who was fifth last year, took seventh in 18:25.9. Ida sophomore Ashley Sorge, fourth last year, was eighth in 18:33.6.
“I just came out here and looked forward to having a good experience,” Patterson said. “It was a great surprise.”
In shattering her personal best, Patterson reached the mile in just under 5:30. She took the lead for good after the two-mile mark.
“It felt great,” she said. “I didn’t know how fast we were going. When we crossed the line, I wasn’t expecting it to be that quick of a first mile. I just pushed it to finish it and seal it.”
As the race unfolded, she wasn’t sure if the fast early pace would catch up with her.
“I kept looking back and thinking if I was going too fast and what was going to happen,” said Patterson, who was relieved to see the gap between her and Serna growing as she entered the stadium for the final half mile.
The team race was considerably closer, with Jackson Lumen Christi edging Grandville Calvin Christian by a 167-171 margin. Caro was third with 201 points.
It was the Titans’ ninth MHSAA team championship and first since 2007.
Sophomore Caitlin Clark was 18th among team runners in 19:09.1, followed closely by sophomore Aubrey Penn in 19th place in 19:10.8 to lead Lumen Christi. Rounding out the scoring were freshman Jensen McEldowney (35th, 19:46.4), senior Leanne Leuthard (40th, 19:54.7) and senior Anna Berkemeier (55th, 20:16.5).
PHOTO: St. Louis' Raquel Serna (1711) and Macomb Lutheran North's Gina Patterson keep pace at the front of the Division 3 Final. Patterson broke away for the win. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
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 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.