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.)
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.)