Abby VanderKooi ♦ Senior
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian ♦ Cross Country
VanderKooi on Saturday became just the eighth runner in MHSAA history to win her fourth Finals individual championship, crossing the finish line in 18:06.58 to claim the Lower Peninsula Division 4 title at Michigan International Speedway. She became the first four-time girls champion since Breckenridge’s Kirsten Olling completed her run in 2013, and in the process VanderKooi also led Western Michigan Christian to its first Finals team title.
The 18:06 was VanderKooi’s third-fastest time at a Finals, and ranks seventh all-time for Division 4. All four of VanderKooi’s championship times at MIS rank among the top 10 for either Division 4 or Division 3 Finals – her teams were Division 4 in 2018, 2019 and this fall, and Division 3 in 2020. That 2020 time of 17:12.47 also remains the 10th-fastest from all Classes and Divisions since the race distance became 5K in 1980, and she is the only runner listed among that all-Class/Division top 10 who did not compete in LP Division 1 or 2. Her season-best time this fall was 17:29.9, and her personal record for high school was a 16:48.8 as a junior. VanderKooi also is the two-time reigning LPD3 track champion in the 3,200 meters.
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Nov. 4: Arianne Olson, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Oct. 28: Jack Guggemos, Okemos soccer - Report
Oct. 21: Sachiv Kumar, Northville tennis - Report
Oct. 14: Kate Brody, Grand Blanc golf - Report
Oct. 7: Lilly Nelson, Negaunee tennis - Report
Sept. 30: Stella Chapman, Ann Arbor Pioneer swimming - Report
Sept. 23: Riley Hough, Hartland cross country - Report
Sept. 16: Josie Bloom, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Report
PHOTOS courtesy of 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.