Preview: 3 Racing for Individual Repeats

October 29, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For the second straight season, many eyes at this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals will be focused on a girls race of the best from some of Michigan’s smaller schools.

Last season, the buzz was over Breckenridge’s Kirsten Olling and her pursuit of a fourth individual title. On Saturday, Macomb Lutheran North’s Gina Patterson will run for her third straight Division 3 title – but against her top rival, reigning runner-up Amber Way of Charlevoix. Patterson owns the fastest and sixth-fastest times in LP Division 3 history, but Way finished only 1.5 seconds behind in 2013 and owns the seventh-fastest finish on that all-time list.

Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Belf also is attempting to repeat, in Division 1, as her team tries to claim its second title in three seasons. Grand Rapids Christian, the reigning Division 2 champ, is favored again, while Cedar Springs’ Kenzie Weiler will attempt to finish her career with a second straight individual victory in that face. And Division 4 – as noted above – will have its first new individual champ since 2010.

See below for more of the stories behind the team and individual races for all four divisions, and click for a full list of qualifiers for each and information on Saturday’s event – which this fall includes 976 girls.


Reigning champion: Northville
2013 runner-up: Saline
2014 top-ranked: 1. Traverse City Central, 2. Birmingham Seaholm, 3. Northville.

Seaholm, the 2012 champion, should push to reclaim the top trophy led by last season’s individual champion, now-senior Belf. She’s joined in this season’s lineup by juniors Mary Sanders and Patty Girardot, the fourth and fifth runners for the Maples in 2013. But Traverse City Central returns four of its top seven from last season’s sixth-place finish and three of its top four – seniors Ashley Ko and Graceanne Tarsa and sophomore Emmalyne Tarsa. Ko finished 12th in the individual standings and finished second at her Regional to freshman teammate Sielle Kearney. Junior Lexa Barrott finished 13th last season for team champion Northville, which returns two more of its 2013 lineup including 22nd-place Cayla Eckenroth, now a sophomore.

Individuals: Four more top-20 finishers from 2013 join Belf, Ko and Barrot in this weekend’s lineup. Grandville junior Valerie Wierenga improved from 16th as a freshman to third last fall and should remain among the lead pack, and Oak Park senior Ersula Farrow finished 21st, eighth and then seventh her first three seasons while running for Grosse Pointe North. Saline juniors Gillian Walter and Hannah Cummings also are seeking repeat top-20 finishes. Hudsonville senior Kelli Jackson ran a Division 1-best 17:48.3 to win her Regional and finished 21st at last season’s Final. Macomb L’Anse Creuse North freshman Karenna Duffey also cleared 18 minutes last week, winning her Regional in 17:58, while Grandville freshman Madison Troy was second to Jackson at Portage in 18:14.


Reigning champion: Grand Rapids Christian
2013 runner-up: Spring Lake
2014 top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Christian, 2. St. Joseph, 3. Otsego.

Grand Rapids Christian has won two of the last four titles and is lined up well for a repeat with four of last season’s top six running again. Senior Rachel Warners paced the Eagles and finished 12th individually last season, and the lineup has added standout freshmen Jenna Bishop and Sarah VanDyke and junior top-10 Regional finisher Michelle Koetje. St. Joseph didn’t make the Final as a team last season – sophomore Vanessa Veersma ran as an individual qualifier – but the Bears placed five among the top 20 at their Regional and four among the top 11 paced by freshman and fifth-place finisher Kaitlin Newton. Otsego finished only four points behind St. Joseph at the Portage Regional with two freshmen, four sophomores and a junior. But those sophomores were the team’s top four placers as it finished third at last season’s Final; Megan Aalberts finished 11th individually in 2013.

Individuals: Only three of last season’s top 20 graduated – so this field should be incredibly competitive. Weiler is the reigning champion and also finished runner-up as both a freshman and sophomore, but finished less than a second ahead last season of Detroit Country Day senior Jackie Bredenberg – and she’s also back. St. Johns senior Karrigan Smith is a track champion and returns after finishing third in this race a year ago, and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern senior Morgan Posthuma (fourth), Grand Rapids South Christian senior Alexis Miller (fifth), Gaylord junior Alexis Smith (ninth) and Owosso senior Dillon McClintock (10th) also are among top finishers back in the field.


Reigning champion: Shepherd
2013 runner-up: Benzonia Benzie Central
2014 top-ranked: 1. Ithaca, 2. Manistee, 3. Lansing Catholic.

Ithaca finished only 10th a year ago, but with five underclassmen in the line-up – and all seven runners are back this weekend. Sophomore Courtney Allen finished 11th in 2013, and the Yellowjackets placed four among the top 10 in its Regional win last weekend. Manistee returns its top five from last season’s eighth-place team, including senior Annie Fuller (sixth) and junior Ashley Lindeman (ninth) from the individual top 10. Lansing Catholic was 13th last fall with a similar story; the Cougars have five runners back from the 2013 Final including sophomore Abigail Gilmore (14th individually) and finished runner-up to Ithaca at St. Johns over the weekend.. Reigning champ Shepherd is ranked No. 4 and does return five of its top seven including three sophomores who placed among the top 50 individuals.

Individuals: Only three of the top 14 from 2013 graduated, and much of the focus will be on the rematch of Patterson and Way. In addition to those two and the Manistee pair, four more of the top 10 also will run again: Holland Black River senior Allison Vroon (third), Ida senior Ashley Sorge (fourth), Hopkins senior Rachael Weber (eighth) and Clare sophomore Jasmine Harper (10th). Five of those returning eight won their Regionals. Traverse City St. Francis junior Holly Bullough was the Division 4 runner-up in 2012 and third last fall, and should be in the mix. East Jordan senior Kayla Keane finished fifth in Division 4 last season.


Reigning champion: Beal City
2013 runner-up: Breckenridge
2014 top-ranked: 1. Kalamazoo Hackett, 2. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 3. Beal City.

Six of Beal City’s top seven are back from last season’s championship run including top finisher Hannah Steffke, 10th individually as a junior, and senior Hayley Neyer, who was 19th. Hackett finished 14th in Division 3 but returns its top four – and senior Lucy Ankenbauer, 25th individually in Division 3, would’ve finished 13th with her time in Division 4. Hackett had the top four and five of the top seven finishers at its Regional. Sacred Heart didn’t make the Final as a team last season, but sophomore Alexis McConnell finished 15th individually. The Irish put three among the top five – with McConnell the individual champion – in scoring 35 points to beat Beal City and win their Regional over the weekend.

Individuals: There will be a new champion – Breckenridge’s Kirsten Olling graduated after becoming the seventh to win four MHSAA individual titles. Bullough and Keane running in Division 3 leaves only two others and Steffke back from last season’s top 10 – reigning runner-up Tessa Fornari, a junior for Waterford Our Lady, and seventh-place Jenna Wisner, a junior at Lutheran Westland. Fornari won her Regional in 18:19. Hackett freshman Mary Ankenbauer was 41 seconds faster than sister Lucy in winning their Regional in 18:53.3.

PHOTO: Macomb Lutheran North's Gina Patterson finished just ahead of Charlevoix's Amber Way to claim last season's LP Division 3 individual title; both will run again Saturday. Click for more this weekend from

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

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 EversJill 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.