By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The Upper Peninsula’s dominant girls cross country programs will be looking to add to those legacies Saturday at Gladstone’s Beauchamp Cross Country Course.
Races begin Saturday with the Division 1 boys at 11 a.m. and finish with the Division 3 girls at 2 p.m. Check back Saturday evening for coverage of all six Upper Peninsula Finals, and see below for more teams and individuals to watch. The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
Reigning champion: Marquette
2015 runner-up: Sault Ste. Marie
2016 top three: 1. Marquette, 2. Sault Ste. Marie, 3. Menominee.
The Redettes graduated some serious firepower after winning their third straight championship last season, including individual winner Lindsey Rudden and fifth-place Holly Blowers. But seniors Becci McNamee (seventh last season) and Amber Huebner (nine) are back to anchor a team that total brings to this weekend four who finished among the top 21 in 2015 plus standout freshmen Erica Asmus and Reegin Katzenberger. Asmus finished first at the Great Northern Conference championship race, followed by Huebner and McNamee. Sault Ste. Marie’s top five from last season’s Final should lead the strongest challenge – junior Mackenzie Kalchik, who finished fourth last year, plus sophomore Megan Arbic (sixth), senior Courtney Arbic (eighth), junior Rebekka Ranta (15th) and senior Josie Roos (16th). The Blue Devils also have a pair of standout freshmen in Nicky Kucharczyk and Shelby Eavou.
Individuals: A trio of contenders join the other six mentioned above who finished among the top 15 last season. Negaunee junior Clara Johnson is the reigning Division 1 runner-up after finishing only six seconds behind Rudden in 2015. Gladstone’s Leigha Woelffer was 10th last season – but won Division 1 in 2014 – and Kingsford’s Peyton Johnson was 12th in 2015. Johnson, a sophomore, finished fourth behind the three Marquette placers at the GNC final two weeks ago, and Woelffer, a senior, was sixth. Manistique sophomore Ashley McDonald was eighth in Division 2 last season.
Reigning champion: Ishpeming
2015 runner-up: Hancock
2016 top three: 1. Ishpeming, 2. Munising, 3. Hancock.
The Hematites are significant favorites with six of their top seven – who all placed 22nd or better – back this weekend. They’re led by reigning individual champion and senior Khora Swanson, followed by junior Mariah Bertucci (third), junior Kayla Kaukola (sixth), sophomore Brooke Johnson (ninth), junior Chloe Sjoholm (17th) and junior Katie Loman (22nd). Munising was last season’s Division 3 runner-up and could challenge with five of their top seven back including juniors Alyssa Webber (third in D3), sophomore Madeline Peramaki (sixth) and junior Sami Coyne (19th). Hancock was second to Ishpeming last year in Division 2 and brings back top-20 finishers Allyson Fenton (19th) and Greta Berg (20th), both juniors.
Individuals: Joining the Ishpeming crew are four others who finished among the top 15 last season – Gogebic junior Melissa Wanink (fourth) and senior Lily Wieringa (14th), St. Ignace senior Callie Kammers (10th) and Ironwood senior Corissa Mattson (15th). Also, Newberry senior Maysa Sitar was 15th in Division 3. Swanson won last season’s race by 19 seconds, but Wanink was only a second behind Bertucci for third place. Munising’s Webber ran an impressive 20:02 at the Holly Invitational in September to beat that mostly downstate field by eight seconds.
Reigning champion: Chassell
2015 runner-up: Munising
2016 top three: 1. Chassell, 2. Cedarville, 3 Stephenson.
Top-ranked Chassell won’t have to worry about Munising this season after finishing only two points better to win last year’s title, but has another experienced contender to watch. Sophomore Lela Rautiola is coming off a seventh-place finish at least season’s Final and has been in the mix among the Upper Peninsula’s best, regardless of division. Jenna Pietila (21st) and Briah Maki (27th) also are back as sophomores after running in the team’s top five. Cedarville senior Emma Bohn was fourth last season and leads a team bringing back all seven runners, including also 14th-place senior Leila Schlosser, after finishing third in 2015. Stephenson is looking to move up from sixth last season while returning four of its top six.
Individuals: Bohn is the highest returning placer, and in addition to her teammate Schlosser and the Chassell leaders will also have to watch for Brimley juniors Lauren Halvorsen and Hannah Lyons. They finished fifth and ninth, respectively, at the 2015 Final.
PHOTO: Ishpeming's Khora Swanson (right) receives her championship medal last season from a member of the Michigan National Guard.
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.)