Preview: UP Contenders Back for Firsts

October 18, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The first MHSAA Finals of cross country season will be run Saturday at Gentz Homestead Golf Course in Munising, and there will be more than a few familiar faces in the field.

Of 30 runners who posted top-10 finishes during last season’s three championship races, 20 are back this weekend – even as none of the reigning champion teams are picked by Upper Peninsula rankers to repeat Saturday.  

Here's a look at some of the teams and individuals expected to cross the finish line first. Click for Saturday's race schedule and links to all qualifiers.


Reigning champion: Calumet
2012 runner-up: Escanaba
2013 top three: 1. Marquette, 2. Calumet, 3. Houghton.

Calumet has won the Division 1 title three of the last four seasons (following Marquette’s string of nine straight; Marquette also won in 2011), and those two stand to battle at the front again. Calumet sophomore Leah Kiilunen finished second to her now-graduated sister Tara last season, and is joined in this weekend’s lineup by last season’s sixth-place finisher, sophomore Abbey Helppi. Marquette has one top-10 finisher from last season returning, junior Calla Martysz, who placed fifth. But sophomore Lindsey Rudden was a major star during the spring’s Track & Field Finals and led the Cross Country Final until late in the race. She is considered the top runner in the entire Upper Peninsula.

Individuals: Three more top-10 finishers from last season will run again this weekend. Menominee senior Kameron Burmeister finished third, just three seconds out of second place, and Escanaba junior Aimee Giese will try to improve on last fall’s fourth place. Negaunee senior Wyleen Kniola will finish her career hoping to add to last season’s seventh place.


Reigning champion: Newberry
2012 runner-up: Ironwood
2013 top three: 1. Hancock, 2. St. Ignace, 3. Ishpeming Westwood.

Favorite Hancock is led by a pair of seniors who finished among the top 10 last season when the team finished third overall: Erin McKenzie, who ran seventh, and Anna Meese, who placed eighth. St. Ignace is back in Division 2 after winning the Division 3 Final last season, with junior Lilly Calcaterra leading the pack after she finished second individually in that division. Westwood returns senior Gabrielle French and sophomore Anastasia Bjork, top-16 finishers. Newberry isn’t ranked this week but brings to Munising its top three finishers from last season’s championship team: sophomore Natalie Beaulieu, (fourth in 2012), sophomore Bridget Stoetzer (fifth) and junior Gabrielle Young (ninth).

Individuals: Ironwood's reigning individual champion Jessica Gering won as a junior with a time of 20:40.9, 47 seconds ahead of the pack. Iron River West Iron County junior Tori Harris-Hoogenboom is back after finishing sixth, and Manistique sophomore Holly Blowers also returns to the Finals after placing 10th.


Reigning champion: St. Ignace
2012 runner-up: Dollar Bay
2013 top three: 1. Munising, T-2. Cedarville, T-2. Pickford.

With St. Ignace back in Division 2, the field appears a little more open as four Saints finished among the top 15 in 2012. Munising is seeking its first MHSAA championship and enters Saturday ranked No. 1 in Division 3. Senior Alyssa St. Amour is the team’s top returning finisher from last season’s Final, when she placed 17th but only 20 seconds outside the top 10. Seniors Taylor Perkins and Alexis Barr both finished among the top 18 for Cedarville last season, and Pickford is led by sophomore Heidi Hagen, who was sixth at the 2012 Final.

Individuals: Dollar Bay, last season’s runner-up, is led by sophomore Carli and freshman Cami Daavettila, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in 2012. Rudyard junior Kaylee Hoolsema could be the overall favorite – she finished fourth last season behind two St. Ignace runners and a graduated teammate. Brimley junior Emily Chartrand finished only six seconds back of Hoolsema, in fifth.

PHOTO: Ironwood’s Jessica Gering surges ahead of the field at last season’s Division 2 Final, which she won by 47 seconds in 20:40.9. (Photo courtesy of Gerard.)

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.