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 RunMichigan.com/Paul Gerard.)
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.)