Preview: Hart, East Grand Rapids Set to Challenge Records for All-Time Success

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

November 3, 2022

Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals at Michigan International Speedway will give hundreds of athletes a chance to build on what they’ve accomplished this fall – and allow some of the state’s top programs an opportunity to build on their impressive histories in the sport.

Start with Hart, which has won five straight LP Division 3 championships and can become the first Lower Peninsula team to reach six straight with another title this weekend.

Meanwhile East Grand Rapids, the top-ranked team in LP Division 2, can tie Jackson Lumen Christi’s record of nine Lower Peninsula Finals titles.

Contenders Ann Arbor Pioneer and Grand Rapids Christian are tied for third on that all-time Lower Peninsula championship list with six apiece, followed by Hart with its five. Pioneer has won three in a row, and with a fourth straight would tie for the sixth-longest championship streak in either peninsula.

See below for more on several team and individual contenders Saturday. The "season bests" list referred to frequently is a ranking list of every runner's best time this season, maintained by The first race begins at 9:30 a.m.; click here for the full schedule and ticket information. Additionally, all eight races Saturday at MIS will be streamed live and viewable with subscription on

Division 1

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2021 runner-up: Holland West Ottawa
2022 top-ranked: 1. Saline, 2. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 3. Holland West Ottawa

Pioneer has won three-straight Division 1 championships, last year ahead of West Ottawa 68-100, with Saline running fifth. But as the Pioneers seek a fourth-consecutive win, the competition could be as tough as ever. The Hornets sit in the top spot, seeking their first Finals championship since 2009, after winning last week’s Regional at Milan ahead of Pioneer 33-42. Pioneer did win the Portage Invitational on Oct. 8 with West Ottawa a close second and Saline third, and West Ottawa was the top Michigan placer (second) at the Spartan Invitational Elite race back on Sept. 16. West Ottawa is paced by the two fastest runners in the state this fall – sophomore Helen Sachs (season best 17:01.6) and senior Arianne Olson (17:11.3), who finished fifth and third, respectively, at last year’s Final. Reigning champion and now-junior Rachel Forsyth (season best 18:11.6) returns for Pioneer and is teaming with senior Emily Cooper (17:49.8), who has won three straight races including their league and Regional championship runs. Senior Mia Rogan (18:12.3) paces Saline and was the Regional runner-up last weekend at Milan. All five runners rank among the top 22 on the statewide season best list.

Individuals: Including Forsyth, Olson and Sachs, five of last season’s top seven Finals finishers will return this weekend. Rochester sophomore Lucy Cook is back after running sixth, and Macomb Dakota junior Jayden Harberts returns after running seventh, and both have season-best times among the top 18 statewide. Sachs, Cooper, Cook and Harberts won Regional titles last week, joined by Midland Dow sophomore Victoria Garces, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central junior Clara James-Heer, Ann Arbor Skyline senior Natalie Kessler, Northville junior Ella Christensen and Farmington sophomore Molly Baracco.

Division 2

Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2021 runner-up: Grand Rapids Christian
2022 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Otsego, 3. Grand Rapids Christian

East Grand Rapids has been a regular at the front of this pack the last two decades and is the reigning champion after also recently earning titles in 2018 and 2019 and the runner-up spot in 2020. Five of last season’s Finals runners are back and six Pioneers finished among the top 16 at their Regional last week at Grand Rapids South Christian, paced by junior champion Drew Muller. She was fifth at last season’s Final, while sophomore Sadey Seyferth was 12th and junior Sophia Lado finished 15th. Muller ranks fifth on the statewide season best list with a 17:25.3. Otsego is only a few years removed from back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 and finished fifth last season with four underclassmen among its top five runners. Three of those four are back this weekend led by junior Megan Germain. Grand Rapids Christian is another team always in the mix, with another runner-up finish coming in 2017 and its most recent championships in 2013 and 2014. Last season’s individual champion Madelyn Frens was a senior, but the next five Eagles runners from 2021 will return this weekend, with junior Natalie VanOtteren coming off a fourth-place Finals finish a year ago and ranking seventh on the season best statewide list this fall with a 17:37.4.

Individuals: Including the three East Grand Rapids returnees and Christian’s VanOtteren, nine of last season’s top 15 finishers will race again this weekend hoping to follow Frens as the individual champion. Mason junior Meghan Ford finished second at the Final as a freshman and third last year, and Frankenmuth junior Mary Richmond was fourth as a freshman and second last season. Richmond has the third-fastest season best time in Division 2 (and 23rd statewide) of 18:12.6. Also returning from last year’s top 15 are Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy junior Emma DeVries (10th), Zeeland East junior Allison Kuzma (11th) and Marshall junior Camille Decola (14th).

Division 3

Reigning champion: Hart
2021 runner-up: Kent City
2022 top-ranked: 1. Traverse City St. Francis, 2. Pewamo-Westphalia, 3. Hart

Hart’s championship record pursuit will be led by one of the state’s fastest runners in sophomore Jessica Jazwinski, whose 17:15.1 is the third-fastest season best time statewide this fall. Junior teammate Alyson Ens is not far behind with a 17:49.9 that is tied for 11th-fastest season best time. Ens was runner-up and Jazwinski third at last year’s Final, and three more of their top six runners from that meet also will be back this weekend. But the challenge will be mighty. St. Francis finished third last year without a senior, and six of those seven runners – including the top five – are back led by sophomore Betsy Skendzel, who placed eighth in 2021 and has the 16th-fastest season best time statewide of 18:07.5. P-W finished 10th last season and returns its top six runners from that team. Lansing Catholic was fourth last season with only one senior and brings four runners back including its top three, with senior Hannah Pricco seventh last season, junior Tessa Roe 17th and senior CC Jones 18th. Jones and Pricco’s season-best times this fall rank among the top 27 statewide.

Individuals: Division 3 graduated an impressive class after last season, including three Finals champions. But eight of last season’s top 15 will return this weekend. Joining Enns and Jazwinski, Pricco and Skendzel will be Benzie Central junior Mylie Kelly (sixth in 2021), Ypsilanti Arbor Prep sophomore Eliza Bush (ninth), Jackson Lumen Christi junior Madison Osterberg (12th) and Kent City sophomore Lila Volkers (14th). A newcomer will challenge them as well; Onsted freshman Emmry Ross is undefeated this season, and her top time of 17:47.6 ranks second in Division 3 only to Jazwinski’s season best and ninth on the statewide list. Skendzel, Jazwinski, Volkers, Ross, Pricco and Bush won Regional titles last weekend, as did Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett sophomore Kerith Short, Reese senior Ellymae McCoy and Lawton junior Kendra Koster. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian sophomore Grace VanderKooi and Kalamazoo Christian sophomore Alaina Klooster were placers in Division 4 last season, crossing the line eighth and 15th, respectively, in that race. 

Division 4

Reigning champion: Muskegon Western Michigan Christian
2021 runner-up: Kalamazoo Christian
2022 top-ranked: 1. Johannesburg-Lewiston, 2. Whitmore Lake, 3. Harbor Springs

Western Michigan Christian became the third-straight first-time Finals champion in Division 4 last fall, and Johannesburg-Lewiston would run that streak to four if it matches its ranking. The Cardinals finished sixth a year ago with only one senior and bring back their top five runners from that meet, including senior Adelaida Gascho, who finished fourth individually last fall. Johannesburg-Lewiston finished second at last weekend’s East Jordan Regional to Harbor Springs, but sophomore Allie Novak and freshman Yolanda Gascho were the top two individual placers. Whitmore Lake is seeking its first team title since 1996 and bringing back four of its top six runners from last year’s ninth-place team – including 13th-place now-junior Natalie Meadows – plus standout freshman Carina Burchi, whose 17:42.5 is the second-fastest time on the Division 4 season best list. Harbor Springs was 12th in Division 3 a year ago and brings three of its runners back this weekend, and placed four among the top seven individuals in that Regional win over Johannesburg-Lewiston. Harbor Springs is seeking its first Finals team title since 2009.

Individuals: Four-time Finals champion Abby VanderKooi graduated this spring, but Buckley junior Aiden Harrand is another big star from a small school. She was fifth as a freshman and runner-up last season, and her season-best time of 18:11 ranks 20th on the statewide list. She’s one of 10 runners back from last season’s Division 4 top 15 (not including the two who are running in Division 3 this weekend). Joining Harrand, Gascho and Meadows are Huron Valley Lutheran senior Erika Van Loton (fifth in 2021), Mendon sophomore Presley Allen (sixth), Auburn Hills Oakland Christian sophomore Eliza Keith (ninth), Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest senior Mackenzie Lemke (10th), Allen Park Cabrini junior Ava Teed (11th), Pittsford sophomore Ava Mallar (12th) and Wyoming Potter’s House Christian junior Ivy Andreas (14th). Joining Nowak among Regional champs were Harrand, Allen, Burchi and Teed, as well as Genesee junior Isabella Yeoman, Adrian Lenawee Christian sophomore Izzy Brooks, Hudsonville Libertas Christian freshman Sadie Schout and Beal City senior Kaylee Locke.

PHOTO Hart's Alyson Enns (255) and Jessica Jazwinski kick toward the finish of last season's Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Click for more from

Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

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.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.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.

Click for full results.

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/