Preview: History-Making Opportunities Await Girls Finals Contenders
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
November 5, 2021
Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals feature a pair of storylines that could make the event one of the most history-making of the 2020-21 school year.
On the team side, Hart is seeking to tie the Lower Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals record with its fifth-straight championship. The Pirates will again be running in Division 3 as they chase the Rockford teams that won five straight LPD1/Class A titles from 1998-2002.
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian senior Abby VanderKooi is back in Division 4 after winning the Division 3 individual championship in 2020. She’ll be racing to finish as a four-time individual champion, and would become the eighth to accomplish the feat and first to do so since 2013.
The day’s first races at Michigan International Speedway begin at 9:30 a.m., and all eight will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv – click for full details.
Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2020 runner-up: Traverse City Central
2021 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Holland West Ottawa, 3. Saline.
The last two Division 1 Finals have finished with Ann Arbor Pioneer as champion and Traverse City Central as runner-up, 39 points separating them in 2020 and 33 in 2019. Those two certainly could end up as the top two again – Central is ranked No. 4 and Pioneer has been the top-ranked team all season. But Holland West Ottawa has been the No. 2 team in every week’s coaches poll, and Saline and No. 5 Brighton are just a few more contenders among a strong group overall. Pioneer’s five scoring runners from last season all are back this weekend, sophomore Rachel Forsyth as the returning individual runner-up with senior Cookie Baugh (fifth) next for an imposing lineup. West Ottawa brings back its top five from the team that finished fourth in 2020, with junior Arianne Olson looking for her first title after finishing second and eighth her first two seasons, and freshman teammate Helen Sachs already one of the speediest in the state. Saline is expected to make its jump with four scorers back from 2020, and Traverse City Central also is loaded with four returnees led by senior Julia Flynn, who finished third last fall.
Individuals: Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Dadamio graduated after winning last season’s title, but 12 from last year’s top 20 are back. Flynn actually has finished third the last two seasons after coming in 10th as a freshman, and Plymouth senior Lauren Kiley has improved from 20th as a freshman to 11th as a sophomore to fourth last fall. Temperance Bedford senior Madison Foster was seventh last season, having made a massive jump from her first two Finals.
Reigning champion: Petoskey
2020 runner-up: East Grand Rapids
2021 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Grand Rapids Christian, 3. Ada Forest Hills Eastern.
East Grand Rapids has finished first or second five of the last six seasons, claiming its most recent titles in 2018 and 2019 before coming in 11 points back of Petoskey last fall. The Pioneers bring back five of last season’s seven runners including three of their top four finishers led by sophomore Drew Muller (fifth) and senior Ainsley Workman (sixth). Grand Rapids Christian was third last season and is seeking its first championship since winning back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and the Eagles have four of their top seven running again led by senior Madelyn Frens – who finished third last fall and is tied for the fastest time in the division this season. Forest Hills Eastern is expected to make a jump from ninth with four of its top seven back, and Petoskey is ranked No. 4 with three runners returning.
Individuals: Total, nine of last season’s top 20 are running this race again, including seven of the top 10. Mason sophomore Meghan Ford was runner-up last season to Petoskey’s now-graduated Emma Squires, and Ford is again one of the fastest in Division 2. Frankenmuth sophomore Mary Richmond has tied Frens with a 17:56 to top that fastest-times list, after Richmond placed fourth in 2020. Grand Rapids Catholic Central sophomore Emily Tomes is back after coming in eighth, and Freeland senior Mara Longenecker returns after finishing 10th.
Reigning champion: Hart
2020 runner-up: Ithaca
2021 top-ranked: 1. Hart, 2. Jackson Lumen Christi, 3. Traverse City St. Francis.
Hart claimed last year’s fourth-straight Division 3 title by 55 points. Four of the team’s seven runners from that clincher are back, led by sophomore Alyson Enns after she finished individual runner-up and senior Audrianna Enns coming off her fifth-place finish. Lumen Christi could jump back into the top two for the first time since winning in 2012, with four runners back from last season’s 10th-place team finisher including seventh-place now-senior Faith Smith. St. Francis finished 13th last season and has two runners back, and No. 4 Lansing Catholic was 10th in Division 2 in 2020 and has four of its top seven back including 16th-place individual finisher Hannah Pricco.
Individuals: VanderKooi may be back in Division 4, but 11 of last season’s top 20 are returning in this race including six of the top eight – plus another past champion, and Pricco from Division 2. Ithaca senior Lani Bloom finished fourth a year ago and has the division’s fastest time this fall at 17:09, and the second-fastest time belongs to Stockbridge senior Rylee Tolson – who won Division 3 in 2019. Roscommon senior Allison Chmielewski was sixth last fall and third as a sophomore, and Benzie Central sophomore Mylie Kelly will be looking to build on her eighth-place finish from 2020.
Reigning champion: Lansing Christian
2020 runner-up: Kalamazoo Christian
2021 top-ranked: 1. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, 2. Johannesburg-Lewiston, 3. Kalamazoo Christian.
Western Michigan Christian will make a run at its first team championship as VanderKooi goes for her fourth individual title. The Warriors didn’t qualify for the Division 3 race last season as a team, but VanderKooi has the fastest time in Division 4 this fall at 17:29 and freshman sister Grace has posted the sixth-fastest. Kalamazoo Christian was second last season with no seniors and one junior, and four runners return, and Johannesburg-Lewiston also has four runners back after finishing eighth in 2020 with just one senior. Returning champion Lansing Christian is ranked No. 13 and bringing five runners back led by junior Ashlyn Kephart, who finished sixth. Keep an eye on Beal City, which is ranked No. 13 after finishing third last fall. Five of its 2020 runners are back, including three who finished among the top 14 individual placers – led by senior Rachal Weber, who came in fourth.
Individuals: With 13 of last season’s top 20 back including seven of the top eight, this was going to be a loaded field even without VanderKooi’s return. Reigning Division 4 champ Mackenna Scott from Maple City Glen Lake has the third-fastest time in the division, and Buckley sophomore Aiden Harrand is second on that list after placing fifth at the 2020 Final. Ubly sophomore Maze Gusa debuted with a third-place finish last season, and Huron Valley Lutheran junior Erika Van Loton (seventh) and Hillsdale Academy junior Megan Roberts (eighth) also are back from the top 10.
PHOTO Among runners returning to the Division 4 race this weekend are Pittsford’s Brooke Smith (611) and Lutheran Westland’s Michaela Kurth (595). (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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 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.