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.
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.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)