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.)
Rachel Forsyth ♦ Ann Arbor Pioneer
Senior ♦ Cross Country
The latest in a long line of Pioneer distance stars, Forsyth began her final high school cross country season with a nearly 26-second victory in the big-school race at the Benzie Central Pete Moss Invitational on Saturday. She ran a personal-record 17:09.24, which says a ton considering her past work; Forsyth was the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final champion in 2021 as a sophomore and the 2020 runner-up in her first trip to Michigan International Speedway. What's more, she was followed in this Benzie race by reigning Division 3 champion Jessica Jazwinski of Hart in second and last year's Division 4 champion Aiden Harrand of Buckley in third as Pioneer finished second as a team against an elite field.
An injury delayed the start of Forsyth's junior season last fall until the end of September, and she ran only 62nd at the LPD1 Final five weeks later. But she was clearly back to unstoppable during track season, setting personal records in the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and 400 while going undefeated in individual events for the spring and winning LPD1 Finals championships in the 800, 1,600 and as part of the 3,200 relay. She and her siblings have enjoyed an incredible run of success over the last decade; older sister Anne Forsyth was a four-time top-15 cross country finisher at LPD1 Finals and runner-up as a junior in 2016, and sister Sarah Forsyth twice finished among the top 10 individually and as a senior with Rachel in 2021 helped Pioneer to the team title.
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