By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Gentz Homestead Golf Course in Harvey will host MHSAA Finals on Saturday that could showcase a few extremes in Upper Peninsula girls cross country.
In Division 1, Marquette is seeking its 29th MHSAA team title – owning the most by far of any school in either peninsula. Ishpeming in Division 2, meanwhile, is piling up accomplishments it hadn’t achieved in 35 years – and can add the crowning achievement with its first Finals win since 1980.
Somewhere in the middle, rivals Cedarville and St. Ignace should battle in Division 3 in what could be the most exciting race of the day.
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 a list of all qualifiers.
Reigning champion: Marquette
2013 runner-up: Calumet
2014 top three: 1. Marquette, 2. Calumet, 3. Sault Ste. Marie.
Marquette has won more than twice as many Upper Peninsula Finals as any other school – Calumet happens to be second on that list with 11. The Redettes are heavy favorites again with four of the top nine individual finishers from last season back after the team scored 62 points fewer than the field. Junior Lindsey Rudden and sophomore Amber Huebner finished second and third, respectively, last season, while seniors Calla Martysz and Shayla Huebner came in eighth and ninth. But Calumet returns three of its top five, led by sixth-place Leah Kiilunen and 15th-place Corey Miller; both are juniors and Kiilunen finished second in 2012.
Individuals: Three more of last season’s top 15 will run this weekend. Escanaba senior Aimee Giese will race for her third top-10 finish after coming in fourth as a sophomore and 10th as a junior. Gladstone sophomore Leigha Woelfer was fourth last season in her first MHSAA Final, and Sault Ste. Marie senior Michaela Rushford improved from 17th in 2012 to 13th last season. Menominee senior Lilly Johnson also will try to finish on a fast note – she came in eighth as a freshman.
Reigning champion: Hancock
2013 runner-up: St. Ignace
2014 top three: 1. Ishpeming, 2. Ishpeming Westwood, 3. Hancock.
Ishpeming is favored to win its first MHSAA title since 1980 – but it’s been that kind of season for the Hematites, who also won their Mid-Peninsula Conference title for the first time since 1980. Ishpeming is shining with a lineup featuring five freshmen and two sophomores including Khora Swanson, who finished eighth a year ago. Westwood, second in the M-PC, is led by league individual champion Kathryn Etelamaki, a junior, and junior Anastasia Bjork, who finished ninth at last season’s Final. Hancock is keyed by two top-15 finishers from 2013 – 10th-place Kaylor Holmstrom, a senior, and junior Ashley Aho, who came in 14th.
Individuals: Iron River West Iron County senior Tori Harris-Hogaboom finished eighth as a freshman, sixth as a sophomore and seventh as a junior. She’s the second-highest returning finisher to this race, behind Norway junior Kyra Johnson, who finished fourth in 2013. Ironwood senior Katie Piispanen finished 14th as a sophomore.
Reigning champion: Munising
2013 runner-up: Cedarville
2014 top three: 1. Cedarville, 2. St. Ignace, 3. Dollar Bay.
Cedarville was champion in 2011 and runner-up last season and 2010, and returns a pair of top sophomores that lead a team with six underclassmen total. Emma Bohn is back after finishing third, and Leila Schlosser came in 12th as a freshman in 2013. But St. Ignace should provide an incredible challenge with its top five finishers back from last season’s runner-up in Division 2. Junior Lily Calcaterra was the individual runner-up in that race and in Division 3 as a sophomore, and sophomore Rosy Shimkovitz and junior Katie O’Rourke finished 11th and 12th, respectively, last season.
Individuals: Rudyard senior Kaylee Hoolsema will attempt to repeat as champion after winning last season's race by 44 seconds. Dollar Bay's Cami Daavettila was eighth last season as a freshman, and Chassell juniors Julia Pietila and Sam Shitaye finished 13th and 15th, respectively.
PHOTO: Cedarville's Emma Bohn (127) finished third in the Division 3 race a year ago and leads this season's favorite. (Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com/Paul Gerard.)
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.