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.)
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.
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.
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/RunMichigan.com.)