By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The first runners down the home stretch at Michigan International Speedway this weekend could look familiar for at least three divisions of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals.
The fourth? That’s guaranteed to finish much differently than a year ago.
Reigning champions are expected to set the pace again in Divisions 1, 2 and 3. But Division 4 will be another story entirely, as the reigning team and individual champions are running in Division 3 this time.
A change in format also will switch things up a bit. To limit the number of participants in each race, the four divisions will be run over two days – Friday and Saturday – with each gender in each division spread over two races. Third-place teams and individual qualifiers from Regionals will run first, and first and second-place Regional finishers will run second.
Watching this year’s Finals at MIS also will be different. Attendance is limited due to COVID-19 precautions, but opportunities to watch off-site are available again via MHSAA.tv. Coverage will be enhanced this year with an additional camera on the back of the course to better capture the first 800 meters, 1.5-mile and 2.25-mile marks of the race. The traditional Finish Line camera also will cover the action, with commentary from a crew of announcers.
Here’s the schedule, with links to broadcasts of each race:
Friday – Nov. 6
Division 1 Finals - Boys at 9:30 and 10 a.m. - Girls at 11 and 11:30 a.m.
Division 2 Finals - Boys at 1:30 and 2 p.m. - Girls at 3 and 3:30 p.m.
Saturday – Nov. 7
Division 3 Finals - Boys at 9:30 and 10 a.m. - Girls at 11 and 11:30 a.m.
Division 4 Finals - Boys at 1:30 and 2 p.m. - Girls at 3 and 3:30 p.m.
Come back both Friday and Saturday for coverage of all four meets on Second Half, and see below for teams and individuals who should be in the running. References to a list of fastest times per division this fall includes only the top time for each runner and can be found with the Finals program and much more information on or linked to MHSAA.com.
Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2019 runner-up: Traverse City Central
2020 top-ranked: 1. Traverse City Central, 2. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 3. Holland West Ottawa
This could come down to Pioneer and Central again after the Pioneers edged the Trojans 80-113 at the top of the standings of last year’s Final. Pioneer graduated last season’s individual champion Zofia Dudek and total two of its top five but is keyed by a Regional champion freshman in Rachel Forsyth, while Central brings back five of last season’s top six who are joined by a pair of standout freshmen. Trojans junior Julia Flynn didn’t run at her team’s Regional but has the fastest time in Division 1 this fall at 16:51.27 and finished third at the Final a year ago. Pioneer junior Sarah Forsyth was ninth at the Final in 2019, and Central senior Avery McLean was 17th. West Ottawa is expected to move up from seventh last season as it pursues its first Finals championship, anchored by Arianne Olson – the individual runner-up last season as a freshman.
Individuals: Although Dudek graduated, 14 of last season’s top 20 finishers will reload the field. Following Olson and Flynn last year was Saline now-junior Madi Wood in fourth and Birmingham Seaholm now-senior Audrey DaDamio in fifth, with Novi now-senior Elizabeth Babcock in seventh. Those five finished within 17 seconds of each other, and DaDamio’s season-best 17:16.40 is the second-fastest time in Division 1 this fall. Also back from last season’s top 20 are Forsyth, Plymouth junior Lauren Kiley (11th), Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills senior Madison Ebright (12th), Lake Orion senior Sophie Novak (13th), East Lansing senior Abbie Draheim (14th), McLean, Plymouth senior Londyn Swenson (18th), Northville senior Yasmine Mansi (19th) and Ottawa Hills’ junior Adit Dau (20th). Two more freshmen – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s Clara James-Heer and Macomb Dakota’s Jayden Harberts – have posted times among the 10 fastest in Division 1 this fall.
Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2019 runner-up: Petoskey
2020 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Petoskey, 3. Grand Rapids Christian
Like in Division 1, last season’s top finishers are expected to push for the championship again – East Grand Rapids for the third straight season and Petoskey attempting to win for the first time. The Pioneers won the race at the top in 2019 36-92, placing five of the top 14 individuals but graduating two last spring including champion Anna Petr. At the same time, freshman Drew Muller, junior Ainsley Workman and senior Hannah Bodine have posted times among the 11 fastest in Division 2; Bodine was seventh and Workman 10th at the Final last season. Petoskey senior Emma Squires has the fastest time in Division 2 (17:26.70), with senior Cambrie Smith fifth (18:07,60), senior Sarah Liederbach 12th and junior Noel Vanderwall 13th – Squires was fifth at the 2019 Final, Liederbach was 20th and Vanderwall was 27th. Grand Rapids Christian finished 12th last season but has three titles and a runner-up finish over the last decade and one of the fastest individuals in junior Madelyn Frens, who edged Muller by just more than a second at their league’s championship race and was sixth at her most recent Finals in 2018.
Individuals: Squires, Bodine and Workman are the only top-10 finishers from 2019 back in the field, but six more return who came in 13-20th – Plainwell sophomore Grace Pettit (13th), Whitehall junior Ryann Jibson (15th), Lansing Catholic sophomore Hannah Pricco (16th), Freeland junior Kiera Hansen (17th), Otsego junior Joy Wolfe (18th) and Liederbach, with two more currently scratched for this weekend's race. Cadillac junior Kendall Schopieray was 47th last year but has the sixth-fastest time in Division 2 this fall. A trio of freshmen as well should make a massive impact on the individual standings: Muller, along with Mason’s Meghan Ford and Frankenmuth’s Mary Richmond. Ford’s best of 17:36.40 ranks second in Division 2 this season, and Richmond’s best is seventh on the list. Shepherd senior Madde Skeel, who ran 20th in Division 3 last season, also is in this field.
Reigning champion: Hart
2019 runner-up: Shepherd
2020 top-ranked: 1. Hart, 2. Grandville Calvin Christian, 3. Benzie Central
Hart is hoping to become the fourth Lower Peninsula girls cross country program to win four consecutive Finals, and the Pirates remain formidable coming off a Regional where they took the top four places. Freshman Alyson Enns (17:46.75) ranks fifth on the list of fastest Division 3 times this fall, with senior Savannah Ackley (4th), junior Audrienna Enns (5th) and senior Lynae Ackley (14th) the team’s top three finishers from last season’s impressive win. Calvin Christian is looking to make a jump from third last season, when now-junior Leanne Krombeen led the way with a 19th-place individual finish. Senior teammate Catherine Kortman also has been among Division 3’s fastest this fall. Benzie Central was seventh last season and is led by standout freshman Mylie Kelly joining four of the team’s top five Finals finishers from 2019.
Individuals: A fast returning field will be bolstered even more by another two-time champion. Stockbridge junior Rylee Tolson won Division 3 last season and is back, and Muskegon Western Michigan Christian junior Abby VanderKooi is in Division 3 this weekend after winning Division 4 the last two years. She has the fastest Division 3 time this fall at 16:48.71. Ithaca junior Lani Bloom, Roscommon junior Allison Chmielewski and Jackson Lumen Christi junior Faith Smith have the next three fastest times, respectively, and the finished 18th, third and 22nd in 2019. Other top-20 finishers from last season running again are Boyne City sophomore Ava Maginity (7th), Harbor Springs junior Maye Burns (8th), St. Louis junior Libby Munderloh (10th), New Lothrop junior Clara Krupp (11th), Reed City senior Abbigail Kiaunis (13th) and Kent City senior Layla Martini (16th). Bridgman senior Karsyn Stewart, who set the pace for her team's Division 4 championship last fall by coming in sixth, is running in Division 3 as well.
Reigning champion: Bridgman
2019 runner-up: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart
2020 top-ranked: 1. Lansing Christian, 2. Hillsdale Academy, 3. Beal City
Lansing Christian and Hillsdale Academy are running for what would be a first championship, while Beal City is hoping to add a third after topping Division 4 back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. The Pilgrims didn’t qualify for the Finals as a team last season, but did enjoy a third-place individual finish from now-senior Madison Volz, a 20th by now-sophomore Ashlyn Kephart and a 35th place by now-senior Natalie Tebben. Those three rank among the top 19 in Division 4 this fall. Hillsdale Academy is looking to move up from fourth in 2019 with sophomore Megan Roberts again among the division’s fastest after placing 22nd individually a year ago. The Aggies will follow a speedy 1-2 punch of sophomore Kaylee Locke and junior Rachal Weber, who crossed eighth and 10th, respectively, last season as the team finished 17th. Sophomore Tailor Onstott also has run among the leaders this season.
Individuals: This field opens up with VanderKooi running in Division 3. Volz is the highest-placing returnee and also finished second in Division 4 as a sophomore and fifth as a freshman. Maple City Glen Lake junior Makenna Scott (18:42.84) has the fastest time in Division 4 this fall and finished fourth at the 2019 Final, and Buckley freshman Aiden Harrand (18:43.07) surely will be in the mix with the second-fastest time in Division 4, just ahead of the best by Volz (18:47.37). Concord senior Skylar Thompson was fifth last season and ranks fifth on this year’s fastest times list, with Westland Huron Valley sophomore Erika Van Loton fourth this season and coming off a seventh-place 2019 finish. Also back from last season’s top 20 are Mayville senior Haley Rowbotham (9th), Sacred Heart sophomore Olivia Ervin (12th), Gaylord St. Mary freshman Miriam Murrell (14th), Brethren senior Alexis Tracy (15th) and Harbor Beach senior Makara Kramer (19th).
PHOTO: Petoskey's Emma Squires (1427) leads a pack through the middle of last season's Division 2 championship race at Michigan International Speedway. (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.)