By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
All three reigning team champions are loaded again. All three reigning individual champions are back in the field (even if two are this time running the same race).
Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals at Pictured Rocks Golf Course in Munising easily could see repeat champions one way or the other in every division – but with a number of other high placers also back from 2017, that’s easier anticipated than done.
Races begin Saturday with the Division 1 boys at 11 a.m. and finish with the Division 3 girls at 1:30 p.m. Check back Saturday evening for coverage, and see below for more teams and individuals to watch.
Reigning champion: Marquette
2017 runner-up: Sault Ste. Marie
Top-ranked: 1. Marquette, 2. Sault Ste. Marie, 3. Houghton.
Marquette’s title last season was its fourth in five years, and the Redettes and Sault Ste. Marie have finished first and second in some order the last four seasons (with the Blue Devils crowned champions in 2016). Marquette won last year’s title with four underclassmen and a junior, and four returnees are leading the charge this time. Junior Ericka Asmus moved up from 10th as a freshman to second last season, and juniors Reegan Ketzenberger (sixth) and Delaney Sall (eighth) and senior Samantha Borzick (14th) also are back this weekend. Three of Sault Ste. Marie’s top seven are back, led by sophomore Haleigh Knowles (seventh).
Individuals: Reigning champion and Negaunee now-junior Emily Paupore leads 10 returnees from last season’s top 20 – but she’s not the only champion in the field, as Ishpeming Westwood junior Tessa Leece won Division 2 a year ago. Kingsford sophomore Sarah Kulas will look to build on her ninth place in Division 1 last season, while juniors Katie Anderla of Menominee and Talon Prusi of Negaunee are back after finishing 12th and 13th, respectively. Houghton senior Anabel Needham will try to make a jump in her final high school meet after coming in 16th a year ago. Ishpeming Westwood sophomores Allyssea Smith and Elizabeth Williams finished 12th and 14th, respectively, in Division 2 in 2017.
Reigning champion: St. Ignace
2017 runner-up: Ishpeming
Top-ranked: 1. Ishpeming, 2. Gogebic (Wakefield-Marenisco/Bessemer), 3. Ironwood.
St. Ignace broke Ishpeming’s three-year reign in Division 2 last fall, but the Hematites finished runners-up and return two top-20 finishers from last season – sophomore Chyanne Gardner (10th) and senior Brooke Johnson (16th) – and were led by two freshmen in finishing second at the Mid-Peninsula Conference final. Still, the Saints might be favored with four top-seven finishers back from last season – senior Elizabeth Becker (second), sophomore Emmalee Hart (third), sophomore Hallie Marshall (fifth) and senior Emily Coveyou (senior).
Individuals: Even with the Westwood runners in Division 1, 10 of last season’s top 20 are back. Sophomores Naomi Aili (13th) and Macie Ahonen (19th) were Gogebic’s top finishers in 2017, while Ironwood senior Emily Carey (fourth) and Newberry sophomore Sophy Smithson (eighth) will be looking to contend. And Munising senior Madeleine Peramaki should be in the mix too after she finished second in Division 3 a year ago.
Reigning champion: Chassell
2017 runner-up: Rock Mid-Peninsula
Top-ranked: 1. Chassell, 2. Dollar Bay, 3. Rock Mid-Peninsula.
Chassell has won three of the last four Division 3 titles and finished second in 2016. The Panthers took four of the top eight team places last season, and all four of those standouts are back – senior Lela Rautiola (third), senior Jenna Pietila (seventh, sixth for team), freshman Paige Sleeman (eighth/seventh) and sophomore Gwen Kangas (ninth/eighth). Rock Mid returns three top-14 finishers – reigning champion and now-junior Daisy Englund, sophomore Landry Koski (fifth) and junior Chevey Koski (14th).
Individuals: A mighty 15 of last season’s top 20 return, not counting Munising’s Peramaki now in Division 2. Cedarville might also be a team contender with three of the 15 – sophomore Cassidy Barr (12th last season), freshman Meredith Emigh (16th) and junior Lily Freel (17th). Eben Junction Superior Central junior Danika Walters (sixth), Stephenson sophomore Kylee Kuntze (10th), Painesdale-Jeffers sophomore Keena Larson (11th), Pickford junior Natalie Miller (15th) and Engadine senior Annika Hollinger (19th) also are back.
PHOTO: Marquette and Ishpeming, here during a race earlier this season, are among title favorites Saturday. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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.)