Preview: Racing to Reign Again

October 19, 2018

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.

Division 1

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.

Division 2

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.

Division 3

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.)

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

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 EversJill 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.