Preview: Reigning Champions, Record Chasers Fill Out Loaded Lineup

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

November 2, 2023

Michigan has enjoyed its share of star-powered and history-making Lower Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals. But this weekend’s may surpass them all.

All four 2022 individual champions will run again this weekend, and 2021 Division 1 champion Rachel Forsyth is potentially powering toward the fastest finish in 5K Finals history. Two of last season’s team champions enter the weekend top-ranked in their divisions, and the other two are ranked among the top five. East Grand Rapids, last season’s runner-up in Division 2, remains in pursuit of a ninth Finals title, which would tie the record set by Jackson Lumen Christi.

See below for more on several team and individual contenders Saturday. The "season bests" list referred to frequently is a ranking list of every runner's best time this season, maintained by The first race, Division 4 girls, begins at 9:30 a.m.; click here for the full schedule and ticket information. Additionally, all eight races Saturday at MIS will be streamed live and viewable with subscription on

Division 1

Reigning champion: Holland West Ottawa
2022 runner-up: Romeo
2023 top-ranked: 1. Romeo, 2. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 3. Brighton.

West Ottawa dislodged Ann Arbor Pioneer from the top spot last season, ending Pioneer’s three-year championship run as the Panthers won their first title, and they do enter ranked No. 4 and with reigning individual champion Helen Sachs coming off a Regional runner-up finish. But Romeo is set up to copy last year’s narrative. Just as West Ottawa was the 2021 runner-up and ascended to the top spot last fall, Romeo finished second last year but enters this weekend as the favorite. Four Romeo runners have posted season bests that rank among the top 14 in Division 1, led by freshman Annie Hrabovsky and including sophomore Emmerson Clor, who finished 19th individually a year ago. Of course, Pioneer is still in the mix after finishing third last season, and Brighton has run with the elite all fall as well – both spent a week ranked No. 1 before Romeo took over the top spot for good at the end of September. Pioneer senior Rachel Forsyth is seeking to add to her 2021 individual championship, and her best time this fall of 16:07.5 is more than a minute faster than the next best and would set an all-Finals 5K record by more than 44 seconds.

Individuals: As Forsyth attempts to chase history, a group of 12 runners from last season’s top 20 make up an experienced group of challengers. Sachs, noted above, won last year’s race by 12 seconds, with Rochester junior Lucy Cook (third), Midland Dow junior Victoria Garces (fifth) and Macomb Dakota senior Jayden Harberts (seventh) also back from the top 10. Grand Rapids’ Ottawa Hills senior Selma Anderson, Midland Dow senior Katie Watkins, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Clara James-Heer and Garces round out the top five on the season-bests list, respectively, with Harberts sixth. Anderson was 12th and James-Heer 11th last season at MIS, and Watkins has dropped major time after finishing 64th in 2022. Grand Haven junior Valerie Beeck, Watkins, Anderson, Brighton sophomore Lydia LaMarra, Forsyth, Livonia Churchill senior Morgan Brown, White Lake Lakeland junior Ava Alicandro, Cook and Hrabovsky were Regional champions.

Division 2

Reigning champion: Otsego
2022 runner-up: East Grand Rapids
2023 top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Christian, 2. Otsego, 3. Zeeland East.

There’s plenty of familiarity at the top, as Otsego is the reigning champion, Grand Rapids Christian finished third in 2022 and second in 2021, and No. 5 East Grand Rapids has won three of the last five championships and finished runner-up most recently last season and in 2020. Zeeland East and No. 4 Goodrich, however, are hoping to join the mix. East has never won a championship and finished eighth last season, and Goodrich was seventh in 2022 and last won in 2005 in Division 3. Grand Rapids Christian was first and Otsego second when they raced Oct. 7 at the Portage Invitational, and four GR Christian runners rank among the top 21 on the Division 2 list of season bests, while Otsego has three among the top nine. Senior Natalie VanOtteren sets the pace for the Eagles and is second on the season bests list after finishing fourth at the Final last fall. Otsego sophomore Emma Hoffman is the reigning individual runner-up and has the sixth-fastest season best in Division 2, and she’s joined by seniors Logan Brazee (seventh in 2022), Megan Germain (eighth) and junior Taylor Mitchell (14th) in one of the most experienced lineups in any division. Reigning champion Drew Muller is building toward another big finish for East Grand Rapids; she and junior Sadey Seyferth (15th in 2022) were first and second, respectively, at their Regional over the weekend. Zeeland East has interesting possibilities with senior Allison Kuzma coming off a sixth-place Finals finish and junior Emma Drnek posting the eighth-fastest season best in Division 2 this fall, and Goodrich is paced by junior Kamryn Lauinger, who has the 10th-fastest Division 2 best this fall.

Individuals: This is another seasoned group, with 17 of last year’s top 20 racing again. Less than a second behind Hoffman last year was Frankenmuth senior Mary Richmond in third, and fifth-place Grand Rapids Catholic Central junior Emily Tomes has the fastest time in Division 2 this fall of 17:33.6. St. Joseph senior Gail Vaikutis and junior Elena Figueroa posted the third and fourth-fastest season bests in Division 2 this fall while at the Portage Invitational, Vaikutis having finished 12th at last year’s Final and Figueroa 16th, and St. Johns’ freshman Ava Schafer is among the most intriguing newcomers in any division with the fifth-fastest season best in Division 2. Gaylord sophomore Katie Berkshire, VanOtteren, Vaikutis, Schafer, Lauinger, Linden junior Chloe Josephson, Croswell-Lexington senior Morgan Newton and Adrian junior Sophy Skeels joined Muller as Regional champs.

Division 3

Reigning champion: Traverse City St. Francis
2022 runner-up: Pewamo-Westphalia
2023 top-ranked: 1. Traverse City St. Francis, 2. Jackson Lumen Christi, 3. Elk Rapids.

Balance was the name of the game in this division in 2022, with only four of the top 10 teams paced by more than one top-20 individual – and that could be the theme again this weekend. St. Francis and Hart have combined to win the last eight Division 3 championships, the Gladiators breaking Hart’s five-year hold on Division 3 last fall with a balanced lineup that has four runners back this weekend led by junior Betsy Skendzel, who finished seventh individually and has the fifth-fastest season-best time in Division 3 this fall. Lumen Christi is looking to move up from ninth last season as it pursues a first championship since 2012, with senior Madison Osterberg leading the charge with the third-fastest time on the season bests list. Elk Rapids was eighth a year ago and brings six runners back from that team led by sophomore Brynne Schulte.

Individuals: Hart junior Jessica Jazwinski leads another impressive group of returnees; she won last season’s championship by nearly 41 seconds and is one of 13 top-20 finishers back in this field. Jazwinski’s season-best time of 16:47.8 this fall is more than 41 seconds faster than the next and trails only Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Forsyth on the statewide list. Otsego junior Emmry Ross is second on the Division 3 list and finished third at last year’s Final, and Central Montcalm junior Kyah Hoffman is fourth on the Division 3 season-best list and finished ninth a year ago. Kent City junior Lila Volkers, Benzie Central senior Mylie Kelly and Lansing Catholic senior Tessa Roe also are back from the individual top 10 in 2022. Skendzel, Jazwinski, Volkers, Buchanan junior Emma Miller, Ross, Hoffman, Pinconning senior Kinsie Jacques, Roe and Ypsilanti Arbor Prep junior Eliza Bush were Regional champions in this division.

Division 4

Reigning champion: Johannesburg-Lewiston
2022 runner-up: Hillsdale Academy
2023 top-ranked: 1. Johannesburg-Lewiston, 2. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, 3. Whitmore Lake.

Johannesburg-Lewiston’s championship last season was its first in any sport in school history, and the Cardinals are lined up to double their success with five of last season’s seven runners back including third-place Allie Nowak and seventh-place Yolanda Gascho. Nowak, now a junior, is fourth on the Division 4 season-bests list this fall. Gascho, a senior, is joined by freshman Harlie Fox and senior Madalyn Agren also among the top 30. Western Michigan Christian is back in Division 4 after winning the 2021 title and finishing 14th in Division 3 last fall, when junior Grace VanderKooi was 16th individually. Whitmore Lake was third last season with three freshmen among its top four, and all of those top four are back with sophomore Carina Burchi seventh on the season bests list after finishing fourth last season and freshman Kaylie Livingston joining the elite with the second-fastest season best in the division this fall.

Individuals: The top five placers and 17 of the top 20 individuals from 2022 are back, with Buckley senior Aiden Harrand seeking a repeat after winning last season’s title by 13 seconds. She has the top time in Division 4 this season at 17:39.6, just under a second faster than Livingston’s best of 17:40.4, and VanderKooi is next with a best of 18:24.7. Auburn Hills Oakland Christian junior Eliza Keith, Allen Park Cabrini senior Ava Teed (fifth) and Mendon sophomore Rowan Allen (ninth) join those mentioned above as also back from last season’s top 10, and Teed and Gobles freshman Libby Smith rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the Division 4 season bests list. Nowak, Harrand, Vestaburg junior Abigail Davis, VanderKooi, Concord freshman Haley Stimer, Livingston, Pittsford senior Brooke Smith, Kingston sophomore Lilah Kiley and Teed were Regional champions over the weekend.

PHOTO Otsego takes off during the start of last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final, including returning runners Logan Brazee (1310), Megan Germain (1312), Emma Hoffman (1313) and Taylor Mitchell (1315). (Photo by Gary Shook.)

Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

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.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.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.

Click for full results.

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/