We always can count on high school sports to be cyclical in the way athletes move through their four seasons and are replaced by the next wave.
But some groups certainly are more memorable than others. And Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals will provide an opportunity to wave good-bye to an accomplished group of seniors who have combined to win five MHSAA individual cross country championships.
Races begin Saturday at Gentz’s Golf Course in Marquette with the Division 1 girls at 11 a.m. and finish with the Division 3 boys at 1:30 p.m. Check back Saturday evening for coverage, and see below for more teams and individuals to watch. (Click for race information and competitors.)
Reigning champion: Sault Ste. Marie
2018 runner-up: Marquette
Top-ranked: 1. Marquette, 2. Sault Ste. Marie, 3. Houghton.
Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie have finished first or second together the last five seasons and alternated claiming the championship over the last four. The Blue Devils won last season despite their highest placer coming in eighth, and three of the top four from that lineup are back this weekend – junior Haleigh Knowles (eighth in 2018), sophomore Anna Hildebrand (10th) and senior Shelby Eavou (16th). Marquette senior Ericka Asmus has finished Division 1 runner-up the last two seasons after coming in 10th as a freshman, and she’s joined by three more of the team’s top five from the 2018 Final including senior Reegan Ketzenberger (13th).
Individuals: Negaunee senior Emily Paupore hopes to finish her high school cross country career with a third straight Division 1 championship and won last year’s Final by 32 seconds. She’s been surging not only against Upper Peninsula competition this fall but also against many of the best from downstate. Ishpeming Westwood senior Tessa Leece also should be in the mix again after finishing fourth last season coming off her Division 2 championship in 2017. Paupore teammate Talon Prusi also will run her final high school race after coming in seventh a year ago, and Houghton sophomore Ingrid Seagren could be on the way to becoming the favorite in 2020 after finishing sixth at her first Finals a year ago.
Reigning champion: Hancock
2018 runner-up: St. Ignace
Top-ranked: 1. Ishpeming, 2. Ironwood, 3. Wakefield-Marenisco/Bessemer.
Ishpeming didn’t finish enough runners to place last season, but the Hematites are back to full strength. After winning three straight titles from 2014-16, they are expected to add another with their top three runners returning from last year’s Final: sophomore Abby Racine (fourth place), sophomore Taylor Longtine (seventh) and junior Chyanne Gardner (14th). Reigning champ Hancock isn’t ranked but is going to be in the mix. The Bulldogs had six of the top 12 finishers in winning that team title, and sophomores Jacie Anderson (eighth), Adia Keranen (11th) and Sierrah Driscoll (12th) all are back for a team that will run one senior and six underclassmen.
Individuals: The top three finishers from last season graduated, making Racine the highest-placing returnee. Joining her, Longtine and Anderson back from the top 10 is St. Ignace junior Hallie Marshall (10th), and West Iron County junior Avery Bociek (15th) also is a strong candidate to climb in the standings.
Reigning champion: Chassell
2018 runner-up: Cedarville
Top-ranked: 1. Chassell, 2. Brimley, 3. Cedarville.
Chassell will be chasing its third straight championship and fifth in six seasons with four of last season’s top 20 individual placers leading the way. Sophomore Paige Sleeman (fifth), junior Gwen Kangas (seventh), sophomore Kamryn Sohlden (ninth) and freshman Trisha Pietila (20th) make the Panthers the team to beat again. Cedarville is an intriguing contender though with five of last year’s top seven back including freshman Lilianna Cason (eighth) sophomore Meredith Emigh (10th) and junior Cassidy Barr (14th). Rock Mid Peninsula isn’t ranked but brings back all six of last year’s runners who combined to finish third, led by senior Daisy Englund (second) and sophomore Landry Koski (fourth).
Individuals: Eben Junction Superior Central now-senior Danika Walters outpaced 2017 champion Englund by nearly 20 seconds to win last season’s title, and they should provide an excellent individual competition at the front. Total, eight of last year’s top 10 return – the others are mentioned above – and Pickford senior Natalie Miller (11th) and Ewen-Trout Creek junior Elise Besonen also bolster the returning field. Newberry sophomore Jorja Suriano finished 13th in Division 2 last season.
PHOTO: Eben Junction Superior Central’s Danika Walters broke away from the Division 3 field at last season’s Upper Peninsula Finals and will run for a repeat 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.)