Preview: Seniors to Shine 1 More Time

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 18, 2019

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.)

Division 1

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.

Division 2

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.

Division 3

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.)

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.