Repeat Champ Paces Hart's 1st Title Run

November 4, 2017

Second Half reports

BROOKLYN — The arrival of four girls from the same family at Hart High School resulted in a day the Pirates have never experienced in any sport.

With four Ackley girls finishing in the team’s top four spots, Hart won the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 cross country championship Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

It was the first MHSAA championship for Hart, its best finish being a second-place showing by the girls track & field team at the 1987 Class C meet. The 1985 wrestling team was third in Class C. Three Hart teams in bracketed sports reached the MHSAA Semifinals.

Until recently, girls cross country seemed like an unlikely program to deliver Hart its first title. Hart had never qualified for the MHSAA Finals in the sport until 2011. The Pirates have been to the Finals six times in the last seven years, the best finish being fifth in 2014.

Hart scored 55 points to win by 69 over Benzonia Benzie Central. Grandville Calvin Christian was third with 137 points.

“My dad (Calvin) started a middle school team,” said Hart junior Adelyn Ackley, who repeated as individual champion with a time of 17:49.4. “He got a lot of kids to go out. Pretty soon, they started going out in high school. He would write them running charts and how many miles they should run in the summer. Kids hooked on to it and are running pretty well now.”

Freshman Savannah Ackley took sixth in 18:51.3, senior Alayna Ackley was seventh in 18:52.0 and Lynae Ackley was 20th in 19:23.7. Lynae is the first cousin of the other three Ackleys, who are sisters.

Sophomore Brenna Aerts was 37th in 19:51.7 to complete Hart’s scoring.

“We train every day over the summer and through the winter together,” Adelyn Ackley said. “It’s fun. We like to push each other.”

There was nobody to push Ackley as she repeated as individual champion.

She was 24.8 seconds ahead of Shepherd junior Amber Gall, who made the top five for the third time.

It was quite a contrast from last year when Ackley won a sprint to the finish with Lansing Catholic’s Olivia Theis by 0.7 seconds in 17:40.6.

“I kind of wish I had somebody closer to me, so they could push me,” Ackley said. “I was looking to beat my time from last year. I couldn’t quite push myself hard enough. I had a girl with me last year. I went out pretty hard so I could get out of the crowd. It felt pretty easy at first. The second mile was definitely the hardest.”

Gall was third in 2015 and fifth in 2016.

“I decided coming in to just run my own race,” Gall said. “I thought that would be the smartest. Usually, I started really fast. I have a condition called hypoglycemia. My sugar runs at a certain level, then it just drops. It’s hard when I start out super fast, because I waste the sugar immediately. Pacing myself at the start was necessary. I don’t usually wear a Garmin, but I did just because I had to watch my time.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Hart’s Adelyn Ackley (1589) begins to break away from the pack during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Alayna Ackley (1590) leads another pack around a curve in helping her team to its first MHSAA championship in any sport. (Click for more from

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.

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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/