Rochester's Cook, Dakota's Harberts Finding Fastest Strides at Championship Time

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

October 27, 2022

Peaking right before the biggest events is obviously something every athlete wants to do. But executing such a desire is way easier said than done.

Greater DetroitFortunately for cross country runners Jayden Harberts and Lucy Cook – top-10 finishers at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final – that hasn’t been an issue.

With Regional meets this weekend and this season’s Finals at Michigan International Speedway the Saturday after that, Harberts and Cook reaching their top form right now might be bad news for other runners around the state.

Harberts, a junior at Macomb Dakota, earlier this month won her third consecutive Macomb County championship in a time of 18:25 at Stony Creek Metropark.

But Dakota coach Tom Zarzycki said that’s not all she’s done.

“She’s run three of her four fastest times within the last month,” Zarzycki said. “She’s definitely on the upswing.”

The same can be said for Cook, a sophomore at Rochester.

Cook won her second-straight Oakland County championship at Kensington Metropark in a time of 18:45.5.

Despite being slowed by an illness earlier in the year, Cook appears to be at full strength at the right time.

“She’s got a tremendous amount of passion and she is 110 percent into everything she is doing,” said Rochester coach Amy Oppat. “She’s easy to coach from that aspect. She’s hard on herself because she cares.”

For Harberts, she hopes to better her seventh-place Finals finish from last year.

She ran a personal record of 17:31 on Oct. 22 at the Macomb Area Conference championships, and she credits enhanced mental strength for her performances this fall.

“For me this year, it’s been a lot of mental growth,” Harberts said. “Last year, I didn’t (personal record) in cross country, so I’ve been waiting a while. I think physically I’ve gotten a lot stronger too. But it’s a lot of mental strength for me.”

Cook, who finished sixth at the LPD1 Final in 2021, followed up her Oakland County title by winning the OAA White championship Oct. 20 in a time of 18:34.1.

The comfort and confidence she gained doing so well at the Final last year has obviously showed this fall, and Oppat said Cook is ahead of where she was at this time last season.

“It was my first big meet,” Cook said of running at MIS in 2021. “I was just going to see how it went and try my best. It was a pretty big personal record.”

Both Harberts and Cook also shined during track season this past spring.

At the LPD1 Track & Field Finals on June 4, Harberts placed third in 3,200 meter run with a time of 10:26.16 and 11th in 1,600 meter run in a time of 4:57.87, while Cook was second in the 3,200 run in a time of 10:23.24.

Cook said distance running is “better for me than sprinting,” while Harberts echoed that sentiment that distance races have long been a better fit for her.

“I like to build my race up,” Harberts said. “It’s not like a sprint where I have to be fast the whole time. It’s more strategic.”

Harberts and Dakota will run Saturday in a Regional at Goodells Park in Wales Township, while Cook and Rochester will run at Hess-Hathaway Park in Waterford.

Given what each has achieved lately, it’s a good bet they’ll still be peaking after the weekend, with all eyes then toward the Finals race.

“I just have to remember to keep running my own race,” Harberts said. “Hopefully I can continue to do that again this year.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS Rochester’s Lucy Cook, left, and Macomb Dakota’s Jayden Harberts finished sixth and seventh, respectively, at last season’s LPD1 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Click for more from

Performance of the Week: Ann Arbor Pioneer's Rachel Forsyth

September 1, 2023

Rachel ForsythRachel Forsyth ♦ Ann Arbor Pioneer
Senior ♦ Cross Country

The latest in a long line of Pioneer distance stars, Forsyth began her final high school cross country season with a nearly 26-second victory in the big-school race at the Benzie Central Pete Moss Invitational on Saturday. She ran a personal-record 17:09.24, which says a ton considering her past work; Forsyth was the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final champion in 2021 as a sophomore and the 2020 runner-up in her first trip to Michigan International Speedway. What's more, she was followed in this Benzie race by reigning Division 3 champion Jessica Jazwinski of Hart in second and last year's Division 4 champion Aiden Harrand of Buckley in third as Pioneer finished second as a team against an elite field.

An injury delayed the start of Forsyth's junior season last fall until the end of September, and she ran only 62nd at the LPD1 Final five weeks later. But she was clearly back to unstoppable during track season, setting personal records in the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and 400 while going undefeated in individual events for the spring and winning LPD1 Finals championships in the 800, 1,600 and as part of the 3,200 relay. She and her siblings have enjoyed an incredible run of success over the last decade; older sister Anne Forsyth was a four-time top-15 cross country finisher at LPD1 Finals and runner-up as a junior in 2016, and sister Sarah Forsyth twice finished among the top 10 individually and as a senior with Rachel in 2021 helped Pioneer to the team title. 

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