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 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

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.