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

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.

Click for full results.

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/