Sachs Surges from Start to Lead Holland West Ottawa to LPD1 Finals Sweep

November 5, 2022

BROOKLYN – Helen Sachs of Holland West Ottawa doesn’t run alone in many cross country meets, which is unusual for an elite runner.

The best runners have to learn to race solo, because there will be meets in which they can simply overwhelm the competition.

But there is always at least one worthy competitor nearby when Sachs races. She runs on the same team as senior Arianne Olson, herself one of the top contenders at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

So, Sachs was surprised to find herself already alone at the front just 200 meters into the race. She never allowed the pack to catch up, winning by 24.73 seconds with a time of 17:18.74.

“I saw nobody in front of me except for the start when they all went off,” said Sachs, a sophomore. “I was just in front. I was like someone is gonna be coming up behind me, because I know the state meet is when people just go for it. No one came up with me.

“It was kind of weird. I was looking forward to some competition or people to run with. It was still fun to run in such a big race, though. It was cool.”

West Ottawa’s Arianne Olson and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s Clara James-Heer lead another pack down the stretch.Sachs won eight of her 10 races this season, placing second in the other two to Olson. Olson, who was third in Division 1 last season, placed ninth this time in 18:27.13.

That powerful 1-2 punch up front allowed West Ottawa to win the team championship in dominant fashion, 97-172 over runner-up Romeo.

The Panthers placed their five scoring runners in the top 50, while every other contending team had at least one scoring runner place in the 100s.

Training daily with such a powerful team helped Sachs become an MHSAA champion.

“I just picked up on the dedication, getting everything in,” she said. “Our coaches this year focused more on recovery, like running easy, focusing on recovery, which has helped the mindset of everyone on the team.”

Sachs was a ready-made contributor to the West Ottawa program, finishing fifth in Division 1 last season. But even after finishing among the state’s elite a year ago, she didn’t believe she could win an MHSAA individual championship until she started winning big races early this year.

“It’s surreal,” she said. “Last year I was fifth. This year, winning the state championship was crazy. It doesn’t feel real.”

Rounding out the West Ottawa scorers were 38th-place senior Megan Postma, 49th-place sophomore Jane Olney and 50th-place freshman Ava Porras. Grandville senior Allison Arnsman was the individual runner-up in 17:43.47.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Holland West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs closes in on the finish and her first MHSAA Finals championship. (Middle) West Ottawa’s Arianne Olson and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s Clara James-Heer lead another pack down the stretch. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/

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.