By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN – After all the uncertainty of this past fall season, one thing is for sure.
Makenna Scott will be cuddled up with her puppy Milo tonight, gazing fondly at her cross country championship medal.
And who knows, she might even be eating a piece of ice cream cake.
“My parents told me last year that if I got top five I could get my dream puppy, so I got my Bernese Mountain Dog after getting fourth,” said Scott, a junior from Maple City Glen Lake High School. “And this year, they were like, ‘What do you want?’ I told them a state championship, I don’t need anything else — but maybe an ice-cream cake would be nice.”
Scott earned it after besting the field at Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Girls Cross Country Finals. She moved into the lead down the final stretch and finished in a winning time of 19:30.2.
“As a freshman, I never thought this would be possible,” Scott said. “I’ve worked my butt off this season. I just can’t believe I did it.”
She said all the sacrifices she’s made have paid off. All of her emotions came out after learning she had won the championship.
“The dedication, having to give up time with my friends to make sure I can run. All the times I’ve said, ‘No, I can’t have a sleepover tonight.’ At the time I wondered, is it all going to be worth it in the end,” Scott said. “Just looking back at it, you really have to want it if you’re going to win a state championship.”
Lansing Christian’s Madison Volz, a senior, was the race leader through the first two miles. But as she neared the three-mile mark, her legs gave out on her. She gutted it out and finished 12th overall, earning all-state honors. Her efforts helped the Pilgrims capture the Division 4 team championship with a score of 93 points.
“She said she wasn’t going to finish the race, but she knew it mattered for the team score, so she just got up and walked it in, which was actually the difference,” her coach, Jonathan Watson said. “If she doesn’t finish, we don’t win.”
Sophomore Ashlyn Kephart led Lansing Christian with a sixth-place finish. Senior Natalie Tebben was ninth overall, followed by Volz. Also scoring for the Pilgrims were freshman Hope Tebben and junior Mia Judd.
“We had a goal at the beginning of the season,” Watkins said. “We knew we were in it and had a shot. Our girls worked really hard this year — with this as their goal — and so to get there I know is a relief for them.
“It was a fun day to watch them run their race and go after it.”
Kalamazoo Christian was runner-up, finishing with 142 points. Sophomores Aubrey Herder and Hope Zichterman led the way, finishing 18th and 21st overall.
Beal City was third behind strong finishes from junior Rachal Weber (fourth) and sophomores Tailor Onstott (13th) and Kaylee Locke (14th). Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart was fourth, and Hillsdale Academy rounded out the top five.
Individually, Webberville senior Sara Spalding finished runner-up in a time of 19:44.53. She ran in the first of two division races. Ubly’s Maze Gusa was third, while Weber and Buckley’s Aiden Harrand rounded out the top five.
PHOTOS: (Top) Maple City Glen Lake’s Makenna Scott pushes toward the Division 4 individual title Saturday. (Middle) Ashlyn Kephart crosses first for team champion Lansing Christian, coming in sixth overall. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)