By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
BROOKLYN — Audrey Belf tuned out all of the noise.
The Birmingham Seaholm junior didn't want to get caught up in all of the chatter surrounding her quest to win the MHSAA Division 1 cross country championship. She didn't want to read the comparisons between her and former Rochester runner Megan Goethals, who holds the MHSAA finals record and is now an All-American at the University of Washington.
Belf wanted to relax her mind all week, then do what she does best — race hard.
"I never had that much pressure in my life," Belf said. "I kind of stopped using the Internet for a week. I didn't want to see anything or have any reason to psyche myself out. I wanted to go into the race with a clear head."
The nationally ranked Belf fulfilled expectations on Saturday by winning the Division 1 championship in a time of 17:31.1. Rockford senior Lauren Brasure stayed close enough to keep the issue in doubt, finishing second in 17:40.8.
"She's a great runner and definitely pushes me," Belf said. "I knew it would be a close race. We both ran great."
Belf admitted that she had her sights on the MHSAA finals record of 16:54.8 set by Goethals in 2009. Achieving that time became more difficult when rains soaked the MIS course right up until race morning, creating a sloppy mess in some spots.
"It was a little muddy," Belf said. "Coming into the stadium, I was on pace for my goal time. When I got into the stadium, it slowed me up a little bit. You can't do anything about it. It's OK. I'm happy about it."
Belf made a huge jump from 33rd place last year in 18:32.8 to MHSAA champion.
"I was a little bit sick and had a bad day (in 2012)," Belf said. "This summer and last spring, I worked on raising my confidence going into races. It really helped me this year."
Brasure lost only three races all season — all to Belf.
The only downer for Belf was that her Seaholm team didn't repeat as champion. Northville won its first MHSAA finals championship by scoring 107 points. Saline was second with 139, Hudsonville third with 164 and Seaholm fourth with 165. Rockford was fifth with 169 points, cracking the top 10 for the 20th straight year.
Northville had a strong front pack, with its top four runners finishing 10.8 seconds apart in the top 21 among team finishers. Senior Rachel Coleman was 10th in the team race in 18:23.3, sophomore Lexa Barrott was 13th in 18:27.0, senior Taleen Shahrigian was 14th in 18:30.2, freshman Cayla Eckenroth was 21st in 18:34.1 and senior Nicole Mosteller was 49th in 19:10.2.
PHOTO: Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Belf takes the final strides toward her first MHSAA cross country championship. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com).
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.
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.
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/RunMichigan.com.)