By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN — Rachel DaDamio of Birmingham Seaholm may be the only runner to ever finish second in an MHSAA championship cross country meet without ever having won a race in her career.
Not one race. Not even a dual meet or low-key invitational.
First place is pretty much spoken for when Audrey Belf toes the start line.
Since DaDamio has been Belf's teammate for four years, winning hasn't been a viable option.
But while Belf beat every opponent in the state this year, DaDamio didn't lose to anybody else. Her eighth second-place finish in as many meets helped Seaholm win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship with 88 points. Traverse City Central was second with 115, followed by defending-champion Northville with 135.
Belf repeated as the individual champion with a time of 17:19.0. DaDamio held off freshman Karenna Duffey of Macomb L'Anse Creuse North to grab second in 17:29.4. Duffey was third in 17:33.1. Those were the three fastest times of the day in any division.
DaDamio doesn't mind her lack of individual first-place medals, because she has two team championship medals from the MHSAA Finals.
"It's an honor," she said. "It doesn't make a difference to me. I just want to constantly improve for myself, then whatever place I get I know I worked hard."
After crossing the finish line, Belf's attention immediately turned to the race behind her. She had to be moved away from the finish line while she watched DaDamio duel with Duffey.
"It was awesome," Belf said. "In every single meet this year we've been 1-2. It's been so cool to have my teammate behind me like that. It's like a little dynamic duo. I love it."
Belf had already opened up a gap when the runners hit the end of the long straightaway in the first 700 yards of the race.
"I wanted to stay behind a little bit at the start, but people were not going out as fast as I'd hoped, so I kind of just took it there," Belf said. "In the second mile, I got caught up in the wind. I felt I should have pushed through more and finished strong, but I can't complain."
Seaholm regained the title it lost last year when it finished fourth. DaDamio didn't run in that meet because of an injury, but the Maples did lose No. 2 runner Marissa Dobry, who moved to Oregon.
Belf, DaDamio and No. 3 runner Julia Demko were on the 2012 championship team. Demko took 20th on Saturday with a time of 18:21.5.
Completing Seaholm's scoring were Audrey Ladd (40th, 18:52.0) and Mary Sanders (54th, 19:00.5).
"To win two state championships in a day is like a magical dream come true," Belf said.
PHOTOS: Birmingham Seaholm’s Rachel DaDamio keeps pace ahead of Karenna Duffey of Macomb L'Anse Creuse North to finish individual runner-up and help the Maples regain the MHSAA LP Division 1 team title. (Below) Seaholm’s Audrey Belf claimed her second straight individual 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.)