By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN — Holly Bullough knows something about playing with pain.
She is, after all, from one of Michigan's most well-known football families.
Bullough wasn't able to run in practice the last two weeks, keeping in shape by hitting the spinning bike hard at a yoga center in Traverse City. It worked, as she was fit enough to dominate the Division 3 field, winning by 36.4 seconds with a time of 17:41.8.
Bullough shattered her own LP Division 3 record of 17:51.3, set last year when she surged ahead at the finish to edge Amber Way of Charlevoix by 0.2 seconds.
"I was pretty tired," Bullough said. "I just needed to finish and try to finish as strong as I can."
She said she felt some of the effects of running only once in the previous two weeks, that being in the regional meet a week earlier when she won in 17:15.40. It was a week before regionals that she noticed something didn't feel right.
"After this one meet, I was limping after it," she said. "I was like, "I need to get an X-ray.'"
The X-ray revealed a stress fracture in the second metatarsal bone in her left foot.
She has numerous examples in her own family of athletes who know a thing or two about toughing it out. Her grandfather, father and three brothers played football at Michigan State, with Riley and Byron on the current roster. Hank Bullough, her grandfather, was a starting guard on MSU's 1954 Rose Bowl championship team. Her father, Shane, was a linebacker at MSU. Brother Max is on the Houston Texans' roster.
An injury was going to be the only thing to keep Bullough from repeating as Division 3 champion. Nobody went out with her, as she built a 28-second lead by the two-mile mark.
"I was more worried coming into regionals, because that's when I had the longest break, but I was still nervous," Bullough said.
Winning the individual title was more special for Bullough this time around, because she was able to lead her team to a championship, as well.
St. Francis scored 69 points to easily beat Benzie Central by 72. Shepherd was third with 181 points.
The Gladiators didn't even qualify for the Final last year, finishing sixth in their Regional to miss out on a trip to MIS for only the second time in 14 years. Bullough is the only runner from that regional lineup that ran in the Final on Saturday.
"It's awesome. I love it. It's so much better than being alone," Bullough said.
Also scoring for the Gladiators were freshman Katelyn Duffing (fourth, 18:35.2), junior Emmalyne Tarsa (fifth, 18:42.3), sophomore Joyana Tarsa (12th, 19:05.1) and sophomore Lauren Bramer (66th, 20:23.5).
The title was the second for St. Francis, which was the LP Division 4 champion in 2003.
PHOTOS: (Top) Alone on the final stretch, Traverse City St. Francis’ Holly Bullough surges toward the finish line. (Middle) Bullough and teammate Katelyn Duffing (1650) lead the St. Francis pack, including Emmalyne Tarsa (1653), off the start. (Click for 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.)