St. Francis Sophomore Building Up to Possible Multi-Sport Championship Story

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

October 7, 2022

Although there are plenty of races run on golf courses across the state, it is unlikely anyone would win both high school golf and cross country events on the same golf course.

The odds aren’t very good either that an athlete will capture an MHSAA Finals championship in both sports.

The chances must be even slimmer still for that athlete’s teams to sweep both titles in the same season.

Meet Grace Slocum, a golf and cross country standout at Traverse City St. Francis High School. Don’t bet against her work ethic and talent. Her coaches say both are second to none.

The odds of her capturing golf and cross country first place on the same golf course, winning an individual state championship in both golf and cross country in the same season and helping – if not leading – the Gladiators to team state titles in the same season cannot be calculated. 

There might not be a need to do any speculating. Her coaches and teammates can’t wait to see what she accomplishes yet this season and throughout her career. Slocum is only a sophomore. 

Her school is undergoing some re-modeling right now. A bigger trophy case perhaps should be under consideration.

She’s been accumulating hardware at golf events away from her high school team for some time. Now, she’s winning high school championships. This week, she won a golf Regional title and led her team to a second-place finish qualifying the Glads for the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final to be played Oct. 14-15 at Grand Valley State University. St. Francis shot a 400 to trail only champion Harbor Springs – one of the strongest golf programs in the state – which finished with a 383.

Slocum finished ninth at the Finals last year as a freshman, and the Glads wound up 13th. Craig Ardery, who is in his 20th season as the St. Francis girls golf coach, is hoping his team cracks the top 10 this time.

Slocum stands next to a flag during last season’s MHSAA Girls Golf Finals. When the Golf Finals are over, veteran St. Francis cross country coach Julie Duffing will have Slocum dedicated to running – and the Glads have their eyes on a team championship again after winning LPD3 titles in 2015 and 2016. They were third last year and have ridden consecutive conference and Regional successes to the Finals every year since 2015 – the year Duffing became head coach.

That was also the year her daughter, Katelyn, was a freshman on the Glads team. Julie Duffing's role didn’t change a whole lot with the new title. Prior to joining St. Francis as an assistant track coach in 2013, she had coached at Kingsley for 17 years. The Stags regularly finished among the top 10 in boys and girls cross country during her tenure.

The last year the Glads girls did not qualify as a team for the Finals was 2014 – also the year Holly Bullough won the first of her two individual Finals championships. 

Today, the Glads are still feeling some sting from missing out on second place last year by just a few points to Kent City.

“The plan was to come back with a vengeance this year,“ said Duffing, who enjoyed a prep running career herself at Tawas and competed in track & field and cross country at Saginaw Valley State University. “Last year being third, and only two points separated second and third, was a little bitter.”

Slocum’ s twin brother, Josh, also plays golf for the Glads and runs cross country. He’s recovering from a summer injury but ran a personal record last week in his first race of the season. He was the top finisher too for the team ranked second in LPD3.

The St. Francis girls, ranked number one in LPD3, will soon have Slocum dedicated to cross country.  She’ll be with the Glads for their last three scheduled meets including the Regional in East Jordan and the Final on Nov. 5 at Michigan International Speedway.

Hart won the LPD3 girls championship last year and is currently ranked fourth. The Glads have run against the Pirates twice this season, winning one of the matchups.

Last year as a freshman, Slocum missed several cross country races but finished 29th at the Final. Sophia Rhein, despite running injured, finished 31st. Betsy Skendzel, 10th, was the Glads’ top finisher. Reilly Duffing was 52nd, Mary Masserant was 62nd and Maddie Gallagher was 84th.

Rhein is the only senior this year among the six returnees. Add stellar freshman Paige Ritchie, and the Glads are ready to contend.  Other members of the team looking to compete are senior Cora Garrey, junior Margot Haggerty, sophomores Katie Harrand and Maya Padisak, and freshmen Lucy Noggle, Olivia Padisak and Sarah Trojanowski.

“We did beat Hart at Benzie, and everybody was super excited about that,” Duffing noted. “And then we lost to them this last weekend.

“We didn’t have Grace this last weekend,” she continued. “We just didn’t have a great weekend.”

The loss to Hart can only help the Glads as they prepare for the postseason.

“I told the girls it’s OK. … Let’s have our bad races now,” Duffing said. “Let’s get them out now, and then we don’t have to worry about having another one.”

Slocum and twin bother Josh, left, are both golfing and running cross country for the Gladiators this fall. Slocum, whose favorite sport is golf, considered focusing exclusively on golf this fall. The pressures of two sports at one time with homework demands and school absences were weighing on her as the fall season began.

Duffing was prepared as the possibility was contemplated, having known Slocum for some time through her daughter’s close friendship and all the years they played hockey together. At the top of Duffing’s mind was – and is – Slocum’s happiness.

Duffing came up with a convenient plan for Slocum to follow and participate in cross country. The running Glads were thrilled with it.  As a smaller school, the coach knew the importance of flexibility for student-athletes.

“I just looked at her and said, ‘You have a spot on the team no matter what,’” Duffing said. “‘You come when you can – we’ll work with you.’

“‘You don’t golf on Saturdays,’” Duffing recalled telling Slocum. “‘So race on Saturdays, and when you can get some runs in (during) the week, great.”

Knowing Slocum would be in the Glads’ top five whether she practiced regularly or not, the team set its sights on repeating as conference champs and moving through the Regional to the Final.

“I think our job with Grace was to keep the pressure off her and keep her happy,” Duffing noted. “I want her smiling, and I want her to have fun.

“It’s a team sport with a lot of really high goals, and she is part of those,” Duffing continued. “I just want her to be a part of it.”

The two worked out a schedule for training that focused on Sunday running as all the other pieces fell in place. They lost a few Saturdays so Slocum could golf on the courses where the Regional and Final were scheduled.

Slocum will wrap up her golf season next Friday and Saturday in Allendale. She’ll then run Oct. 22 in the Northern Michigan Cross Country Championship at Gaylord – on a golf course at the Otsego Club – and then is expected to help the Glads at the Regional on Oct. 29 before going after the Finals championship.

As she moves through her high school career, Slocum likely will shatter every single golf record at her school — if she hasn’t already. She’s been the team’s top golfer since joining the program a year ago. Before her victory Tuesday, only one other St. Francis golfer had won a girls golf Regional title.

“She’s the number one golfer in my history of girls golf,” Ardery said.  “She’s hitting a bar that will be difficult for other golfers to meet.

“The girls before her know about her, and they are very pleased to have their records broken,” he continued. “It’s pretty impressive what she’s been able to do.”

Slocum is nearing the mid-point of her high school career. It would be difficult to bet against her possibly winning golf and cross country races on the same course – or team and individual Finals championships during the same season.

“She has the lowest scoring average of any golfer I’ve coached, and she’s only a sophomore,” Ardery said. “It’s real early in the story.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grace Slocum (908) and Traverse City St. Francis teammate Grace Skendzel round a corner during a race this fall. (Middle) Slocum stands next to a flag during last season’s MHSAA Girls Golf Finals. (Below) Slocum and twin bother Josh, left, are both golfing and running cross country for the Gladiators this fall. (Top two photos courtesy of Jessica Slocum; bottom photo by Tom Spencer.)

Back from Broken Foot, Grandville's Arnsman Finishes as State's Top Senior

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

November 18, 2022

GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again. 

West MichiganOver 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.

Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. “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 dream100@comcast.net 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.)