St. Johns' Smith Finishes Final Pursuit

November 1, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half 

BROOKLYN — Karrigan Smith of St. Johns had been closing the gap on Kenzie Weiler of Cedar Springs the past three years.

Smith finally caught her and passed her Saturday to win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 cross country championship at Michigan International Speedway.

Smith won a kick to the finish to edge Weiler by 2.5 seconds, posting a time of 18:11.0. Weiler, the defending champion, took second for the third time in her career in 18:13.5.

"Kenzie is a really great competitor," Smith said. "I wasn't confident I would win until I crossed the pads at the end. I can't even describe it. It's so unreal right now. I know this state title means so much to me, my team and my community. They've been behind me the whole time through this whole process. I can't think of a better way to end my senior season." 

It was a process that began Smith's freshman year when she placed seventh in the MHSAA Final in 18:23.0, 48.9 seconds behind second-place Weiler.

Smith dropped to 17th place in 18:30.0 the following year, but cut the margin between her and Weiler to 40.9 seconds.

The big jump came last year when Smith took third in 18:04.0, just 8.9 seconds behind Weiler. 

Smith came to MIS on Saturday believing it could be her day.

"I definitely trained my mind to think that," Smith said. "Running is such a mental sport. You have to believe what you can truly do. Today it happened for me. You really have to believe it." 

Smith ran second behind Weiler for most of the race, using her rival to block some of the heavy wind.

"Going into the race and seeing the conditions, I knew I was going to need some help from the lead pack to get me through the race," Smith said. 

Morgan Posthuma of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern was third in 18:24.4.

Grand Rapids Christian added to its dynasty status, winning its fifth championship in the last 10 years by outscoring runner-up Otsego by an 87-145 margin. The Eagles have finished in the top five the last 13 years. 

Christian's only graduation loss from 2013 was its No. 7 runner. Although the top six returned, three newcomers cracked the lineup Saturday. The Eagles had three runners in the top 10 among team runners, with Claire Brouwer taking sixth (18:52.6), Lindsey Fox ninth (18:59.1) and Rachel Warners 10th (19:00.8). Completing the scoring were Michelle Koetje (26th, 19:27.0) and Megan Schenkel (36th, 19:39.6).

Otsego's Megan Aalberts was third among team runners in 18:34.5, but her team’s No. 2 runner didn't cross until 27th place. Second place is the best finish in school history, eclipsing last year's third-place showing.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) St. Johns’ Karrigan Smith holds off Cedar Springs’ Kenzie Weiler during the final stretch of Saturday’s Division 2 race. (Below) Otsego’s Megan Aalberts works to stay ahead of Spring Lake’s Erin O’Keefe as they race for fourth place; Aalberts held on to help her team to its best Finals finish. (Click to see more from

Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

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.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.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.

Click for full results.

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/