Stellar Debut, 4-Peat Kick Off Girls Finals

November 3, 2018

Second Half reports

BROOKLYN — Other states have reputations for producing great athletes in other sports, but Michigan is known for cranking out elite high school cross country runners.

The latest running phenom to come out of the state is freshman Abby VanderKooi of Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.

VanderKooi could turn out to be the best female runner to come out of Michigan if she’s able to continue progressing on an already incredible ninth-grade season.

VanderKooi ran the fifth-fastest time ever by a freshman girl at Michigan International Speedway, winning the MHSAA Division 4 individual title in 17:47.3 on Saturday.

It was a solo coronation for one of the top freshmen in the nation. She won by 1 minute, 15.6 seconds over Madison Volz of Lansing Christian, the largest margin of victory ever in a girls MHSAA final meet. It edged out the 1:15.5 difference between Rochester’s Megan Goethals, who went on to win the Foot Locker national championship that year, and Hartland’s Avery Evenson in the 2009 Division 1 meet.

VanderKooi is the first freshman in United States history to break 17 minutes three times. She did it in her second high school meet and posted her personal best of 16:57.3 in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association meet Oct. 12 at University Park Golf Course in Muskegon.

The muddy conditions at MIS made it difficult to chase personal records Saturday, but her time still is second all-time in Division 4. Breckenridge’s Kristen Olling won her fourth MHSAA title in 2013 in 17:44.9.

The incredible part is VanderKooi is in only her second year of competitive running. She began running for fun as an 8-year-old, but didn’t begin racing until eighth grade.

“I knew I had a good chance to win it, but in my whole life I never thought I’d get to this point,” VanderKooi said.

It was her first race at MIS, but not her first trip to the site of the Cross Country Finals. Her brother, Nick, was a four-time all-stater at Fremont Providence Christian, running the Division 4 meet from 2009-12.

“My brother, Nick, is graduated now and on to college,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since he was a freshman in high school, so I’ve been coming here since I was very little. It was more fun watching it, because you’re not as nervous.”

VanderKooi’s performance helped Western Michigan Christian place third with 199 points, the best finish in school history.

In the end, Division 4 continued to be the domain of Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.

The Irish won their fourth straight team championship, holding off a strong Saugatuck squad by a 69-82 margin.

Desiree McConnell was sixth in 19:44.7, Scout Nelson was eighth in 19:50.1, Lauren MacDonald was 10th in 19:50.7, Cammie McConnell was 18th in 20:13.3 and Hannah Wilkinson was 55th in 21:26.5 for Sacred Heart.

Nelson and MacDonald ran at MIS for all four championships.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Western Michigan Christian freshman Abby VanderKooi charges through the finish of her first MHSAA Finals championship run. (Middle) Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Desiree McConnell (1789) and Lauren MacDonald push through a straightaway in helping the Irish to another team title. (Click for more from

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Jill EversJill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.

“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”

Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.