#TBT: Legends Made at 1997 LP Finals

August 10, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

MHSAA Lower Peninsula Finals race day in 1997 looks a little gray as the Class B participants are taking their first strides above. 

But it turned out to carry plenty of significance in the four-decade history of Michigan girls cross country. 

The LP Class B race at Michigan International Speedway was memorable for Fremont, which claimed its first and still only title by edging runner-up Whitehall 111-118. Harmony Dykhuis claimed the individual title for Fremont in 19:41.

The Class A race included a few more significant details. Rochester Adams freshman Katie Boyles won the race in 19:07, by more than four seconds, claiming her first of what would be four individual MHSAA cross country championships. She remains the only girl in MHSAA history to win four Finals titles in Lower Peninsula Class A or Division 1, and one of seven total to win four Finals in any division or class. Her string of four titles beginning in 1997 also was significant because that season was the first that the MHSAA awarded only one individual champion per class/division, rather than an individual champion from the team qualifiers and an individual champion from those who weren't running as part of a team finalist. 

Ann Arbor Pioneer was an easy champion in the Class A team competition with 68 points, 46 fewer than runner-up Rockford with Emily Magner leading the way with an eighth-place individual finish. The team was coached by the legendary Bryan Westfield, who previously had led his 1987 and 1988 teams to LP Class A titles and also eventually guided the Pioneers' girls track & field program to 16 MHSAA Finals championships with the most recent coming in 2008. He died after a fight with cancer in 2015.

Kalamazoo Hackett won the Class C team title, its first in the sport, and Mendon also was a first-time winner in Class D before repeating as champ a year later. Saginaw Valley Lutheran's Bethany Brewster claimed the Class C individual title in 18:46 after also winning the individual race championship in 1996, and Mendon's Kasey Culp was the 1997 individual champion after finishing first in the team race the year prior. 

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/RunMichigan.com.)