Title IX at 50: Rockford Girls Set Pace, Hundreds After Have Continued to Chase

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 19, 2021

Michigan’s high school cross country teams have entered the home stretch of the 2021 season, with the championship races in both peninsulas to be run over the next three weekends.

For more than two decades, the best girls teams of the Lower Peninsula’s biggest schools have been chasing the 2000 Rockford Rams.

That season was the first of the MHSAA classifying its championship groupings using four equal divisions, and Rockford set a standard that few have approached as we near the completion of the first quarter of the 21st century.

Rockford won the Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship Nov. 4, 2000, at Michigan International Speedway with 35 points – 77 fewer than runner-up Milford and 197 fewer than third-place Troy. Five Rams finished among the top 15 individuals – senior Lindsey Blaisdell third, senior Kalin Toedebusch fourth, sophomore Nicole Bohnsack fifth, sophomore Kelsey Toedebusch ninth and senior Aimee Keenan 15th, which was actually 14th among runners involved in team scoring.

The next lowest Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals score was achieved two seasons later, again by Rockford, with a 57. Four more Lower Peninsula teams have scored in the 30s since the dawn of the divisions era – East Grand Rapids won Division 2 in 2019 with 36 points, while Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart broke Rockford’s LP record winning Division 4 with 34 points in 2016 before coming back to win again with 39 in 2017.

Rockford’s 2000 championship was its third of five straight, which remains the longest Finals title streak in Lower Peninsula history. Bohnsack went on to win the LPD1 individual championships as well in 2001 and 2002 and run collegiately at Penn State. Kalin Toedebusch ran at Colorado, Blaisdell ran at Wisconsin and Keenan ran at Michigan State. The first four of those five straight championship teams were coached by Brad Prins. 

Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.

Previous Title IX at 50 Spotlights

Oct. 12: Bedford Volleyball Pioneer Continues Blazing Record-Setting Trail - Read
Oct. 5: 
Warner Paved Way to Legend Status with Record Rounds - Read
Sept. 28: Taylor Kennedy Gymnasts Earn Fame as 1st Champions - Read
Sept. 21: 
Portage Northern Star Byington Becomes Play-by-Play Pioneer - Read
Sept. 14: 
Guerra/Groat Legacy Continues to Serve St. Philip Well - Read
Sept. 7: 
Best-Ever Conversation Must Include Leland's Glass - Read
Aug. 31: We Will Celebrate Many Who Paved the Way - Read

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.)