Second Half reports
BROOKLYN – Rylee Tolson got her rookie mistakes out of the way last year.
Running for the first time in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 cross country championship, Tolson was too wired, burning up needed energy before she ever started the race.
“It was a rough experience, but it was definitely a learning experience,” the Stockbridge sophomore said. “Last year, I was really, really nervous. I got myself all pumped up. I was running all over the place before. I learned I have to relax, stay calm and focus on the job that is in front of me.”
That approach served Tolson well when she approached the track Saturday at Michigan International Speedway in a six-way battle for the championship.
She took the lead at the 2.5-mile mark of the 3.1-mile race and focused on her pre-race plan to maintain her lead over a hard-charging pack. She finished in 18:31.4, winning by 7.6 seconds over Maddy Bean of Richmond.
“Our plan was every 100 meters I’ve got to think, ‘I’ve got to pick this up. I’ve got to push harder, harder, harder every 100 meters,’” she said.
As a freshman, Tolson finished 20th in the Division 3 meet in 19:48.7 after winning the Regional. She maintained her composure Saturday even though she had a momentary freak-out moment leading the race coming down the long straightaway.
“It was scary,” she said. “I thought she was right behind me. I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ I said, ‘Let’s not focus on what’s behind me; let’s focus on what’s in front of me. Let’s do my best to be the best that I can be.’”
For Bean, taking second place was a huge accomplishment after placing 40th in Division 3 as a sophomore and 78th in Division 2 as a junior.
“Once we got on the track, we spread out,” Bean said. “I knew it was now or never. She was cooking. It’s nerve racking, because you never know. But it’s awesome at the same time, because the spectators help. It’s just surreal being here.”
Hart won its third straight team championship by a 77-133 margin over Shepherd. Grandville Calvin Christian was third with 136 points.
Hart put three runners in the top nine in the team race. Savannah Ackley was fourth overall and second among team runners in 18:49.0, followed by Audrianna Enns in fifth overall and third in the team race in 18:56.2.
Lynae Ackley was 14th overall and ninth in the team race in 19:26.2. Completing Hart’s scoring were MacKenzie Stitt (42nd in 20:11.6) and Brenna Aerts (77th in 20:20.4).
PHOTOS: (Top) Stockbridge’s Rylee Tolson pushes toward the finish of the Division 3 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Middle) Hart’s Savannah Ackley (1583) paces the lead pack, including Tolson, earlier in the race. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)
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.
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.
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.)