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.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)