Second Half reports
BROOKLYN — Finally, a pleasant memory at Michigan International Speedway for Rockford junior Ericka VanderLende.
Her first two trips around the cross country course at MIS were OK, but weren’t indications of the greatness that awaited her.
VanderLende was pretty much a middle-of-the-pack finisher, placing 81st in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final in 19:13.1 as a freshman and 99th in 19:57.1 as a sophomore.
“It’s a lot different than all the other courses,” VanderLende said. “It’s a lot more intimidating going into it.”
Everything — both mentally and physically — came together for VanderLende on Saturday in her latest trip to Brooklyn.
After splitting two regular-season meetings with Traverse City Central senior Sielle Kearney, it was all VanderLende as she cruised to victory in 17:16.8. Kearney was second in 17:30.2.
“It’s been a really good season,” VanderLende said. “I stayed a lot more consistent with my races. Last year, I was kind of all over the place.”
VanderLende won eight of her 10 races this year.
She was fourth behind two Division 2 runners and a Division 3 runner in the Spartan Invitational, with Kearney taking fifth and Waterford Mott’s Rylee Robinson placing sixth. That turned out to be the finish order for the top Division 1 runners Saturday, with Robinson taking third behind VanderLende and Kearney in 17:34.8.
At the Portage Invitational, Kearney took first and VanderLende was third.
VanderLende and Kearney ran together until about the midway mark of the 3.1-mile race Saturday.
“I just let her get away, and she was going really strong,” Kearney said. “She had an awesome race. It was really cool to be in the same race and have that kind of competition.”
VanderLende’s victory led Rockford to a third-place finish with 153 points.
Troy won its first MHSAA championship since capturing Class A in 1993, edging Northville by a 127-132 score. Troy hadn’t made the top five since taking third in 2000, while Northville and Rockford are perennial title contenders.
Northville has six straight top-five finishes, while Rockford has been a top-10 finisher 21 times in the last 22 years.
While Troy didn’t have a runner break 18 minutes like Northville and Rockford, the Colts had their five scoring runners in the top 32 in the team race, with their second through fifth runners separated by only 3.7 seconds.
Senior Megan Worrel was 10th among team runners in 18:07.8, senior Hannah Palomino was 26th in 18:42.5, freshman Paige Anderson was 29th in 18:44.5, senior Meghan Monaghan was 30th in 18:44.8 and junior Katie Scoles was 32nd in 18:46.2.
PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford’s Ericka VanderLende (1240) and Traverse City Central’s Sielle Kearney quickly moved to the front of the pack Saturday. (Middle) Troy’s Paige Anderson (1276), Meghan Monaghan (1279) and Katie Scoles (1281) all placed between 41st and 44th to help the Colts to the team title. (Click for more from 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.)