VanderKooi, Hart Extend Title Streaks

November 7, 2020

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

BROOKLYN – Muskegon Western Michigan Christian’s Abby VanderKooi did so well Saturday at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Cross Country Finals that she can’t wait for next year to get here.

The junior won the Division 4 championship as both a freshman and sophomore. This year, her team was bumped up to Division 3. The team did not qualify for the Finals. But VanderKooi did, and she shined on the state’s biggest stage.

“My motivation was to break the course record (for Division 3),” VanderKooi said. “That was my goal. Hopefully, next year we move back to D4 because I want to break that record too.”

Her time of 17:12.47 bettered the previous-best Division 3 time by more than 30 seconds. And she did it running in the first of two races of the session. All teams that finished third at their Regional, as well as all individual qualifiers, ran first. All Regional champions and runners-up competed in the second race. They were split to help limit the number of competitors in each race.

VanderKooi led her race from start to finish, and her split times would have had her leading the second race at each of the three mile marks, and of course the finish. She crossed the finish line 1:31 ahead of her nearest competitor, Allison Chmielewski of Roscommon (18:43.76), who finished sixth overall.

“I ran my best. I ran my hardest, and that’s all I could do,” said VanderKooi, who if given the opportunity will look to make amends for her less-than-stellar performances in her previous two Division 4 races. “I ran very poorly the last two years at states. I ran an 18:11 last year, which for me is not good. My iron was low, and we didn’t know it. The year before, that course was ridiculously awful.”

She was extremely happy with Saturday’s performance.

“I’m very happy with that (time),” she said. “I broke the record. I just got this new watch, and it told me that my predicted 5K time was like a 17:22, and I was like, ‘I’d love to run that time.’”

Hart captured its fourth straight Division 3 team championship, finishing three runners among the top five and four in the top 10 while piecing together a team score of 59. Freshman Alyson Enns was second overall in a time of 18:05.97. Senior Savannah Ackley was third, junior Audrianna Enns fifth and senior Lynae Ackley 10th overall. Junior Lauren Vanderlaan rounded out the team’s scoring.

“It never gets old, but you never know until the day comes,” Hart head coach Terry Tatro said. “We just take things one day at a time and hope that you have your best race of the season here. The girls ran pretty well today. As a coach, I always think they can do better, but winning a state championship, they ran as good as I could expect them to.”

Ithaca, led by junior Lani Bloom’s fourth-place finish (18:32.26), placed second as a team with 114 points. Senior Grace Weburg finished 23rd overall for the Yellowjackets.

Grandville Calvin Christian was third overall (121 points), followed by St. Louis (195) and Benzie Central (217) among the top five.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Western Michigan Christian’s Abby VanderKooi closes in Saturday on her third MHSAA Finals championship. (Middle) Hart freshman Audrianna Enns approaches the finish line leading for the eventual team champ. (Click for more from

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Jill EversJill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.

“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”

Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.