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

Back from Broken Foot, Grandville's Arnsman Finishes as State's Top Senior

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

November 18, 2022

GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again. 

West MichiganOver 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.

Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. “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 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