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.
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 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.)