VanderKooi Repeats, Bridgman Wins 1st Title

November 2, 2019

Second Half reports

BROOKLYN – Abby VanderKooi wasn’t being cocky.

She was merely stating the obvious.

“I don’t normally have competition anywhere, so it’s really tough,” the Muskegon Western Michigan Christian sophomore said.

Being one of the nation’s top runners and competing in the smallest division at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula cross country championships only accentuates the gap between VanderKooi and her competition.

The Division 4 girls race Saturday at Michigan International Speedway was a battle for second place as VanderKooi ran solo up front to repeat as champion by 1 minute, 11.7 seconds with a time of 18:11.0.

Last year, she won by a margin of 1:15.6 in 17:47.3.

So, how does VanderKooi maintain her focus in races when there is nobody else around to push her?

“I try to recite Bible verses, and that helps sometimes,” she said.

Her favorite, she said, is Philippians 4:13.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she said. “I like that one a lot.”

VanderKooi followed up her Division 4 championship last year by placing third in the Foot Locker National Championship in San Diego. She plans to run the Midwest Regional on Nov. 30 in Kenosha, Wis., to qualify for the national meet Dec. 14.

VanderKooi had a gap on the pack by the end of the 700-meter opening straightaway. Riley Ford of Marlette was in second place, but had no delusions of trying to catch VanderKooi.

“I just ignore that she’s there,” Ford said. “I know she’s at a way higher level than I am. I try to do what I can do. My goal was to get second, and it happened.”

Ford held second place the entire race, holding off a brief challenge from 2018 runner-up Madison Volz of Lansing Christian at the two-mile mark. Ford finished in 19:22.7. Volz was third in 19:30.2.

“Last year I got fifth,” Ford said. “I was holding second, then I got passed at the two mile and kept getting passed and couldn’t hold it. The last two weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of kilometer repeats at race pace. My pace was ingrained in my head, and it really helped. I just wanted it really bad. I haven’t had the best season.”

In the team competition, Bridgman ended Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s four-year run as champion by scoring 132 points. Sacred Heart was second with 148, and Kalamazoo Christian was third with 174.

Karsyn Stewart was sixth overall and third among team runners in 19:38.8, while Arie Hackett was 11th overall and sixth among team runners in 19:58.2 to lead Bridgman. The Bees’ previous best finish at an MHSAA Final was fifth in Class D in 1985. They didn’t qualify again until 2015, but have since made it four of the last five years.

Summer Fast was 39th (20:59.3), Jane Kaspar 68th (21:43.1) and Mikaela Owen 81st (21:55.8) to complete Bridgman’s scoring.

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PHOTOS: (Top) WMC’s Abby VanderKooi builds a big lead during Saturday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Bridgman’s Karsyn Stewart (1702) follows Maple City Glen Lake’s Makenna Scott through a curve. (Photos by Dave McCauley/

Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

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.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.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.

Click for full results.

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/