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.

Click for full results.

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/

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