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/

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.