HOLLAND – Arianna Olson won her first individual state title when she outran the field in the 3,200 meters at last spring’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Track & Field Finals.
Less than three months later, the West Ottawa senior standout is gearing up to accomplish the same feat on the cross country trails.
“That was my first state title in running, but it was something I wasn’t completely sure of because there’s a lot of good girls in the state,” Olson said. “Since I started running, the 3,200 is more of my event, and things went really well for that.”
Olson has blossomed into one of the most talented distance runners in the state and garnered three top-10 finishes in three years at the Finals.
She finished runner-up as a freshman and eighth as a sophomore, and was among the favorites again last year on the way to placing third at the LPD1 Final at Michigan International Speedway.
She was unbeaten during the regular season, setting a new personal record (16:45), and she also won a Regional championship.
“I think last year at state I was prioritizing more of the postseason, and my big goal was to qualify for nationals, so that was a few weeks after,” Olson said. “That was the priority in training, and I tapered before state, but it wasn’t the best training the week before. I knew I had more chances after the state meet.”
Olson’s performance, coupled with freshman Helen Sach’s fifth-place effort, helped West Ottawa finish as Division 1 runner-up behind Ann Arbor Pioneer.
“Third is still excellent, but the goal was to win an individual title and a team title and we came up short on both sides,” Panthers cross country coach Kyle Barnes said. “There were a combination of things that went into that, but she hasn’t won a cross country title so that is certainly on her radar. Michigan has a lot of good runners, so she is going to have her hands full to do that this year.”
A month after last fall’s Finals, Olson set out to prove herself at the national level, and did just that in San Diego. Olson competed in the Eastbay Nationals, which featured the top 40 distance runners in the country. She placed fourth at a Midwest qualifier in Wisconsin to qualify.
Olson finished 13th in California with a time of 17:43.04 to gain All-American honors.
The following month, Olson was named as the Gatorade Michigan Cross Country Player of the Year.
She was the first West Ottawa athlete to earn the prestigious honor, which also recognizes academic achievement and exemplary character off the field.
“That was cool because it doesn’t only take into account athletics, but also the academics and service side of it,” said Olson, who carried a 4.0 GPA.
“I was really happy about that because it wasn’t just about athletics, it was recognizing the whole part of being a student-athlete.”
In June, Olson took part in another national event. She traveled to Seattle to compete in the Brooks PR Invitational and placed seventh in the 3,000 run.
“It was another good opportunity to race at a national-level meet, and I think at both national events it was good to get to know some of the other girls that I’m competing against,” Olson said. “It’s getting harder to find competitive races that have big pack running, and sometimes you have to be creative to find that in the regular season. Nationals is a good opportunity to push myself with the other girls and see what I can do.”
Barnes said Olson has benefited from competing against elite competition.
“All of that is valuable information, and getting those types of experiences and running against that level of competition is invaluable for her,” he said. “We talk about if she banks that information and learns from the positives and negatives, then she will continue to get better.”
Barnes took over the West Ottawa program when Olson was a freshman, and knew her potential after she set several middle school records.
“She works her butt off, and she was one of the first athletes to come through the program when I took over,” he said. “She has helped to build a culture within our program. She does all the right things, and the results speak for themselves.”
While Olson is aspiring to finish up as a champion in November, she’s taking her final season in stride.
“Cross is my favorite over track & field, so it’s about making the most of it with one more year with my team and just pushing really hard,” she said. “This season won’t necessarily be based on my times, but just running the courses to the best of my ability and knowing that at the end I’ve given my full effort.”
Olson, who is undecided on her college choice, will run her first race with her teammates Friday at Grand Rapids South Christian.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) West Ottawa’s Arianna Olson approaches the finish during last season’s LPD1 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Middle) Olson rounds a corner during another 2021 race. (Top photo by Run Michigan; middle photo by Laura Veldhof Photography.)
Helen Sachs ♦ Holland West Ottawa
Cross Country ♦ Sophomore
Sachs ran what was the second-fastest time in the state this season, 17:15.8, to win the Elite race at the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 16 at Michigan State University's Forest Akers East. On Tuesday, she took over the top spot on fastest times list with a 17:01.6 personal record at the first Ottawa-Kent Conference Red jamboree. She's won three of four races this season, finishing second only to teammate Arianna Olson at the season-opening Under the Lights Invitational on Aug. 26 at Grand Rapids South Christian. Olson's 17:11.30 in that race was the only time faster than Sachs' best before this week.
An immediate standout last season, Sachs went on to finish fifth at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final as Olson placed third and West Ottawa as a team was runner-up. At this past spring's LPD1 Track & Field Finals, Sachs finished fourth in the 3,200 (10:26.59), sixth in the 1,600 (4:52.38) and ran on the runner-up 3,200 relay (9:04.06) as West Ottawa finished fourth as a team. Her 17:01 earlier this week was nearly 25 seconds faster than her season-best cross country time a year ago. West Ottawa finished second as a team in the Spartan Invitational Elite race, to Ohio championship contender Hilliard Davidson.
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(Photos courtesy of Helen Sachs.)