Second Half reports
BROOKLYN – Kayla Windemuller was exhausted from a championship effort.
A race volunteer helped a weary Windemuller make her way down the long finish area at Michigan International Speedway. As they reached a two-foot cement barrier that runners’ stepped over on their way out of the chute, Windemuller sat there and tried to get her bearings while the volunteer got her a cup of water.
When her mother came along and put her arm around her, it seemed to dawn on Windemuller what had just taken place.
“I won,” Windemuller said with a smile, a reassuring sign of life.
Indeed, she did.
Windemuller put the hammer down in the final mile to win by 24.5 seconds over St. Joseph junior Anna Fischer. Reigning champion Erika Freyhof, a senior from Hamilton, was third in 18:32.4.
Windemuller was second by 21.8 seconds to Freyhof, a long-time rival, in last year’s MHSAA Final. Windemuller and Freyhof compete in the same conference and the same Regional.
“I think there were two races this year that I haven’t raced her,” Windemuller said. “It’s fun. I like racing against her. We have a really good friendship, and we push each other to do our best.
“I really love racing against her. It’s our very last cross country race together, so it’s bittersweet.”
It was during track and field that Windemuller began to close the gap between her and Freyhof. Windemuller swept the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in the MHSAA Division 2 meet during the spring.
“During track season, we were really close in all our races, so that built my confidence for this year,” Windemuller said.
In the team competition, Otsego shattered the Division 2 record by scoring 48 points to repeat as champion. The previous mark of 79 points was set by East Grand Rapids in 2003.
It was East Grand Rapids that was a distant second with 187 points, finishing as runner-up for the second straight year. Grand Rapids Christian was third with 208 points, extending its record streak of top-five finishes to 15.
Otsego put its five scoring runners in the top 14 among team competitors.
Senior Megan Aalberts was fourth in the team race in 18:47.1, senior Sophia Hirzel was sixth in 18:56.5, sophomore Sydney Kubiak was 11th in 19:12.2, senior Erica Drobny was 13th in 19:19.8 and junior Maddie Marciniak was 14th in 19:20.1. All five crossed before East Grand Rapids’ first runner.
Aalberts, Hirzel and Drobny all have run in the MHSAA Finals for teams that placed third in 2013, second in 2014 and first the last two years.
The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Holland Christian’s Kayla Windemuller approaches the 2-mile mark Saturday in the lead. (Middle) Sophia Hirzel (1375) leads a group of Otsego runners preparing to break away from a large pack. (Click to see 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.)