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.)
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 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.