Windemuller Surging into Final Stretch

September 20, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

HOLLAND – Kayla Windemuller typically follows directions well on the cross country course and has rarely been beaten during an already banner high school career.

And even when the Holland Christian senior loses her way, the final outcome doesn’t change.

Windemuller, the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 individual champion, competed at the Christian Schools Invitational earlier this month and wandered off course momentarily.

She still, however, broke 18 minutes, won the race and laughed about her misdirection snafu.

“I was supposed to go straight but turned, and people turned me around,” Windemuller said. “So I was extremely surprised with my time considering I was just doing a tempo run and I went the wrong direction. I was trying to negative split each mile and then I came across the line at 17:57. I was super surprised by that.”

Windemuller, 17, in the midst of her final cross country season, is one of the elite runners in the state and is setting her sights on repeat success while preparing for college.

Last November, Windemuller put forth a dominating effort in winning the LP Division 2 title by an impressive 24.5 seconds over St. Joseph’s Anna Fischer.

She also defeated 2015 champion and friend Erika Freyhof, who took third.

Windemuller and Freyhof, who live five minutes from each other, had fierce competitions against each other the past three years, but Freyhof graduated from Hamilton and now runs for the University of Nebraska.

“It’s honestly different now,” said Windemuller, who also has won the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the past two LP Division 2 track & field championships. “We had our first meets this year and it’s weird to not have her there. I trained a lot with her this summer, and she helped me with the college process.

“She’s not here, but I do have new competition with Olivia and Jaden Theis (Lansing Catholic), who moved up to Division 2. I’m excited to race against them.”

Windemuller and Freyhof built a strong relationship on and off the course while competing in the same conference.

“They made each other better runners, and Kayla loved racing against her,” Holland Christian coach David DeKruyter said. “They pushed each other, but now she doesn’t have to race against the top girl in the state at every meet.”

DeKruyter was Windemuller’s sixth-grade teacher at Pine Ridge Elementary. He has seen first-hand her development into a talented runner over the course of the last six years.

“She was a pretty good runner back then, and we knew right away that she was going to be a standout runner,” DeKruyter said. “She’s just very motivated. She loves running, she loves the challenge of it and she thrives on competition. Those ingredients put it together for her to excel as a runner.

“She’s been given a God-given talent of running and she’s using it and developing it as best she can right now.”

A strong work ethic has factored into Windemuller’s success. And it carries over to her studies as well.

“I really want to see how fast I can get, and my hard work shows in school, too,” she said. “My grades don’t come naturally to me, and I have to work hard to get good grades.

“My whole work ethic shows in the classroom, and then I try to show that when I run. I try to be the best version of myself that I can be. My parents work hard, and they taught me to work hard.”

DeKruyter has seen a different side of Windemuller as a senior. She’s shown leadership and served as a role model on a strong squad that is currently ranked No. 5 in LP Division 2.  

“She seems to be a much more mature athlete,” he said, “as far as understanding the training at the level she is racing to be more of a team leader. She’s taken and developed her role as a team leader to a completely different level than she ever has before.

“She has pulled the other girls along with her, and it’s nice to have a team back her up and make this is a special year for her.”

Windemuller has seen a change in herself, too.

While still focused and driven, she’s trying to relax and not be as serious as in the past.

“Last year I got up-tight, and I wanted everything to be perfect,” Windemuller said. “I wanted to see myself grow as a runner, and I was too focused and I worked too hard.

“This year on the easy workout days I run with my teammates. I’m more relaxed this year and it’s fun to do easy days with my teammates and bond with them more. They support me a lot and like me to reach my goals, but I like to see them reach their goals.”

Windemuller loves the talent and dedication of this year’s group.

“Being my senior year, it’s exciting that we have a chance of winning Regionals and we have a chance of being top 10 in the state,” she said. “They work so hard, and I love seeing it.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM and WOODTV. Contact him at with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTO: (Top) Holland Christian's Kayla Windemuller approaches the finish at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Middle) Windemuller is surrounded by her teammates after their 17th-place team finish. (Top photo by, middle photo courtesy of Holland Christian's athletic department.)

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.