By James Cook
Special for Second Half
BELLAIRE — Pontiac Notre Dame Prep thought it had won the program's first MHSAA skiing championship since 2006.
Instead, Houghton-Hancock roared back to take its second crown in program history and first since 2010.
The Fighting Irish led by four after the morning's slalom event. Even after the afternoon session ended, Notre Dame skiers thought they had won the title.
But when the final results were announced, Houghton-Hancock let out a yell that may have carried all the way to the Upper Peninsula's Keweenaw Peninsula.
"The girls performed awesome," Houghton coach Brian Henderson said. "Everyone stood. Everybody did their job."
Henderson has coached the team for 17 years, leading Houghton-Hancock to the 2010 title and a half dozen runner-up finishes.
Houghton trailed after the morning session, and had the weaker of its two disciplines coming up in the afternoon.
Allyson Fenton and Katherine Jarvis responded by placing fifth and sixth in giant slalom as only Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central had more than one top-10 placer.
The Rangers had GS champ Courtney McAlindon and seventh-place Kayley Reynolds.
Houghton's Miren Unciti and Lydia Salmi placed 24th and 30th to give Houghton-Hancock enough points to make up the ground on Notre Dame.
"Sometimes you have to know when to take your foot off the gas, and that's what we did today," Henderson said. "I'm very proud of this bunch. It's been a long, great day."
Meghan Kozole played a big role in Notre Dame Prep going into the afternoon with that lead. She placed second in slalom from the fourth flight, with her sister Katelyn taking third.
"My first run I thought was really, really bad," Meghan Kozole said. "So I came down and was kind of shocked. I came down the pitch and had my eyes closed."
The Fighting Irish will have to wait to again target the elusive team title.
Houghton-Hancock (84) and Notre Dame Prep (88) were followed by Harbor Springs (107), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (124), Petoskey (144), Forest Hills Central (190), East Grand Rapids (204), Cadillac (210) and Mount Pleasant (251).
"We had a good mentality coming in," Kozole said. "We won the Regional by a pretty decent amount, so we came in pretty confident."
Gaylord sophomore Reagan Olli was the meet’s star. Skiing as an individual qualifier and out of the third flight, she led the GS after the first run but finished second overall as she was overtaken by one of her frequent training partners, McAlindon, who posted the fastest girls run of the day.
Olli posted the day's third-fastest girls slalom run (31.67 seconds) to start her pursuit in that event. Times were much slower the second time around, and her second-best time of 34.85 seconds was enough to hold off Kozole by 0.2 seconds.
"I tried to ski them clean and like I did in training," said Olli, who was sixth in both disciplines last year as a freshman. "As technically sound as possible, and then the speed will come."
The rest of the giant slalom top 10 included Caledonia's Emily Petrosky (third), Grand Rapids Northview's Megan Paasche (eighth), Harbor Springs' Frannie Kelbel (ninth) and Katelyn Kozole for Notre Dame.
Harbor Springs' Maddy Fuhrman took fourth in slalom, followed by Petoskey's Loren Kircher, Kelbel in eighth, Cranbrook Kingswood's Annabel Geissbuhle ninth and Paasche 10th.
Houghton-Hancock had finished second twice since its last title, so breaking through this time was sweet for Henderson and his squad.
"I can't say enough about our seniors and their leadership," Henderson said. "The rest of the gals have just followed their lead.
"It's so nice to see this come together. It's been a great group. They've had the desire all season. They knew what it took."
PHOTOS: (Top) Gaylord’s Reagan Olli surges by a gate during one of her runs Monday. (Middle) Petoskey’s Loren Kircher speeds through a turn. (Photos by James Cook.)
HARBOR SPRINGS — The Cadillac girls ski team knew it couldn’t sneak up on anyone at Monday’s Division 2 Final, and rose to the challenge.
Cadillac walked away from Nub's Nob Ski Area and Resort in Harbor Springs with its second championship in three years and fourth-straight top-three finish. The Vikings finished with a combined team score of 72. Harbor Springs finished runner-up with a combined team score of 91.
Mattawan and Paw Paw placed third (107), Bloomfield Hills Marian finished fourth (168) and Norway finished fifth (171).
"A couple of years ago, we snuck up and got a ski title, but this year, we had more of a target on our backs knowing we had a pretty good team to do something special," Cadillac head coach James Netzley said. "It was a little nervous feeling today because of the start."
Netzley said his skiers made it a goal to repeat what they did in 2022 after finishing third last year.
"We said last night that it was going to take a complete team effort if we wanted to do something special today," Netzley said. "That came true, and we relied on every kid on the team."
The Vikings started shaky at the slalom with a couple of falls, but in the end, several skiers pulled through. Senior Onalee Wallis led the Vikings with second-place finishes in the slalom and giant slalom. Wallis finished the slalom with a combined time of 1:12.63 and the giant slalom with a combined time of 51.67.
Wallis's teammate, senior Avery Meyer, finished third in the slalom with a combined time of 1:16.76. Great North Alpine's Grace Rowe finished fourth with a combined time of 1:17.46.
Rochester Adams' Katie Fodale finished third in the giant slalom (52.43), Meyer placed fourth (53.39), and Emma Borgula placed fifth in the giant slalom with a combined time of 53.97.
"They are pretty special kids," Netzley said about Meyer and Wallis. "Both have been first-team all-state for four years in a row, and gotten a top-10 finish since their freshmen year. Not many kids can do that by the time they come in as freshmen and cap off their senior year with outstanding performances."
Petoskey didn't have the outing it had hoped for, but senior Marley Spence stamped herself as one of the best high school athletes in the state after walking away with her fifth-straight D2 individual Finals medal after placing first in both the slalom and giant slalom. Spence finished the slalom with a combined time of 1:12.19 and giant slalom with a combined time of 51.17.
Northmen boys coach Ben Crockett, who leads the program alongside his sister and girls coach Jennifer Crockett, found no disagreement in naming Spence as one of the best individual athletes to come out of Petoskey, let alone the state.
"We've been trying to dig into the history books in Michigan, and she is definitely at the top of her group historically of anybody who has competed in a sport," Ben Crockett said. "She is the best in Michigan, and there is no question about it."
PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Marley Spence races past a gate during the Division 2 giant slalom Monday. (Middle) Cadillac celebrates its second Finals team championship over the last three seasons. (Photos by Sarah Shepherd. Click for all photos; more will be added throughout this week.)