Rangers Bring Rare Ski Title Downstate

March 13, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Since 1975, three schools south of “up north” had combined for five MHSAA girls skiing titles – and this was not the season for a fourth school to join that group.

Warm weather limited Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central – the fifth-place finisher in Division 2 in 2016 – to only half of its normal slate of practices this winter, and the Rangers didn’t race as a varsity team until the end of January.

But a month later, they stood together at Boyne Highlands with their first MHSAA Finals championship trophy, capping an undefeated season that had also included the program’s first Regional title two weeks before.  

In what actually turned into a battle between downstate teams, Forest Hills Central – the Applebee’s Team of the Month for February – edged Pontiac Notre Dame Prep by 3.5 points in the Final.

“We had the team last year, but injuries took us out of it,” said longtime Rangers coach Alan Moore, who finished up his 26th season. “We had basically the same team as last year, a lot of firepower. We knew we had strong skiers, but ski racing is such a fickle sport because a whole bunch of things have to line up for (success) to happen.”

As Moore noted, a popular mantra for teams south of the traditional ski belt is that just making the MHSAA Finals signifies a successful season.

And that’s certainly true. In addition to this season and last, during this decade Forest Hills Central also made the Finals in 2014.

But there were expectations for more this winter. Senior Sydney Reynolds was back after winning the individual MHSAA slalom championship in 2015. She won the giant slalom at this year’s Finals and finished second in slalom. Her sophomore sister Kayley Reynolds returned to competition after tearing a knee ligament and missing all but the first few meets of 2015-16; she took fourth in the slalom and 10th in the giant slalom at these Finals. Senior Courtney McAlindon was third in the giant slalom to also play a major part in the final score.

While the Rangers’ time together during the week was limited by conditions they couldn’t control, those three skiers filled their weekends with up north racing as part of MHSAA-sanctioned Central United States Ski Association events, and teammate Katie Knister also traveled to the snow to put in extra training and stay sharp.

Forest Hills Central was in third place after the two slalom runs at Boyne Highlands. The Rangers didn’t finish first in the giant slalom, but their second place in those runs was enough to push the team into first in the final overall standings.

In addition to the Reynolds sisters, McAlindon and Knister, junior Anna Tomsheck and sophomore Grace Kline also skied the slalom and Tomsheck and sophomore Myah Leavenworth skied the giant slalom.

“Courtney’s first run in slalom was 30 points and her second run was top 10; after the first run we were in fifth place, down 25 points, but after the second run we were up to third place,” Moore said. “We went in at halftime down 20 points, and that was doable.

“We won by three points. We’re talking inches after eight runs of skiers, to win by (a combined) half a second.”

PHOTO: Forest Hills Central’s Katie Knister cuts past a gate during the Division 2 Finals at Boyne Highlands. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
Powers North Central boys basketbal - Report
Dundee boys basketball - Report
Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report

Petoskey's Spence Caps Ski Career Among State's All-Time Racing Greats

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 6, 2024

Let’s be clear. Marley Spence is the most decorated racer in Petoskey High School girls skiing history.

Northern Lower PeninsulaBut her favorite memory from the sport is not winning one of her five MHSAA Finals individual championships.

It is helping the Northmen earn Division 2 runners-up honor her junior year when Petoskey had just the minimum – four skiers — in the competition won by Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Spence has to admit the odds were stacked against the Northman that day on Boyne Mountain And to top it off, it is a memory that is connected to her middle school days with senior classmate and all-stater Sydney Hoffman.

“It was me and Sydney and two other seniors, and that was our entire team,” Spence recalled this week. “We had to do everything right to place second, and we did that that day and we were super thrilled. That was the highlight of my career.”

Quite a statement for the perennial Big North, Regional and Finals champion in the slalom and giant slalom. She has been a top-10 finisher at the Finals going back to her freshman year.  

“Marley has sort of come along in an era when we have not had as many female athletes in the program,” said Ben Crockett, who with sister Jennifer Crockett coaches the Petoskey ski teams. “She should be proud of the fact that a pretty small team was able to have collective success at the state meet.”

All of the time spent on those powdery white hills since the age of 2 has certainly paid off.

She was the runner-up in slalom and 10th in giant slalom as a freshman. As a sophomore, her accomplishments ranged from Big North Conference and Regional titles in both the slalom and giant slalom to a Finals championship in the GS. She also captured runner-up in the slalom race to finish that winter.

As a junior, she won both the giant slalom and slalom at the Finals while leading Petoskey to the second-place team finish.

And this year, she did it again. Petoskey did not qualify as a team, but she and Hoffman did. Spence and Hoffman have been teammates since middle school, and they both picked up all-state honors this year. Hoffman placed in the top 10 of both the slalom and giant slalom Feb. 26 at Nub’s Nob.

“It helps to train with my teammate because we’re all on one team and we compete against each other and (are) pushing each other,” Spence said. “We watch each other and can all learn from our mistakes and watch we do well.”

This year, Spence put together a time of 51.17 in the giant slalom, then 1:12.19 in the slalom, holding off some tough competition from Cadillac's Onalee Wallace in both races. 

Spence’s performance at Nub’s Nob allowed her to tie Eric Behan for the most titles by a Petoskey skier and set the girls record at the school. Behan collected his fifth in 2005.

Spencer stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season.Spence also tied the MHSAA record for career Finals titles in Division 2, Class B or the previous open class, matching the mark of Christy Salonen of West Iron County from 1993-96. 

"From her freshman year on the team, Marley has been serious and committed to high school competition. At times, she has dominated high school racing, yet she is always respectful of her competitors. I’m very proud of her for exhibiting that character trait," said Jennifer Crockett, who similarly graduated from Petoskey in 1995 as one of the program's most accomplished skiers. "This season she had teammates who were not as experienced as Marley, and she really stepped up and took on a leadership role, helping them with course inspections and race day timeline management."

Spence had the luxury, and challenge, throughout her career of skiing against what many would consider the toughest high school competition in Michigan with Petoskey part of the BNC.

This year, Traverse City West’s girls repeated as Division 1 champions. Cadillac won the Division 2 girls team title for the second time in three seasons.

Spence intends to compete this spring in sprints for the Petoskey track team. She is thinking of attending Montana State University next fall and ski for the Bobcats. 

Recently labeled one of the best places for college skiers by POWDER magazine, MSU is recognized nationally and internationally for its snow science research.

“I might be going out to Montana State, and if I do then I’ll definitely ski,” she said. “It is very hard to ski in college – more than any other sport – because they bring in all the Europeans and they take the spots, but I am going to strive for that.”

As she wraps up her high school career, Spence reflected on the challenges of being a high school skier and noted slalom is her favorite race.

“I would say slalom because it is high tempo, and you have to think more about it,” she said. “It is more strategic.

“Sometimes it is hard to stay focused when you have so much going on with friends and other things like parents there, coaches there,” she continued. “Trying to keep a routine every race is what has helped me succeed.”

Part of that routine, as Jennifer Crockett noted, is inspecting the course as a team – something Spence will miss as it allowed her to mentor her younger teammates. But her impact on Petoskey's program, and high school skiing statewide, will not be forgotten.

“Marley has five individual state championships and there are only two other individuals in the history of skiing in Michigan to make that accomplishment,” Ben Crockett said. “Any review of the history would have to include her as one of the best to ever ski at the high school level.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey's Marley Spence skis a slalom run during the Feb. 26 Division 2 Finals at Nub's Nob. (Middle) Spence stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season. (Photo by Sarah Shepherd.)