By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN — The level of competition made its first MHSAA cross country championship even sweeter for Birmingham Seaholm.
Seaholm, Grosse Pointe South and Saline took turns beating each other this season, setting up a three-way showdown for the Lower Peninsula Division 1 girls cross country title Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
In the end, it wasn’t as close as expected. Even with a sub-par day by its No. 1 runner, top-ranked Seaholm won by a 69-88 margin over third-ranked Grosse Pointe South, the defending champion. No. 2-ranked Saline was third with 101.
Seaholm was fourth in Division 1 last year, its best finish before Saturday. The Maples had been in the top 10 only twice before posting top-nine finishes three of the last four years.
“It’s indescribable,” Seaholm coach Jeff Devantier said. “It’s fantastic. It’s just a lot of hard work that’s finally paid off.
“That’s what makes it even better, knowing the competition around you is as tough as it is. But that was our focus all year. We knew this team and this team — Saline and Grosse Pointe South — were the teams we had to compare ourselves to and had to continually improve to beat. It came together today.”
Seniors Aubrey and Tess Wilberding — two of three triplets — led Seaholm. Aubrey was fourth overall in 17:55.9, while Tess took 12th in 18:16.4.
Rounding out Seaholm’s scoring were freshman Marissa Dobry (15th, 18:23.9), sophomore Rachel Dadamio (20th, 18:27.9) and sophomore Audrey Belf (33rd, 18:32.8).
“The scary thing about this lineup is that we haven’t had the same girls finish in the same order all year,” Devantier said. “My top girl actually did not have the kind of day she wanted to. We wanted to have as many girls in the top 30 to 35 as we could.”
Individually, West Bloomfield senior Erin Finn repeated as champion with the fastest time in all four divisions, a personal-best 17:07.9. Grosse Pointe South senior Hannah Meier set a fast early pace before taking second in 17:34.5.
Finn’s time was the fourth-best ever in an MHSAA meet. She has three of the top 15 times ever run at MIS, more than any other runner.
“I’m definitely getting back there,” Finn said. “God has blessed me. I don’t think I ever prayed so much before a race.”
Less than a month ago, Finn wasn’t sure if she would be able to defend her championship, let alone run that fast.
She trained harder than ever over the summer, had a good race in the season opener, but then saw her times get slower and slower. Finn was eventually diagnosed with an iron deficiency, which she’s been able to correct primarily with supplements.
Once the problem was identified, Finn set her sights on being strong at the end of the season.
“I told myself the Spartan Invitational doesn’t matter, the Regional doesn’t matter as long as I qualify,” Finn said. “All that matters is state, regionals and nationals. Hey, I think I’m back for those. That’s all that counts.”
Meier, the MHSAA Finals record holder in the 800 and 1,600, held the lead until about one kilometer into the five-kilometer race.
“She just really bolted the first two miles,” Meier said of Finn. “I saw her slowing down the last mile. I wasn’t thinking about individually; I was thinking about team. I just wasn’t feeling it today. I think I could’ve done better but, oh, well.”
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PHOTO: Birmingham Seaholm senior Aubrey Wilberding crosses the finish line first for her team, in 17:55.9, as the Maples went on to win the Division 1 team championship at MIS. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).