By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
BROOKLYN — Kirsten Olling's greatest competition wasn't on the course at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday.
The names she was chasing were names from the past, some of the greatest runners in the history of Michigan cross country.
Olling put her name among the elite by winning her fourth MHSAA Finals championship, doing so in a Lower Peninsula Division 4-record time of 17:44.9.
She became only the third girl to win four outright MHSAA championships and fifth to win four races at the LP Finals. Carrie Gould of Burton Bendle and Flint Powers Catholic won four in a row from 1992-95 and Katie Boyles of Rochester Adams did so from 1997-2000. Theresa Padilla of Camden-Frontier (1984-87) and Valarie Ambrose of Riverview Gabriel Richard (1981-84) won four races in an era in which there were team and individual races, but didn't always have the best overall time in their classes.
"It's amazing," Olling said. "Today was my last high school race, so it's the best thing ever to know I'm out there now."
Barring a disaster — and they happened to two other runners in the past who were going for their fourth titles — Olling was going to join Gould and Boyles. Her focus on Saturday was to take down the Division 4 course record of 17:54.9 set by Marissa Treece of Maple City Glen Lake in 2006. Treece and Olling are the only Division 4 girls to break 18 minutes at the MHSAA Finals, both doing so twice.
"My main goal for today's race was time," Olling said. "With me, that's mostly my own competition — how fast can I do this? That was my main goal for this season, to get the course record."
The Division 4 girls race was the first of eight on a course that was soaked by rain overnight and early in the morning. It didn't seem to slow up Olling, who wouldn't let the conditions become an excuse.
"I was so nervous, but I was saying to myself, 'OK, no matter what the conditions are, I have to do this,'" she said. "It doesn't matter if I have to kill myself to do it; I've got to do it."
Olling hasn't had a close finish in any of her four championship races. This one was the largest gap, as Tessa Fornari of Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes took second trailing by 57.8 seconds. It was the largest margin ever in a LP Division 4 race, eclipsing Treece's 57.4-second victory in 2006.
Olling would've loved to add a team championship to her resume, but Breckenridge came up just short. Beal City won with 120 points, followed by Breckenridge with 136 and Bear Lake with 158.
Beal City flew under the radar all season, not even receiving honorable mention in either of the two state rankings. It was a puzzling slight, considering Beal City finished fourth last season, 10th the previous year and had made the top 10 four of the last seven years. The Aggies returned their top three runners and four of the top five from a team that was 42 points out of first place last season.
Sophomore Hannah Steffke led Beal City, placing 10th overall in 19:27.0. Also scoring for the Aggies were senior Hannah Neyer (19:57.0), junior Emily Steffke (20:12.5), freshman Ariel Salter (20:52.6) and freshman Brenda Faber (21:04.2). Faber's finish was a huge key for the Aggies, as she took 44th among team runners. Last year, the Aggies' No. 5 runner was 76th among team runners. The top four Aggies pretty much fell in line with last year's lineup.
Click for full results.
PHOTO: Breckenridge's Kirsten Olling sprints down the stretch Saturday on the way to her fourth MHSAA individual cross country championship (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com)