By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
BROOKLYN — Kenzie Weiler was satisfied with being the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 cross country runner-up the last two years.
She knew as well as anyone that nobody was going to challenge two-time champion Julia Bos of Grand Rapids Christian.
With Bos now in college, that left a wide-open race for this season’s Division 2 individual title.
This time, Weiler wasn't going to be content with second place.
The Cedar Springs junior made one final surge with fewer than 100 yards to go, passing Detroit Country Day junior Jackie Bredenberg just before the finish line to win by 0.8 seconds with a time of 17:55.1 on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Weiler finished 18.7 seconds behind Bos last year and 10.4 seconds behind her in 2011. Weiler's times were faster the last two years (17:35.1 in 2011, 17:49.1 in 2012), but a mud-slicked course limited runners' ability to produce personal records Saturday.
"I've gotten runner-up two years in a row," Weiler said. "I really wanted one more (place) this year. I was staying mentally strong. It was a really great day. I'm really happy."
Weiler could appreciate her championship even more after missing track and field season with an injury.
"I decided after missing out on a whole season, I'm just so thankful to run, so thankful to be in the state meet," she said. "I was staying mentally strong. I haven't had a physical change. It's been more mental to be a stronger person."
A pack of four runners reached the two-mile mark in 11:30 before Weiler and Bredenberg began to separate themselves. Bredenberg held a slight lead as the two sprinted down the long straightaway at MIS. Just when it appeared Bredenberg would hold on, Weiler found another gear and made the decisive pass.
"I was hoping I didn't start too late," Weiler said. "I trusted myself. It came over me, and I was like, 'I'm not done yet.' It was exciting."
Such a close loss might be difficult to take, but Bredenberg was in good spirits immediately following the race. She didn't come into it figuring to be in the mix for the title.
"I definitely did not expect this," she said. "I've been running since sixth grade. I never would've thought I would come this close. It's definitely motivating to do that extra pool workout every weekend. I could hear her and I was thinking, 'That girl has an amazing sprint.' It was really exciting."
The top six finishers were juniors, with St. Johns' Karrigan Smith in the hunt until late, finishing third in 18:04.0.
Grand Rapids Christian overcame the graduation of Bos to improve upon last year's third-place finish, winning its fifth MHSAA championship and fourth in the last nine years. The Eagles have been in the top five for 12 straight years.
Grand Rapids Christian scored 109 points to win by 96 over Spring Lake. The battle for the runner-up trophy was considerably closer, with 21 points separating second through sixth places.
The Eagles should be favored to repeat, with no seniors among their top six. Junior Rachel Warners led the team, placing sixth among team runners in 19:01.2. Junior Katie Verhulst (12th, 19:15.8), sophomore Claire Brouwer (19th, 19:38.3), junior Lindsey Fox (27th, 19:45.9) and sophomore Leah Bishop (45th, 20:00.8) rounded out the scoring.
Click for full results.
PHOTO: Cedar Springs' Kenzie Weiler (262), Detroit Country Day's Jackie Bredenberg (291) and St. Johns' Karrigan Smith (476) lead at the 1.5-mile point during Saturday's LP Division 2 Final at MIS. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)