By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
BROOKLYN — Audrey Belf tuned out all of the noise.
The Birmingham Seaholm junior didn't want to get caught up in all of the chatter surrounding her quest to win the MHSAA Division 1 cross country championship. She didn't want to read the comparisons between her and former Rochester runner Megan Goethals, who holds the MHSAA finals record and is now an All-American at the University of Washington.
Belf wanted to relax her mind all week, then do what she does best — race hard.
"I never had that much pressure in my life," Belf said. "I kind of stopped using the Internet for a week. I didn't want to see anything or have any reason to psyche myself out. I wanted to go into the race with a clear head."
The nationally ranked Belf fulfilled expectations on Saturday by winning the Division 1 championship in a time of 17:31.1. Rockford senior Lauren Brasure stayed close enough to keep the issue in doubt, finishing second in 17:40.8.
"She's a great runner and definitely pushes me," Belf said. "I knew it would be a close race. We both ran great."
Belf admitted that she had her sights on the MHSAA finals record of 16:54.8 set by Goethals in 2009. Achieving that time became more difficult when rains soaked the MIS course right up until race morning, creating a sloppy mess in some spots.
"It was a little muddy," Belf said. "Coming into the stadium, I was on pace for my goal time. When I got into the stadium, it slowed me up a little bit. You can't do anything about it. It's OK. I'm happy about it."
Belf made a huge jump from 33rd place last year in 18:32.8 to MHSAA champion.
"I was a little bit sick and had a bad day (in 2012)," Belf said. "This summer and last spring, I worked on raising my confidence going into races. It really helped me this year."
Brasure lost only three races all season — all to Belf.
The only downer for Belf was that her Seaholm team didn't repeat as champion. Northville won its first MHSAA finals championship by scoring 107 points. Saline was second with 139, Hudsonville third with 164 and Seaholm fourth with 165. Rockford was fifth with 169 points, cracking the top 10 for the 20th straight year.
Northville had a strong front pack, with its top four runners finishing 10.8 seconds apart in the top 21 among team finishers. Senior Rachel Coleman was 10th in the team race in 18:23.3, sophomore Lexa Barrott was 13th in 18:27.0, senior Taleen Shahrigian was 14th in 18:30.2, freshman Cayla Eckenroth was 21st in 18:34.1 and senior Nicole Mosteller was 49th in 19:10.2.
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PHOTO: Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Belf takes the final strides toward her first MHSAA cross country championship. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com).