By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For the second straight season, many eyes at this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals will be focused on a girls race of the best from some of Michigan’s smaller schools.
Last season, the buzz was over Breckenridge’s Kirsten Olling and her pursuit of a fourth individual title. On Saturday, Macomb Lutheran North’s Gina Patterson will run for her third straight Division 3 title – but against her top rival, reigning runner-up Amber Way of Charlevoix. Patterson owns the fastest and sixth-fastest times in LP Division 3 history, but Way finished only 1.5 seconds behind in 2013 and owns the seventh-fastest finish on that all-time list.
Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey Belf also is attempting to repeat, in Division 1, as her team tries to claim its second title in three seasons. Grand Rapids Christian, the reigning Division 2 champ, is favored again, while Cedar Springs’ Kenzie Weiler will attempt to finish her career with a second straight individual victory in that face. And Division 4 – as noted above – will have its first new individual champ since 2010.
See below for more of the stories behind the team and individual races for all four divisions, and click for a full list of qualifiers for each and information on Saturday’s event – which this fall includes 976 girls.
Reigning champion: Northville
2013 runner-up: Saline
2014 top-ranked: 1. Traverse City Central, 2. Birmingham Seaholm, 3. Northville.
Seaholm, the 2012 champion, should push to reclaim the top trophy led by last season’s individual champion, now-senior Belf. She’s joined in this season’s lineup by juniors Mary Sanders and Patty Girardot, the fourth and fifth runners for the Maples in 2013. But Traverse City Central returns four of its top seven from last season’s sixth-place finish and three of its top four – seniors Ashley Ko and Graceanne Tarsa and sophomore Emmalyne Tarsa. Ko finished 12th in the individual standings and finished second at her Regional to freshman teammate Sielle Kearney. Junior Lexa Barrott finished 13th last season for team champion Northville, which returns two more of its 2013 lineup including 22nd-place Cayla Eckenroth, now a sophomore.
Individuals: Four more top-20 finishers from 2013 join Belf, Ko and Barrot in this weekend’s lineup. Grandville junior Valerie Wierenga improved from 16th as a freshman to third last fall and should remain among the lead pack, and Oak Park senior Ersula Farrow finished 21st, eighth and then seventh her first three seasons while running for Grosse Pointe North. Saline juniors Gillian Walter and Hannah Cummings also are seeking repeat top-20 finishes. Hudsonville senior Kelli Jackson ran a Division 1-best 17:48.3 to win her Regional and finished 21st at last season’s Final. Macomb L’Anse Creuse North freshman Karenna Duffey also cleared 18 minutes last week, winning her Regional in 17:58, while Grandville freshman Madison Troy was second to Jackson at Portage in 18:14.
Reigning champion: Grand Rapids Christian
2013 runner-up: Spring Lake
2014 top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Christian, 2. St. Joseph, 3. Otsego.
Grand Rapids Christian has won two of the last four titles and is lined up well for a repeat with four of last season’s top six running again. Senior Rachel Warners paced the Eagles and finished 12th individually last season, and the lineup has added standout freshmen Jenna Bishop and Sarah VanDyke and junior top-10 Regional finisher Michelle Koetje. St. Joseph didn’t make the Final as a team last season – sophomore Vanessa Veersma ran as an individual qualifier – but the Bears placed five among the top 20 at their Regional and four among the top 11 paced by freshman and fifth-place finisher Kaitlin Newton. Otsego finished only four points behind St. Joseph at the Portage Regional with two freshmen, four sophomores and a junior. But those sophomores were the team’s top four placers as it finished third at last season’s Final; Megan Aalberts finished 11th individually in 2013.
Individuals: Only three of last season’s top 20 graduated – so this field should be incredibly competitive. Weiler is the reigning champion and also finished runner-up as both a freshman and sophomore, but finished less than a second ahead last season of Detroit Country Day senior Jackie Bredenberg – and she’s also back. St. Johns senior Karrigan Smith is a track champion and returns after finishing third in this race a year ago, and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern senior Morgan Posthuma (fourth), Grand Rapids South Christian senior Alexis Miller (fifth), Gaylord junior Alexis Smith (ninth) and Owosso senior Dillon McClintock (10th) also are among top finishers back in the field.
Reigning champion: Shepherd
2013 runner-up: Benzonia Benzie Central
2014 top-ranked: 1. Ithaca, 2. Manistee, 3. Lansing Catholic.
Ithaca finished only 10th a year ago, but with five underclassmen in the line-up – and all seven runners are back this weekend. Sophomore Courtney Allen finished 11th in 2013, and the Yellowjackets placed four among the top 10 in its Regional win last weekend. Manistee returns its top five from last season’s eighth-place team, including senior Annie Fuller (sixth) and junior Ashley Lindeman (ninth) from the individual top 10. Lansing Catholic was 13th last fall with a similar story; the Cougars have five runners back from the 2013 Final including sophomore Abigail Gilmore (14th individually) and finished runner-up to Ithaca at St. Johns over the weekend.. Reigning champ Shepherd is ranked No. 4 and does return five of its top seven including three sophomores who placed among the top 50 individuals.
Individuals: Only three of the top 14 from 2013 graduated, and much of the focus will be on the rematch of Patterson and Way. In addition to those two and the Manistee pair, four more of the top 10 also will run again: Holland Black River senior Allison Vroon (third), Ida senior Ashley Sorge (fourth), Hopkins senior Rachael Weber (eighth) and Clare sophomore Jasmine Harper (10th). Five of those returning eight won their Regionals. Traverse City St. Francis junior Holly Bullough was the Division 4 runner-up in 2012 and third last fall, and should be in the mix. East Jordan senior Kayla Keane finished fifth in Division 4 last season.
Reigning champion: Beal City
2013 runner-up: Breckenridge
2014 top-ranked: 1. Kalamazoo Hackett, 2. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 3. Beal City.
Six of Beal City’s top seven are back from last season’s championship run including top finisher Hannah Steffke, 10th individually as a junior, and senior Hayley Neyer, who was 19th. Hackett finished 14th in Division 3 but returns its top four – and senior Lucy Ankenbauer, 25th individually in Division 3, would’ve finished 13th with her time in Division 4. Hackett had the top four and five of the top seven finishers at its Regional. Sacred Heart didn’t make the Final as a team last season, but sophomore Alexis McConnell finished 15th individually. The Irish put three among the top five – with McConnell the individual champion – in scoring 35 points to beat Beal City and win their Regional over the weekend.
Individuals: There will be a new champion – Breckenridge’s Kirsten Olling graduated after becoming the seventh to win four MHSAA individual titles. Bullough and Keane running in Division 3 leaves only two others and Steffke back from last season’s top 10 – reigning runner-up Tessa Fornari, a junior for Waterford Our Lady, and seventh-place Jenna Wisner, a junior at Lutheran Westland. Fornari won her Regional in 18:19. Hackett freshman Mary Ankenbauer was 41 seconds faster than sister Lucy in winning their Regional in 18:53.3.
PHOTO: Macomb Lutheran North's Gina Patterson finished just ahead of Charlevoix's Amber Way to claim last season's LP Division 3 individual title; both will run again Saturday. Click for more this weekend from RunMichigan.com.)