BY DAN STICKRADT
In what seemed like a rarity these days, the North Oakland area did not boast of a state champion in girls cross country this season.
In seven of the past 15 seasons, at least one area runner emerged as an individual state champion, including one each of the past three years. From 1997 through 2000, Rochester Adams’ Katie Boyles won four straight state titles, while Rochester’s Megan Goethals captured crowns in both 2008 and 2009 and Rochester’s Brook Handler did the same in 2010.
That’s just the icing on the top of the cake in terms of the tradition in this sport in this region of Michigan. Even Rochester Adams (2006) and Rochester (2007) captured state titles in recent years.
Since the MHSAA began hosting a state tournament in the sport in 1978, there have been 10 individual state champions, 10 team state champions and three team state runner-up finishes. I n terms of all-state runners, that have been dozens over the years.
This year there was still eight runners from the www.northoaklandsports.com coverage area that finished in the top 30 at one of the four divisions at the state finals to earn All-State honors. Beyond that there were dozens of other quality runners that reached the state meet or posted a variety of noteworthy finishes throughout the season.
The 2011 All-North Oakland Area Girls Cross Country Team honors all of those standout individuals.
This year’s squad encompasses a first and second team of 10 and 11 runners, respectively, plus honorable mentions. The list is compiled based on overall performance, consistency and high finishes at major meets throughout the season.
Oxford’s Ray Sutherland is tabbed as the area’s top coach after taking a young squad to its best-ever finish.
Below are the profiles of the 10-member All-Area First Team:
SARA BARRON, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep: After winning a state title last June in the 800 meters, Barron carried her success trail into her senior cross country season and she shined during the whole campaign. Barron earned All-State honors in Division 2 for the first time after finishing eighth in 18:24, a school record. Also a school record holder in multiple events in track and field, Barron was second at both CHSL Jamboree meets and finished as a league champion as well. She also ran 13th in a star-studded field at the Oakland County meet and won both the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies Invite and Goodells regional.
BROOKE KOVACIC, Oxford: Kovacic passed former all-stater Karen Leroy this season to claim the school record, running sixth at the Division 1 state finals in 18:03. Her effort at the state meet was the fastest time of any competitor in the North Oakland coverage region this season. Steady all the way through her junior campaign, Kovacic never finished out of the top 10 against Michigan competition. She was first at the West Bloomfield Invitational Division II, Shamrocks Invitational Division II and OAA Red Division Jamboree No. 1 races. She was also runner-up at the second OAA-Red Jamboree and league meet, finished second at the county meet and fourth at the Goodells regional. At the recent Footlocker Midwest Regional, she crossed 40th overall. Kovacic also holds the school record in the 3,200 meters and 3,200-meter relay.
GABBY THIVIERGE, Rochester Adams: After placing third in the state in the 3,200 meters last June, Thivierge came out for cross country for the first time this fall and she pulled some double duty by competing at the state finals in swimming and diving as well. A gifted athlete, Thivierge showcased quite a resume in cross country, which included multiple top-10 finishes. She was seventh at the West Bloomfield Invitational-Division I race, sixth at the Michigan State University Spartans Invitational-Elite race, fifth at the county and second at the Goodells regional. She was also second, fourth and sixth at the three OAA Red Division meets. Thivierge finished eighth at the D-1 state meet in 18:11 to dent the school’s all-time top 10 list.
JAMIE MORRISSEY, Rochester Adams: In three seasons of cross country, Morrissey has earned All-State honors three times. The junior had her best season to date, winning the OAA Red Division league meet title, placing third at both the county and Goodells regional and ninth at the D-1 state meet (18:18) in the season’s final month. She was also ninth at the MSU Spartans Invite-Elite race, third at the OAA-Red Jamboree No. 1 and first at the OAA-Red Jamboree No. 2. At the Footlocker Midwest regional on Thanksgiving weekend, she finished 45th.
NATALIE SMITH, Clarkston: An injury-plagued career was reversed as a senior, as Smith’s senior season was full of notable finishes. She was 11th at the West Bloomfield Invite-Division I race and 19th at the MSU-Spartans Invite-Elite race to start the season and followed that up by placing sixth, fifth and fourth in succession at the three OAA Red Division meets . The four-year varsity performer, who also qualified in the 3,200 relay and 3,200 run last spring in track, was also 21st at the county meet, fifth at the Goodells regional, leading her team to the state meet, and finished a career-best 18:35 at the D-1 state finals, good enough for All-State accolades.
NICOLE KOWALCHICK, Rochester Stoney Creek: While the Cougars dipped through a rebuilding campaign, Kowalchick still had a fine sophomore season in her own right. She was sixth at the West Bloomfield Invite-Division I and 26th at the MSU Spartans Invite-White race early in the season and continued to put forth quality finishes the rest of the way. She was 10th at the OAA Red Division Jamboree No. 1 and 14th at the OAA-Red league meet, finished 22nd at the county, seventh at the Goodells regional and 24th at the D-1 state meet (18:47) to earn All-State status.
“Nicole is just a very strong runner who continued to improve throughout her sophomore season,” said coach Jed Kramer.
JESSICA GOETHALS, Rochester: Just a sophomore, Goethals made a return trip to the state finals this fall and saw substantial improvements since her freshman cross country and track and field seasons. The Falcons’ No. 1 runner all year, Goethals moved into 10th all-time on the Falcons’ record book and her 18:45 clocking at the D-1 state finals was good enough for 27th overall and All-State honors. Goethals began the year running 25th at the MSU Spartans Invite, was seventh at the first OAA Red Division Jamboree and fifth at the league meet. She also claimed 25th at the county meet, sixth at the Goodells regional and 104th at the Footlocker Midwest Regional.
“Jessica matured a lot this season. She worked hard to become our No.1 runner and really came on strong at the last couple meets of the season,” said coach Larry Adams.”I think she’s starting to realize how much work that needs to be out in to be successful. She made a nice leap forward from her freshman season to her sophomore season. She has a chance to become a very good runner.”
MARIA LEPORE, Rochester: Few runners not only in the area, but in the state, saw as much improvement between her freshman and senior seasons than Lepore. In fact, few had quite the quantum leap from the beginning of her senior season to the end. In early September, Lepore finished only 136th in the Elite race at the MSU-Spartans Invitational but concluded her prep season with a fine 28th-place finish at the Division 1 state meet. Her 18:47 effort finish ranks 11th all-time in school history and it came after not even qualifying for the state meet in the past. She was the team’s No. 8 runner as a sophomore fighting through injuries and No.3 runner as a junior. Lepore’s senior season resume also included a 23rd, 10th and 11th-place finishes at the three OAA Red Division events, 29th at the county meet and eighth at the Goodells regional.
“It’s amazing how far she came the past couple of years,” beamed Adams. “She got hurt as a sophomore and last year just barely missed qualifying for the state finals. This year she didn’t even break the top 100 at the (Spartans Invite) and was only 29th at the county meet. She finished higher at the state meet than at the county. Maria’s just a great story of someone who worked so hard to become a good runner.”
LAUREN MILLER, Troy: The Colts made their 14th consecutive trip to the Class A/Division 1 state finals and Miller has been a key part of that success story each of the past two seasons. A sophomore, Miller was Troy’s most consistent performer all year and was her team’s highest finisher at the D-1 finals, just missing the all-state boat with a 32nd-place finish (18:55). Throughout the course of the season, Miller had multiple notable finishes, including eight at the OAA Red Division league meet, 11th at the Waterford Mott regional and 26th at the county. She also ran 16th and 13th at the two OAA-Red Jamborees, was 26th at the MSU-Spartans Invitational-elite race and crossed 92nd at the recent Footlocker Midwest regional. She was a state qualifier in the 3,200 meters last spring as a freshman as well.
“Lauren was just really consistent. She was always one of our top finishers,” said coach Matthew Richardson. “I expect that she’ll continue to get better. She works really hard and has goals set for track in the spring and next year in cross country.”
BRITTANY JOHNSON, Oxford: Generally the Wildcats’ No. 2 runner each of the past two seasons, Johnson finished up the season by running 38th at the D-1 state meet in a career-best 19:01, which ranks well inside the Wildcats’ all-time top 10. Johnson was top-20 at a variety of meets this fall, crossing ninth at the West Bloomfield Invitational-Division II race and OAA Red Division Jamboree No. 1. She also finished 11th at the second OAA-Red Jamboree, 16th at the league meet, 19th at the county and 11th at the deep Goodells regional.
COACH OF THE YEAR
RAY SUTHERLAND, Oxford: Sutherland took over the coaching spot for the legendary Elmer Ball two decades ago and has put together several successful boys cross country teams. Never did Sutherland assemble quit e a girls team like the squad in 2011, which enjoyed the best in school history.
The Wildcats, in their first season in the OAA Red Division, placed third overall in the final standings. They were second at both league jamborees and fourth at the league meet.
They also won the West Bloomfield Invitational Division II meet and the Shamrocks Invitational Division II, finished an all-time best second at the Oakland County meet, just one point behind champion Birmingham Seaholm, finished second out of a cluster of quality teams at the Goodells regional and capped the season by running 11th at the Division 1 state finals with 306. The state-meet appearance marked the first time since 1998 that Oxford made the trip to the finals and it was the school’s best-ever state-meet finish in girls cross country.
2011 ALL-NORTH OAKLAND AREA GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY TEAM FIRST TEAM
Sara Barron Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Senior
Brooke Kovacic Oxford Junior
Gabby Thivierge Rochester Adams Junior
Jamie Morrissey Rochester Adams Junior
Natalie Smith Clarkston Senior Nicole Kowalchick Rochester Stoney Creek Sophomore Jessica Goethals Rochester Sophomore Maria Lepore Rochester Senior Lauren Miller Troy Sophomore Brittany Johnson Oxford Senior
COACH OF THE YEAR
Ray Sutherland Oxford 20th Season
Sarah Johnson Rochester Adams Senior Katie Shaheen Troy Junior Chelsea Johnson Oxford Senior Abby Green Troy Sophomore Erin Billette Clarkston Junior Haley Burns Troy Junior Kaitlin Catania Clarkston Junior Cassie Hoffman Rochester Stoney Creek Junior Danielle Carr Lake Orion Freshman Ashley Bartreau Lake Orion Senior
Auburn Hills Avondale: Sarah Wdowik, soph.; Auburn Hills Oakland
Christian: Alexis Nelson, sr.; Angelica Allegra, fr.; Rachel
TerMarsch, sr.; Clarkston: Sara Beauregard, soph.; Lynsie Graham,
fr.; Kylie Knavish, jr.; Molly Jeffers, jr.; Holly: Mariah Videl,
sr.; Charlotte Ruffini, jr.; Abby Brown, soph.; Carly Schroeder,
sr.; Alex Matvich, soph.; Shannon Westfall, jr.; Lake Orion: Erin
Womack, fr.; Madz Ham, fr.; Kelsi Silliman, jr.; Molly Emerick,
jr.; Casey Stribbell, soph.; Ortonville Brandon: Paige Harvey, fr.;
Oxford: Jenna Feeney, fr.; Alora McCoy, fr.; Sabrina Smith, fr.;
Kristen Godwin, soph.; Pontiac Notre Dame Prep: Jamie Hanson,
soph.; Lauren McGrath, fr.; Christine Scheer, fr.; Christine Casai,
sr.; Rochester: Elise Walker, jr.; Alison Skelcy, fr.; Nivi
Nagaraj, sr.; Rochester Adams: Lydia Stanley, jr.; Monica Rasmussen,
jr.; Caroline Kletzien, soph.; Rochester Stoney Creek: Cassie
Hoffman, jr.; Emory Hall, fr.; Laura Johnston, jr.; Rochester Hills
Lutheran Northwest: Lauren Church, jr.; Troy: Kira Burnett, jr.;
Maral Toukhanian, jr.; Tarah Thompson, sr.; Troy Athens: Melissa
Palmer, sr.; Claire Noord, fr.
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