BROOKLYN, Mich. – As the field at Michigan International Speedway Saturday made the big turn after the long starting straightaway, turning to cross the actual speedway about 500 meters in, Grosse Pointe South teammates Hannah Meier and Kelsie Schwartz led the field by 10-15 meters, while Erin Finn was tucked back quietly in a group behind them. Knowing that Finn was still on the road to recovery from an iron deficiency, one could hardly keep from wondering if she was up to defending her 2011 MHSAA Lower Peninsula State Finals Division 1 girls’ crown.
How different things looked less than a mile later.
At the big vantage point near 2k, Finn had a commanding lead of more than 30 meters and looked completely in charge. And, as it turned out, the only question from that point forward was fast the West Bloomfield senior would run and how much she would win by. The answers to those questions turned out to be 17:07.9, making her the fourth fastest in state meet history, and 27 seconds over Meier. Only 2009 Foot Locker champion Megan Goethals has won by a bigger margin in D1 over the past 15 years.
This was not just back to Erin Finn before she had an iron defiency, or even back to the girl who won state last fall (actually in something of a struggle) and was second at Foot Locker. This looked like the Erin Finn who pounded lap after lap at The Armory last March en route to that 5,000-meter national record. She looked that strong.
Besides commenting on being “back” and her fitness level coming back from the iron deficiency, diagnosed in early October, Finn explained her plan coming in. ‘Right now I don’t really have much speed, so I knew it would kill me if I went out too hard,” she said. “It was hard to hold back.”
But she didn’t hold back too long. Finn hit 5:18 at the mile, feeling completely in control, and motored on from there. She was excited to see 10:57 at two miles (“I’ve never been under 11:00 before”) and happy to get a lifetime XC PR.
To put her Spartan Invite loss to D2 champ Julia Bos (as well some slower-than-typical victories) behind her, Finn said she came to MIS having blocked out everything but what was ahead of her. “All that matters is state, the regional qualifier to nationals, and nationals,” she said. “I hope to follow in Megan Goethals’ steps.”
Following Finn’s steps was Meier. A team player if the sport ever had one (she’s said she would only run with her mates in NXN as far as the post-season, not Foot Locker), Meier was certainly more concerned with how her twin sister, Haley, was doing and if US#8 Grosse Pointe South could defend its 2011 crown against fast-rising #24 power Birmingham Seaholm and Saline, the 2009 champs who are in the running every year and were deeper than ever.
Haley was running just her second race trying to come back from an attack of mono suffered in October and would finish 32nd. “She still has (mono); she’s pretty bummed,” Hannah said.
Even with a top race from both Meiers, Seaholm would have been tough to beat. Led by their own sisters, seniors Aubrey and Tess Welberding (who are triplets along with Mallory Welberding), they put five at 18:32 or better and tallied a winning total of 69 points. The twins scored 3-10, at 17:55.9 and 18:16.4, and frosh Marissa Dobry and sophs Rachel Dadamio and Audrey Belf came in 12-17-27.
“We were going to try and run as close together as we could,” said Coach Jeff Devantier, “and if we stayed close, I knew we’d do well.”
“We knew that we had a chance,” Audrey Welberding said to Jared Purcell at mlive.com. “We knew it was going to be close. This whole season, the rankings had been so close. We know how great (Grosse Pointe South) is. We also know that we have a lot of depth on our team. We just knew that we had to go in staying really focused and just wanting it.”
Grosse Pointe South was second with 88 and Saline third with 101. Rarely, if ever, have three teams dominated a D1 field to such an extent (Traverse City Central was fourth at 244).