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2/9/02 at Devaney Sports Complex, University of Nebraska, Lincoln NE

Preview 2

Rockford Reloads for New Era

By Stephen Underwood

When the final distance relays at Outdoor Nationals concluded in Raleigh last year, it may have looked like the end of an era for Michigan prep powerhouse Rockford HS. Six-time (individual) national champion Dathan Ritzenhein had run his last race for the Ram boys (one of six distance grads), while record-setting girls team leaders Kalin Toedebusch and Linsey Blaisdell had also crossed the finish line for the final time.

Well, the former may be rebuilding in 2001-02, but "reloading" would be the operative word for the latter. This past girls CC season saw another state title, a No. 3 national ranking and another qualifier to Foot Locker nationals for the Lady Rams - Nikki Bohnsack, who finished second in the Midwest Regional and 25th in the Finals. Now head coach Brad Prins will give fans at the Feb. 9 adidas Midwest Indoor Track Classic a first good look at how the Rockford distance tradition may continue on the oval.

"Chris Lester seems like he's trying to build a good meet here," says Prins. "It's a nice time of year for us to see what kind of shape we're in, and the kids love to go to these (out-of-state) meets."

Depth again defines the success of Rockford's girls' team. With nine girls traveling to Nebraska, Prins has entered two teams each in the 4 x Mile and Distance Medley Relays. While the exact lineups may be a bit of a work-in-progress, those entered include Bohnsack, Kelsey Toedebusch, Kristi Powers, Laura Nelson, Brittinie Ogden, Lindsey Stebbins, Lisa Krueger, Michelle Harrold and Amy Markham. Bohnsack, though, has really become a standout.

Before Bohnsack crushed the Michigan Division I state-meet field this past November by 28 seconds (17:40), no Rockford girl had won an individual CC title. And the sophomore's runner-up finish at Kenosha (18:08) was a team best-ever at the FL MW regional. Not as strong of a heat runner, she didn't fare as well at the Finals in Orlando, but she has two more years to improve on that.

While just a freshman in track, Bohnsack quickly became a part of several historical races. In last winter's Nike Indoor, her 5:12 helped Rockford to the No. 4 time ever in the 4 x Mile (20:48.10). Outdoors, she clocked a 5:09 as the Lady Rams smashed the national 4 x 1600 record (20:14.89) at Dayton in May, then was a 5:05 part of the winning 4 x Mile team at the adidas Outdoor Nationals (a "record" 20:24.34, though inferior to the 4 x 1600 mark).

But the most unique effort probably came the next day in Raleigh, where Bohnsack actually anchored Rockford's 'B' distance medley team to an 11:51.21 for third place. While it was impressive (though a disappointing race for them personally) for the first Lady Rams team to have taken second in 11:45.05 (No. 5 time ever), to have two squads in the top three nationally with the second running the No. 9 time in history (!) was incredible. And Bohnsack had the fastest anchor of the race, a PR 4:55.

In Nebraska, fans will probably get to see her do the mile (or 1600) three times - anchoring her school's 'A' team in the 4 x Mile and Distance Medley, and running the Jim Vidal Mile. That should be a good thing, too. "It's my favorite," she says. "I want to work on getting some good, solid 2-mile times this year, and I think I will be decent in the 800, but the mile will probably be the best for me."
She'll have plenty of support from her girls. In fact, in Toedebusch, Powers and Krueger, Prins basically has his 11:51 No. 2 DMR team from Raleigh intact. Powers, who ran 2:13.60 for 800 as a freshman, will also run in the open 800 here. "She's had some problems with lung inflammation," says Prins. "If we can keep her healthy, she'll be outstanding."

Toedebusch will inherit the 1200 leg from her sister, who ran as fast as 3:36 before heading off to Villanova. Kelsey, a junior, was 6th in the Michigan CC meet last fall and ran a 5:06 1600 in the state meet last spring. Krueger will take the 400 leg and is a capable 58-second runner, says Prins.
The lead 4 x Mile team will likely be some combination of Bohnsack, Toedebusch and either Powers, Odgen or Harrold.

Prins seems to have kept his girls' dynasty going with a combination of developing depth and bringing runners along gradually. "We have had girls like Kalin and Nikki, who train hard and have a lot of natural talent," says Prins, "but to have a good cross-country team, you have to have good 4th-5th-6th and 7th runners. What I believe is that you can take decent runners, work them together as a group to build a good summer base, and make them into good high school runners. The North Kent Track Club helps us a lot. Most of the parents of these kids run or walk regularly."

The coach uses Bohnsack as a good example of second-year development (several of the top girls on Rockford now are sophomores). "Nikki had a fairly easy 9th-grade year," he says. "She was running on natural talent. This year, since she has seemed injury-free, we have upped the intensity. I like it so girls improve each year during their high school career. You look at a girl like (senior) Laura Nelson. She was a 20:30 runner before this year and this year she ran around 19:30 most of the time."
For Bohnsack, this has meant more 50-plus mile weeks, more weightlifting and more speedwork - helping lead to the vast improvement and, despite a slightly disappointing finale in Orlando, a quick turnaround. "Nikki wasn't feeling that good at nationals," says Prins, "but she's recovered psychologically."

In fact, there's apparently nothing about a hot time in Florida that a cold winter in Michigan can't cure. Prins claims his runners would rather train at home than in a warmer clime.

And Bohnsack agrees. "Training is going well; the cold weather is great," says Bohnsack. "I went to California over Christmas break and got to run in some warm weather again, but I still like the cold better." And she also likes being part of this monster program that has been built at this big school north of Grand Rapids. "I love knowing that we aren't just a 'one year fluke' team; that we will continue to do well. All of the girls on the team are great and we have so much fun running. I miss having Kalin and Linsey to run with, but … my role on the team is fun."

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