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
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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