Back on the trails: Defending state cross country champs are eager to again represent Pioneer

COVID prevented Division 1 champs from competing in nationals in March. Now the girls are happy to be training together again, and hoping for another big win.

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

It was nearly the perfect ending to a phenominal year.

On March 13, 2020, the Pioneer High School girls’ cross country team—which had placed first in the state several months earlier—was preparing to head for the national competition in New York.

The COVID pandemic put an abrupt end to that dream.

The girls were devastated.

But in retrospect, says Coach Nancy Boudreau, it was a good thing they were not in New York City in the middle of March.

But that also meant track season was totally cancelled.

Now they’re back on the trails, happy that cross country is a sport easier than most to enjoy—and endure—while social distancing.

In fact, Boudreau says practice began in late summer and the 43 girls—which includes both JV and varsity teams—were more eager than ever to get outside and run.

“We started practice the end of June, and since then, we’ve had much greater attendance this summer than any summer we’ve ever had,” she said. “Everybody’s just happy to be doing something—rather than be cooped up in the house.”

She said it’s been fairly easy to manage during COVID. The girls must answer a health assessment at the start of each practice, run at least six feet apart, and wear masks except when they’re running.

Especially this year, the sport has been good for the girls both mentally and physically, she said.

Assistant Coach Ian Forsyth talks to the girls about giving it their all.

In November of 2019, the Pioneer’s girls cross country team won the program’s fourth Division 1 title at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
As expected, senior Zophia Dudek who won the overall title in 17:00 —a full 53 seconds faster than second-place winner Arianne Olson of Holland West Ottawa.
Pioneer (then) sophomore Sarah Forsyth finished eighth (18:14); sophomore Cookie Baugh was 21st (18:50); senior Anna Vogel was 24th (19:01); sophomore Charlotte Batra was 26th (19:08), and senior Danielle Armstrong came in 97th at 20:14.

While the team obviously misses Dudek—one of the best runners in the country who is now running for Stanford—there is still plenty of talent to pick up the slack.

Could the team be number one in the state again this year?

“We did have one big blow,” said Boudreau, noting that the Number One player, Sarah Forsyth, suffered a foot injury this summer and needed surgery. “She’s just now walking and getting on bikes and ellipticals but hasn’t started running yet. If we can get her back, we’re in pretty good shape. Without her, it’s not quite so good, but we still have a chance.”

The Forsyth dynasty continues and expands this year, with Sarah’s sister—freshman Rachel—placing first in the season’s first meet in Chelsea. Their older sister, Anne, a standout at Pioneer until she graduated in 2018, now runs for the University of Michigan.

Their parents, Ian Forsyth and Jessica Kluge, were top runners at the University of Michigan.

As the team’s assistant coach, Ian Forsyth says he enjoys spending time with his daughters and their friends.

“It’s often a challenge to be coach and father, but it’s why I came on in the first place,” he said. “I want them to do well, but we have a real team-first focus here. My girls are part of the team, and we hope everyone has great seasons and great races every day.”

The PHS girls cross country team prepares for the Division 1 state competition in November, 2020. Zophia Dudek, far right, one of the top runners in the country, handily won the race and the team placed first overall. Photo by Terry Jacoby,

The girls have won both meets so far this year. They defeated Tecumseh 17-44 on Saturday, with Rachel Forsyth taking the lead at 18:26.8, followed a split second later by Cookie Baugh at 18:27. Full results here.

Pioneer junior Cookie Baugh competes in Chelsea at the team’s first meet this year Sept. 2. She placed second overall with a time of 19:09.3.  Pioneer took the top four spots and five of the top six. Pioneer freshman Rachel Forsyth placed first with a time of 18:59.9. Senior Anna Dudek placed third (20:35.3); sophomore Emily Cooper was fourth (20:58.7); junior Charlotte Batra was sixth (21:18.0); freshman Sylvia Sanok Duffalo was eighth (21:38.1); senior Lauren Jamsen was 12th (22:29.2); sophomore Allison Nutt was 13th (22:39.7); and freshman Mia Berens was 16th at 23.44.5.

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