Rochester’s Handler leads State-meet Performances

 Something about close finishes and Brook Handler seem to go hand in hand.

The last time Handler, now a senior at Rochester High, was involved in a close finish, it came in the final 100 meters of the 3,200-meter relay at Rockford High School, site of the Division 1 track and field state championships this past June.

Handler was the anchor leg of that relay that finished in 9:05.07, which was not only the state championship, but the all-division state-meet record.

She was back at it again on Saturday at the Michigan Speedway near Brooklyn.

Running stride-for-stride with Grand Blanc’s Gabrielle Anzalone, Handler surged ahead in the final 30 meters to win the Division 1 state championship in a sizzling 17:00.2.

“The conditions were perfect, that was part of it, and having Gabby to run with the whole way, the whole 3.1 miles. I know there usually isn’t duals for 3.1 miles. I knew if I could stick with her and get to the last 160 meters that I might be able to hold her off.”

Not only was it the school’s third straight individual champion in girls cross-county, but Handler’s effort became the second-fastest ever by a Michigan prep runner at the state finals. It was also part of one of the greatest state finals races of all-time in Michigan.

“We got to the three mile mark and I knew we had 160 meters left and I knew I had go as hard as I could. I didn’t know if I could hold her off,” said Handler. “Crossing the finish line was amazing.”

Former Rochester teammate Megan Goethals, who won the state crown in both 2008 and 2009, ran 16:54 last season to set the state-meet and overall state-record. Anzalone came in second in 17:01.7, as part of a fine contingent of runners in wide-open race, and her effort ranks third all-time in the state.

“The plan was set from a long time ago. From the start, we told her that this was your race, this was your day,” said Rochester coach Larry Adams, who has coached several individual state champs between cross country and track and team state titles in both sports. “I told her that her kick is the best part of your ability and can be anybody. She proved it today.

“It was exactly (like the 3,200 relay),” added Adams. “She’s just tough — out-and-out tough. There’s no quit in Brook Handler.”

Grosse Pointe South’s Hannah Meier, who Handler outkicked in the 3,200 relay last June, was third (17:21.2), with West Bloomfield’s Erin Finn (17:31) and Waterford Mott’s Shannon Osika fifth (17:38). Osika was the 2007 state champion and wracke dup her fourth top-10 state finish..

Handler wasn’t the only local individual from the coverage area to shine at the state meet. Several other runners either earned all-state accolades — the top 30 in each race garnered such honors — or recorded personal-best efforts at the state meet.

Oxford’s Brook Kovacic shattered her won school record with a 12th-place effort of 18:02.2. Rochester Adams’ Jamie Morrissey was 19th in18:15.2. It was the second straight year the sophomores earned all-state accolades.

Brittany Johnson of Oxford shaved more than a minute off her previous best during the final month of the season, including more than 40 seconds at the state meet by crossing 53rd (18:59.9).

“At the mile marker, we were still way behind. We just kept passing and pacing people and we ended up doing way better than \we ever expected,” said Kovacic, the first two-time all-stater at Oxford since the 1990s. “I took off about 40 seconds (off my state time) from last year.”

In the girls D-4 competition, Oakland Christian finished 19th with 507 points.

Rachel Termarsch and Alexis Nelson came in 100th (21:27) and 10th (21:32.6), respectively. Alexa Messing (177th), Amy Libka (194th), Shelby Webb (233rd) and Ally Erickson (237th) also competed for Oakland Christian.