Ladywood takes first track title since 1996

Al Willman
The Detroit News
Dana Santilli, left, anchor's the Ladywood team for a first place finish in the 4x200 relay.

Novi -- Livonia Ladywood dropped down a division in the Catholic League prior to the start of the school year, and coach Lonnie Valentini admitted there was discussion about that move with his team before Wednesday’s C-D track and field championship.

Wednesday evening, Valentini and his team were celebrating its first C-D title, and the first girls’ track championship for the school since 1996, earning 130 points in a landslide victory over Wixom St. Catherine’s, which finished second with 75.

“I don’t know how you even put that into words,” Valentini said. “They were just unbelievably focused and prepared, and just came out with everything they had.

“To be able to bring this back to the school after all this time is just incredible.”

While certainly a team effort, one Ladywood athlete earned her fair share of the credit.

Ally Hill, who won the long jump and the 400-meter run, came seven inches short of tying a Catholic League record, with a jump of 16 feet, 5 inches.

“I went from jumping 15’3”s and 15’5”s and just kind of went there,” Hill said of her nearly record tying jump, which was also a personal best. “I was really excited.”

Hill said she didn’t initially know how far she’d jumped.

“I was like, ‘They’re lying. That’s not real,’ ” she said. “I was really excited.”

Hill went on to win the 400 in 1 minute, 1.40 seconds – nearly 2.5 seconds faster than the second place finisher, Wixom St. Catherine’s Shannon Ryan (1:03.98), and anchored the school’s winning 1600-meter relay team.

“She’s an incredible athlete,” Valentini said. “She’s worked unbelievably hard. This year, always, in everything she does. She was very focused, very dialed in. This is definitely something she wanted. She went after it.”

He said Hill is a leader by example.

“She’s not the pound your chest kind of kid,” Valentini said. “She comes to practice every day. She works hard. She’s really dedicated and knows what she’s doing.”

Momentum, he said, is on Ladywood’s side as it prepares for states next week.

“It’s perfect timing,” Valentini said. “They’re really clicking on all cylinders right now. They’re feeling strong and confident, and that’s absolutely where you want them going into states.”

While Ladywood essentially ran away with the title, another runner swept both the one- and two-mile events.

Waterford Lakes senior Tessa Fornari took the mile in 5:30.39, and the two-mile in 12:20.54. Both were by comfortable margins, but she had a nearly 100-meter lead in the two-mile – winning by almost three seconds.

“I was just trying to stay consistent,” Fornari said after the mile. “It felt like a good race. I wasn’t too uncomfortable. I mean, you’re supposed to be uncomfortable if you’re racing.”

Fornari was swarmed by her teammates after winning the two-mile.

“She runs so well,” said sophomore middle distance runner Josie Ware. “She’s an inspiration to everybody. Even the middle schoolers look up to Tessa.”

Full girls results

First place: Livonia Ladywood, 130 points

Second place: Wixom St. Catherine’s, 75 points

Third place: Riverview Gabriel Richard, 72 points

Fourth place: Waterford Lakes, 64 points

Fifth place: Allen Park Cabrini, 45 points

Sixth place: Royal Oak Shrine, 40 points

Seventh place: Detroit Cristo Rey, 14 points

Eighth place: Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 11 points

Ninth place: Marine City Cardinal Mooney, 8 points

Tenth place: Ray Township Austin Catholic Academy, 5 points

Al Willman is a freelance writer