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Erin Finn handles her work in the classroom well, but afterward, it's off to cross country practice. (The Oakland Press/TIM THOMPSON).


CROSS COUNTRY: In a class of her own WITH VIDEO

West Bloomfield's Erin Finn a standout student and distance runner

On the cross country course, Erin Finn is one of the top high school distance runners in the nation. (The Oakland Press/MARVIN GOODWIN).

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Although school days can be long and challenging for Erin Finn, it’s all good for the West Bloomfield High senior, a student-athlete who’s handled a load of mind-bending courses for nearly four years.

This year there’s advanced placement Calculus, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, English Language and Composition on her plate, a course load which has been difficult to digest at times. Then there’s homework and studying, then more homework. And there’s cross country practice after school. Still, she’s grinded out a 4.24 grade-point average while remaining well ahead of the academic game.

Finn will tackle an even more arduous academic schedule next year at the University of Michigan, as she gets ready for a career in the medical research field.

The foundation has been laid at West Bloomfield.

“I’ve really awesome teachers and my mom (Lori) puts up with a lot of whining,” said Finn of handling her workload. “And I just pray that I don’t get too much homework everyday.”

Even so, while Finn has managed well on the academic front, she’s been just as accomplished in athletics as one of the top high school distance runners in the nation.

Finn is the national high school indoor record holder in the 5,000-meter run, the defending Division 1 state cross country champion, a two-time national high school cross country All-American and a two-time Oakland County meet champion.

She’ll go for her third Oakland County title Saturday at the 53rd annual meet at Kensington Metropark.

Finn is the latest of an amazing run of Southeast Michigan athletes, including a few from Oakland County, who’ve been nationally rated the last several years.

Megan Goethals (Rochester), Shannon Osika (Waterford Mott), Gabrielle Anzalone (Grand Blanc) and Brook Handler (Rochester) have all competed nationally in high school and done well. All except Anzalone have been state cross country champs and all except Handler have been cross country All-Americans. All are at Division 1 colleges — Anzalone is at Wisconsin, Goethals is at Washington and Handler and Osika at Michigan — and all are making big contributions.

Finn will join Osika and Handler at Michigan, having committed to the Wolverines last week. “I’m joining an awesome legacy of state champs and just awesome runners,” said Finn of an Oakland County contingent which includes Lindsey Hilton (Rochester Adams) and Alex Mathews (Birmingham Seaholm), among others.

Georgetown, Stanford and Michigan State were among the big-time institutions seeking Finn, whose academic acumen allowed her to practically choose any school. But the Wolverines won out. “Michigan is a great school and academics are very important to me,” said Finn, whose mom (Lori) and dad (Jeffrey) are both doctors. “I want to major in bio-medical engineering and you can’t beat Michigan with an engineering program.”

Academics aside, Finn’s entry into high school cross country came as a freshman in the 2009 Bloomfield/Brother Rice Invitational. Spectators were wondering who was that new face keeping up with Goethals and Osika deep into the race. It turns out it was Finn, who beat Osika but gave Goethals, the winner, a run for the title in that race. “She wasn’t intimidated,” West Bloomfield coach Lee Averill said at the time.

However, it was Finn’s last race of the year as leg injuries wiped out the rest of her season. The following year, she joined the swimming team, trained aerobically in the pool, avoided the pounding on surfaces, and just competed in meets. She placed fourth at the state meet behind Handler, who nipped Anzalone for the title.

Last year, with the hurts and pains behind her, she resumed regular workouts and had a productive season under a new coach, Nate Belill, who took over for Averill last season.

Coaching a national-caliber runner involves a delicate balance. “The challenge is making sure the training is enough and not to much,” said Belill, who also consults with other coaches concerning Finn. “It’s been a lot of fun coaching her.”

Last year, Finn’s season culminated at the Foot Locker nationals, where the top 40 high school individuals competed in San Diego. Finn took second in that race, ending a season where she only lost two races.

She suffered a rare loss last month at the Spartan Invitational, placing second behind Grand Rapids Christian’s Julia Bos, last year’s Division 2 state champion.

That result took her by surprise.

“It was really hard,” she said of the defeat. “I don’t like to lose at all. Whatever it is, I’m very competitive.”

Since then, she’s won three races, all by big margins, as she continues training for the championship races and the postseason. She’s excited about going to Michigan next year, but there’s the Oakland County meet and beyond as immediate objectives.

“I just have to get better and faster,” she said, “and I’m confident I will.”

And in the classroom, where the results have been equally satisfying, she’ll remain just as confident.

Finn’s Fastest 5Ks (Cross Country)

At Michigan International Speedway — 17:14

At Bloomer Park — 17:14

At Forest Akers Golf Course — 17:16

At OCC-Orchard Ridge campus — 17:22

At Oakland University — 17:34

At Kensington Metropark — 17:41

At Cass-Benton Park — 17:53

At Oxford Hills Golf Course — 18:01

At Hess Hathaway Park — 18:13

Last Updated: 10/5/2012 10:17:04 AM EST

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