By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
The Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet began in 1954, within days of Roger Bannister busting through the 4-minute mile barrier. So breaking a meet record is a big deal.
That perspective is necessary to truly appreciate what Muskegon Reeths-Puffer junior distance runner Maryssa Depies accomplished Friday at the 63rd annual meet at Holton High School.
Depies broke not one, not two, not three, but four meet records that evening – and since individuals are limited to competing in four events, it’s a performance which will never be surpassed. Depies powered the Rockets’ girls team to its 11th city championship over the past 12 years.
“I guess it proved to me what I can do when I’m mentally prepared,” said Depies, who ran the anchor leg of R-P’s winning 3,200-meter relay, then won three straight individual events – the 1,600, 800 and 3,200.
“It was a perfect night, perfect weather. The records just kind of built on each other – once I got one, I figured I should go after another one.”
Reeths-Puffer girls track coach Gary Niklasch knew his team was a safe bet to win the meet (R-P ended up 88 points ahead of second-place Whitehall), so he felt it was a good time to see how his standout junior could handle doing the four longest events in a single meet.
“It was first time we really turned her loose in all four events,” Niklasch said.
Her big day started by anchoring the Rockets’ wide victory in the 3,200 relay, where she joined with teammates Lilah Parker, Jayme Brantsen and Kendra Irvine to win in 9:36.23, breaking an 18-year-old record by a whopping 18 seconds.
The relay wins are the most special for Depies, because they are part of a team effort with her friends and the culmination of all the hard work they put in with Reeths-Puffer distance coach Dee Richardson, who is also the school’s cross country coach.
“He is like a second dad to me,” said Depies, the daughter of Grant and Laree Depies. “He plants the seed in all of us, letting us know all of the things we can accomplish. Then it’s up to us to go out and do it.”
Her first individual race that day was the 1,600, which she has never considered her best distance. But after posting one of the state’s best times this season (5:03.06), Depies and her coaches are starting to wonder whether the mile might be her ideal race for the upcoming Regional and MHSAA Finals meets.
Next came the 800 meters, where her time of 2:19.51 broke the oldest girls city meet record, the yard-converted time of 2:20.8 recorded by Amy Laswell of Mona Shores in 1977.
By the time the meet reached the 3,200-meter run, the second-to-last event, any drama surrounding the battle for the team title was long gone and the crowd was aware that individual history was about to be made.
Depies appreciated the cheers from spectators from all of the area schools, and really appreciated that the announcer knew how to say her last name correctly (pronounced Depp-pis).
Despite already winning three long events, and having a quick turnaround after the 800 meters, Depies dug deep and fed off the crowd to break the meet record she had set one year ago by more than 10 seconds, winning in 11:04.72.
“Maryssa only does things one way and that’s all-in,” said Niklasch. “She has made steady improvement since her freshman year. She has built up her strength, and that is why she was able to break all four records.”
Bigger challenges await the 17-year-old, starting Thursday with the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black meet at Reeths-Puffer. The featured race will be the 1,600, where Depies is expected to race her friend Madison Goen of Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills in a matchup of two of the state’s top milers.
Area track fans do not have to go far to watch Depies compete in any of her remaining big meets. Her Division 1 Regional is May 20 at Grand Haven, the Meijer West Michigan Invitational is May 25 at Reeths-Puffer and the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals are June 4 at Hudsonville.
Depies and her coaches are eager to see how she will match up against the top runners from around the state.
Depies is something of a late bloomer on the state distance-running scene. She first started running near the end of elementary school in the “Girls on the Run” program, and says it wasn’t until her sophomore year of cross country, when she first dipped under 19 minutes, that “a light bulb kind of switched on” and she realized she could be really good.
Niklasch hopes her record-setting performance at the city meet is another defining moment for Depies, and will propel her to new heights at the regional and state level.
Depies said she is just enjoying having fun and having success doing something she loves.
“Everyone has their escape in life, and for me, it’s running,” she said. “When I’m sitting in school all day, I’m like a big wad of energy just waiting to be released.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Reeths-Puffer junior Maryssa Depies competes at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet on Friday, May 6, at Holton High School. Depies won four events and set city meet records in all four - 800 meters, 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and anchoring the winning 3,200-meter relay. (Middle) Depies (third from left) poses with teammates after winning four events. The Reeths-Puffer girls won the city title for the 11th time in the past 12 years. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)