After teaming up to win a softball District title and an all-state track medal over a two-day stretch, Coleman juniors Madison Miller, Nevaeh Chaffee and Ava Gross had earned some time to relax.
“I was definitely relieved,” Chaffee said. “It felt good to be leaving the track meet with a medal, regardless of what place it was. But I definitely came home and took a fat nap.”
The trio was instrumental in leading the Comets to a Division 4 District softball title Friday, as they knocked off Farwell and Beal City.
A day later, they joined senior teammate Amber Nehrig to take fifth in the 400-meter relay at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Track & Field Finals in Hudsonville.
‘It was fun just to be able to do both,” Gross said. “We worked so hard to play in both.”
All that hard work was almost for naught, and not because of anything any of the athletes had done. It took a lot of work behind the scenes from participating athletic departments and school districts to move the District softball tournament. And that wasn’t confirmed until eight days before it was played.
The tournament was originally scheduled for Saturday, and Coleman softball coach Chad Kopf had alerted his athletic director early that he would like it to be moved to avoid a conflict with the track Finals.
However, host Beal City had to work through multiple issues to make it work. Friday was the final day of exam prep for Beal City students, so administrators did not want to have them miss any of the school day. It was also field day for the elementary school, which was going to make parking at the school even more chaotic. On top of that, Beal City softball coach Jason Johnston is the elementary principal, meaning he would have to be present at the field day.
Athletic directors and superintendents were all involved to make it work, and eventually, a compromise was found. Coleman had offered to bus in all its fans to cut down on parking, and to swap the order of games, so Beal City and Marion – which also had a Finals-bound track athlete – could play the later game.
It all added up to Miller, Chaffee and Gross – Coleman’s 1, 2 and 3 hitters, as well as its pitcher, shortstop and centerfielder – not having to choose between major events.
“It makes you feel good,” Kopf said. “Coming off of COVID a couple years ago, you’re still in that mindset of, ‘Is everything that’s done right for the kids?’ (The collaborative effort to move the District) made it feel like we’re in it for the right reasons. Knowing that they made these exceptions, almost solely for us, that’s a lot of selflessness on the part of Beal City. It was great sportsmanship.”
The effort that went into moving the District wasn’t lost on the athletes, either.
“I was happy to know that people were actually trying to get us to do both, because obviously it’s an amazing experience,” Gross said. “Knowing they were putting in the work, that was really nice and thoughtful of them.”
There was, unfortunately, one more bump in the road – getting Gross and Chaffee healthy enough to compete.
Right before the decision to move the District was made, and just 10 days before it was contested, Chaffee took a thrown ball off the kneecap. A day later, Gross injured her ankle and foot long jumping. Neither was cleared until the day before the District tournament.
“We’ve been nursing injuries, nursing arms for about the last month,” said Kopf, who has just 11 players on his roster. “Once we knew we were out of the conference race, we had to save some bodies and be smart with how we practiced. Coming into Thursday, we were still waiting to hear if Nevaeh and Ava were going to be able to play. Both got cleared Thursday, and when (we) got on the bus Friday, that was probably the most focused group I’ve seen.”
Miller pitched a pair of complete games for the Comets in the District, getting a shutout against Farwell and striking out a total of 17 batters over the two games. She also had five hits. Gross had four hits on the day.
“It was very, very special,” Miller said. “Going into it, I wasn’t able to pitch more than one game. My arm had kind of let go, and I didn’t have anything left. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get us to where we needed to be. In the past couple years, I’ve noticed I throw a lot better in the heat, and we hadn’t really had many hot-weather games.”
The next day, the trio was on the track in Hudsonville. In addition to their relay, Miller competed in the long jump and the pole vault, while Chafee ran the 100 meters. She had qualified for the 200, but scratched to save herself for the relay.
They teamed with Nehrig to run a season-best time of 52.62 seconds in the second-to-last heat. They had to watch the final heat to see if they’d place.
“That heat was insane,” Miller said. “It was very insane. They had live timing and live results, so as soon as that heat was done we knew. It was almost immediate.”
Now, the girls can focus solely on softball as the Comets prepare for a Regional Semifinal on Saturday against Alcona at Carson City-Crystal.
But they hope that this weekend’s experience wasn’t once-in-a-lifetime, and they can repeat it a year from now. Without all the nervous moments beforehand, of course.
“I look forward to it, actually,” Chaffee said.
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) From left, Coleman’s Nevaeh Chaffee, Madison Miller and Ava Gross show their team’s District softball trophy won Friday at Beal City. (Middle) From left, Chaffee, Gross, Amber Nehrig and Miller take a relay photo together Saturday at the LP Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville’s Baldwin Middle School. (Photos courtesy of the Coleman athletic department.)