Negaunee junior - Cross Country
Yesney led the Miners to their second straight MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 championship Saturday, improving from his personal runner-up finish in 2015 to also earn the individual title – in an MHSAA U.P. Finals 5K record time of 15:49.8. Yesney broke the record, set by last season's champion Lance Rambo of Marquette, by 21.2 seconds to earn the Michigan National Guard "Performance of the Week."
His goal for the weekend was to break 16 minutes, and the 15:49 was a personal career record after he ran consistently in the 16-minute range during the rest of his undefeated season. Saturday's time also was 42 seconds faster than what he ran to finish second in 2015. The Miners have won every event where he's run over the last two seasons. Yesney also runs track & field during the spring – he finished second to Rambo in the 1,600 at last season's U.P. Division 1 Finals, while also taking fifth in the 3,200 and running on the third-place 3,200 relay – and was instrumental in the formation of the school's club soccer program.
Yesney's next goals for cross country include running in the annual Foot Locker Midwest meet for the second year in a row, and next fall as a senior he hopes to compete in some downstate events. An honor student, Yesney was part of the Miners' academic all-state team in 2015 that achieved a 3.95 grade-point average. He still has a year to settle on the details, including if he'll seek to run collegiately, but Yesney does know that he'd like a career that allows him to travel.
Coach Lisa Bigalk said: “Colton is a very hard-working, dedicated runner. He is a wonderful leader. He really cares about his team and fellow teammates. Our boys team was led by Colton last year when they had an undefeated season and won the Division 1 U.P. Finals state championship; this team was very determined to defend their Finals championship this year. They did that along with winning the team title of every race that Colton ran in. … Colton is a very focused and determined student-athlete. Colton is an honor student who is very willing to learn and easy to coach. I am very proud of Colton, and I look forward to his future successes.”
Performance Point: “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it recently,” Yesney said of Saturday. “I do remember just feeling good during the race, running as hard as I could and giving it all I can. My teammates, they’re really supportive, and I really wanted to win them a state title, help out with that. I was going to go out and run the race, and if another runner had a good day, then good for him. I can’t really control what everybody else runs, but it just turned out I had a big lead and broke a record.”
Best in U.P. history: “I kinda get embarrassed (when people say that) and feel like I don’t really deserve it because I run for my teammates and not myself. I’m not looking for attention or anything like that. I’m not looking for the self-glory. I can’t deny it … but to me, I don’t deserve it.”
It’s about team: “We do everything together; we practice together, warm up together, socialize outside of school together. All of that bonding makes us more of a family. Since I’ve been part of the program it’s been like that because we’ve had really good leaders on the team. I had a good friend who just graduated (Grant Johnson) who we all looked up to, and he held the team together, knew what to do. I kinda followed him. This year I’m a junior, and I wasn’t even nominated for captain or anything, but I guess people look up to me. My coach said I’m a good role model, and I try to bring people together. … (My teammates) make me happy, and I really appreciate being around them. They deserve to have this title, because they help me out, and I wanted to help them out. It’s something I learned over time; when I was younger I was focused more on myself, but I just developed into a person who puts teammates first now.”
Competitive, with perspective: "It depends on the situation; say I ran and broke 16 and lost. I'd be happy, but there's nothing I can really do about (not winning). My teammates, I think about my family, the people I care about ... I run for them. I don't really get satisfaction from running just for myself. That's just how I am."
See the world: “I’ve been to 24 states and one Canadian province, and when we go on those trips it’s fun to see different people, a different culture and how people live their lives in other places. … I literally want to see everything. I want to see every country, do everything there is to do.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2016-17 honorees:
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis – Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee's Colton Yesney leads the pack during Saturday's Division 1 Final near Gladstone. (Middle) Yesney approaches the finish line in meet record time. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
The goal written on Matt Kaczor’s Post-It Note was sub-15 minutes, 15 seconds. That’s what the Freeland cross country coach was hoping for from star runner TJ Hansen during his junior season.
Kaczor tore it up after seeing Hansen run a single race this fall.
“Knowing what he did over the summer and where he was at, seeing what his 1,600 (meter) and his mile got down to, I had a feeling he could get under 15:30 quickly,” Kaczor said. “After the first race, I looked at my assistant and was like, ‘I’ve gotta rip up that Post-It Note. I don’t think our goal is on the level of where he’s at right now.’ At first, it was break 15:15. Once I saw him race at the Under the Lights (on Aug. 18 at St. Johns), I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s going sub 15.’”
Hansen ran 15:39.6 in that first race, and on Sept. 7, in Shepherd, he ran 15:13.9 to meet the goal written on the now-shredded Post-It Note.
This past Saturday, he ran 15:03.7 at the Cadillac Veterans Serving Veterans Invitational. It’s the fastest time recorded in Michigan this year, and a signal that Kaczor might be filling out a new Post-It Note before the season is out.
“The sub-15 barrier, that’s been something on my mind for a while,” Hansen said. “Now that I’m edging closer and closer to that, it’s been exciting. With how heavy my training has been, I wouldn’t expect (to have run this fast this early). Being able to run the times I am really paints the picture for what’s ahead.”
Hansen came into the season already regarded as one of the elite distance runners in the state. He won the 3,200 meters at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Track & Field Finals this past spring. He’s also finished all-state (12th and fifth, respectively) the past two seasons at the LPD2 Cross Country Finals.
His current trajectory, however, would put his name near some of the state’s all-time greats. But that’s not something Hansen is focusing on.
“I really don’t like to compare myself to others,” he said. “I don’t focus on that. I try to be the best TJ Hansen that I can be. The best version of myself.”
Focusing on himself is almost necessary for Hansen, as he’s spending a lot of time during his races running by himself.
At each of the big events Freeland has run in this season, Hansen has finished at least 20 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor. That includes all divisions of the Duane Raffin Festival of Races in Holly.
In Cadillac, where Hansen ran his current best time, he was a full minute ahead of the rest of the field.
“He’s just a special athlete,” Kaczor said. “I can’t see Freeland having someone like this in a while. He’s a generational talent. What’s crazy is, I had the school record when he was a freshman. He and Braden (Honsinger) broke it last year. But TJ has now dropped that school record (set in 1998) by almost a minute.”
Hansen’s achievements have already put him on a path to run at the next level, which is something of a family tradition.
His older sisters Peyton and Kiera are track & field athletes at Wayne State and Eastern Michigan, respectively. Their parents, Tim and Pam, were track & field stars at Central Michigan.
TJ has drawn the attention of coaches around the country, including from Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Colorado.
Having family members who know the process is a help for Hansen, and he said they’ve all been good about allowing him to choose his own path, whatever that may be.
“He’s from a good family that knows how to work and knows how to get things done,” Kaczor said. “He knows that if he puts in the work, he’s going to be at a good spot.”
While Hansen admits it can be a bit overwhelming, he’s using it as motivation to run faster and continue to put his name out there.
Also serving as motivation is 2022 Division 2 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea. Alford is among the elite group of runners in Michigan who have broken the 15-minute mark, doing it twice a year ago.
He currently has the state’s second-best time behind Hansen’s this year, running 15:09.1 at the MSU Invitational on Sept. 15.
“Whenever I see him drop a time, my main goal is to run faster,” Hansen said. “Whenever I see him run a good time, that motivates me to work hard.”
The two won’t see each other until the MHSAA Finals on Nov. 4 at Michigan International Speedway. It’s an opportunity Hansen is excited for, as it’s a chance to race and be pushed toward the lofty goals he’s set for himself. Kaczor is excited about it, too, even if it might mean having to replenish his supply of Post-Its.
“We don’t talk about winning the state title; we talk about making sure that we have great races on those days,” Kaczor said. “We can’t control how somebody else runs. It’s a matter of can we, if the weather is right and the course is in good condition, can we be one of the few guys that has run in the 14s on that course? That’s the goal. Put yourself in some great categories with those upper echelons and the greats of all-time.”
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) Freeland's TJ Hansen leads a pack during last season's LPD2 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Middle) Hansen enjoys a moment of exhilaration after winning the 3,200 this spring at the LPD2 Finals at Ada Forest Hills Eastern. (Top photo by Carter Sherline/Run Michigan; middle photo by Dave McCauley/Run Michigan.)