Jared Shutko is inheriting a cupboard that’s pretty well stocked in his first year as head of the Yale boys cross country program.
The Bulldogs are bringing back six runners who competed at the 2021 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final, and a few others who would have had it not been for sickness or injury. Four of Yale’s returners have run under 17 minutes during their career, including senior Lukas Kriesch, who is among the top 15 returning runners statewide in LP Division 2.
All of that excites Shutko, who is looking to maintain and build upon the success his predecessor Greg Whitican had in his 11 years at Yale.
It also puts Shutko under a bit of pressure.
“I feel like it’s a ton of pressure,” said Shutko, who was an assistant for Whitican the past three seasons. “I actually talked to the captains about this, about the pressure. I told the guys at team camp, ‘Guys, I want the pressure. I’m the new guy taking over, and I’m glad you guys trust in me, but I want the pressure. If we don’t succeed, it’s not because of you guys. I have to do the right things to make you successful.’ I feel like there’s a lot more pressure with high expectations and a program that’s already established.”
In Whitican’s 11 years at the helm in Yale, the program took major steps forward. The Bulldogs advanced to the MHSAA Finals as a team seven times, winning two Regional titles – the only two in program history. They won the school’s first Blue Water Area Conference championship in more than 20 years, then won four more.
“He took something at the beginning of his journey as a coach and turned it into a program,” Kriesch said. “The word, a ‘Program.’ I think that’s one of his greatest accomplishments. We, as a team, couldn’t be more proud of him. The program owes it 100 percent to him. He was the beginning of all of our journeys. It was sad he decided to leave, but he left his mark the best way he could have, not only on our team, but the Blue Water Area. Coach Whitican was always encouraging every runner, even if they were not running for Yale.”
Whitican will remain a fixture in the area running scene, as he and his wife own Elite Feet in downtown Port Huron, a shoe store that specializes in footwear for runners. They also run Road Runner Timing, which provides the timing apparatus for many of the area’s road races.
He joined St. Clair coach Tom Brenner in creating the New Balance Mid-Season Spectacular, a race that started small in 2020, but has already grown to more than 40 teams, including some of the best in the state.
“I know Greg does a great job of getting all of the running community together,” Shutko said. “He enjoys it, he really does. He’s very passionate about cross country and all the road races he puts together.”
As involved as he is, though, Whitican said he’s tried to stay away from the Bulldogs this summer.
“For the past 11 years in June, we were getting together a couple times a week,” Whitican said. “The captains kind of led it, we’d start our summer running. As a coach, if you take it seriously, you’ve got a pretty short summer. I’ve kind of missed those mornings of meeting the guys here or there. But it’s been OK, I’ve adapted to it. I cannot be around the guys at all, just because I want them to bond with their new coach.”
That seems to be working, although that bond had already formed a bit before Whitican stepped away.
Shutko joined the Yale staff while his son Braxton – a senior last fall – was part of the team. His daughter Brooklyn is entering her junior season with the Bulldogs.
This past spring, he expanded his coaching and began working with the distance runners on Yale’s track team.
“That was a good building block,” Shutko said. “They felt comfortable with me, and are believing in what I’m trying to teach them.”
With relationships formed, Yale has been able to get to the business of running and improving on its 15th-place finish at the 2021 Final.
Kriesch, who was four spots from an all-state finish a year ago, will lead. He’ll be joined by juniors Acer Campbell, Blake Ferguson and Gio Pardo-Keegan, who have all run in the 16s. Sophomores John Zakrzewski and Ted Rutkofske also ran at the Finals a year ago, while junior Lucas Peltier and sophomores Kale Kovach and Jack Nicol all spent time within the top seven during the 2021 season but did not get a chance to run at the Finals.
“I think we are very strong,” Kriesch said. “I’m very proud of all of our team. We’ve worked extremely hard up to this point of the summertime. I’m excited to see where we’re at when we start racing. Those guys that are coming back this year, having that experience and the drive to say, ‘All right, now it’s time to go, and I’m healthy,’ that is great. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Kriesch and his teammates will be looking to take some of that pressure off their new coach, and start him off with some success.
Meanwhile, their old coach will be getting used to being a fan – but a very proud one.
“Looking at what they’re going to have this year, a lot of people were like, ‘How in the world can you walk away from it?’” Whitican said. “Well, I’m confident in who is coming in. I’m very proud to hand that over. Jared is going to do a great job. I’m not going to disappear from the meets. I’ll be there in the woods, hiding. A little surprise from Coach Whit.”
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) Yale’s Lukas Kriesch (1240) sprints down the stretch on the way to finishing 34th at last season’s LPD2 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Middle) Teammate Acer Campbell (1337) works to stay ahead of East Grand Rapids’ Elijah Robinson; they finished 49th and 52nd, respectively. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com).
BROOKLYN — On the same day Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein set a course record at Michigan International Speedway that has never been approached, Kurtis Marlowe of Richland Gull Lake had a performance that was overshadowed.
But Marlowe’s winning time of 15:02.5 in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in 2000 also stood the test of time.
Freeland junior TJ Hansen eclipsed the Division 2 record with his winning time of 14:52.8. Runner-up Solomon Kwartowitz of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood also nearly broke the previous record, finishing in 15:03.3.
Even though it was apparent from earlier races Saturday that perfect conditions made fast times possible, Hansen didn’t set out to break Marlowe’s record.
“No, my goal was to go out and win,” he said. “Play strategy from the front, let others do the work, then just push it. Whatever time I got, I was gonna get. I knew it was going to take a time like that to win it today.
“I usually run close to a (personal record) every year at this meet. It’s one of my favorite courses. It’s definitely unique here at the speedway, so I really like the course, I really like to run it.”
Hansen went through the mile mark tied for 11th in 4:54.3, but you could’ve thrown a blanket over the top 12 runners at that point.
It was a three-man race between Hansen, Kwartowitz and 2022 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea when they reached the two-mile mark in 9:46.
Hansen made sure there would be no drama coming down the stretch.
“I was just trying to stay calm, let them do the work, just sit back,” he said. “When I needed to go, I was gonna go. My goal was to stay relaxed.”
Kwartowitz had no complaints with his race.
“It felt really smooth,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t get a chance to race these guys a bunch this year. I did at Spartan (Invitational, in September). I was really hoping to end it with a victory.”
The boys Division 2 team championship was a toss-up between four teams for the second year in a row, with Ada Forest Hills Eastern coming out on top with 134 points. Pinckney was second with 156, East Grand Rapids third with 175 and Allendale fourth with 176.
Last year, 32 points separated the top four teams.
Junior Henry Dixon led Forest Hills Eastern, placing sixth in 15:16.0. Senior Liam Hinman was 29th, senior Brendan Hoving was 30th, senior Cooper Jacobsen was 38th and junior Tyler Endres was 82nd.
It was the first MHSAA championship for Forest Hills Eastern, which had a program-best finish of fourth in 2007.
PHOTOS (Top) Freeland's TJ Hansen approaches the finish of his record run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)