Clare Boys Hang On for 1st title since 2000
June 2, 2018
By Jeff Bleiler
Special for Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – For the second straight year, the Lower Peninsula Division 3 boys track & field championship came down to the final race at Comstock Park.
Chesaning was the benefactor last season. On Saturday, it was Clare’s time.
The Pioneers finished third in the 1,600-meter relay, and although Berrien Springs won the event to finish with 42 points, Clare came away with the big team trophy with 44 points. Kent City finished third with 32 points.
Clare’s championship was its first in boys track since 2000, and coach Adam Burhans said he had a handle on the standings throughout most of the day.
“We came in expecting to fight a battle all day with Berrien Springs, Caro, Kent City, and that’s pretty much what happened,” he said. “Where one team would falter, one team would pick up points. I told the team that in this type of scoring, if you get in the realm of 40 points, you’ve got a shot.”
Berrien Springs likely found the outcome mildly shocking as Clare was nowhere in the top four with just three events left. The standings at the point did not account for the points that hadn’t been tallied in the discus, where Clare’s Noah Nivison won with a throw of 156 feet, 7 inches, and teammate Zac Stickler placed sixth. Stickler was also third in the shot put, which were 16 big points in the grand scheme.
But Burhans really has senior Xavier Martin to thank. Martin anchored two of Clare’s three all-state relays – and was the third leg of the other – and finished second in the 200 in 22.54 to Kent City’s Giovanni Weeks (22.36).
Clare was second in the 800 relay in 1:29.64 with junior Jake Hawley, sophomore Colt Smedley and Brenden Sersaw joining Martin; third in the 400 relay in 43.91 with the same group except Sersaw anchored ahead of Martin; and third in the all-important 1,600 relay with Sersaw, Smedley, senior Justin Tickle and Martin in the lineup.
Martin said the team watched Berrien Springs put up a 3:23.42 time in the heat before the Pioneers’ preliminary and knew it had a tough battle.
“It was a lot of pressure,” he said. “We watched them run and were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a really good time.’”
Needing a finish no worse than fourth to claim the Finals championship, the Pioneers responded in the last boys event of the day.
“It’s a situation kids dream of, to make a last-second shot to win, but it’s not what a coach dreams of,” Burhans said, chuckling.
Elsewhere, Jackson Blanchard had some big shoes to fill at Houghton Lake in terms of the hurdle events. He’s wearing them quite well.
Blanchard, a senior, successfully repeated with championships in the 110 and 300 hurdles, claiming the 110 title in a meet record 14.23 seconds. That eclipsed the time of 14.3 set by Derrick Cook of Muskegon Oakridge in 2003.
Blanchard won the 300 hurdles in 37.79 seconds, beating his nearest opponent (Kalob Bellows of Lake City) by nearly two seconds.
But perhaps more satisfying to Blanchard was that he took down the school records set by his father and hurdling mentor, Thomas Blanchard.
“It is amazing (to win the state titles again),” Blanchard said. “I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Getting the 110 record was really cool, too; an amazing feeling. It’s a shocked, proud feeling. (After I won last year), I told my dad it was my goal to get first again, and that’s what I did.”
The younger Blanchard, who took up the hurdles even semi-seriously only as a sophomore, beat his father’s school record in the 300 that season. He topped the 110 several times this season, punctuated by Saturday’s time. Blanchard’s main focus was golf during the spring sports season, so he rarely practiced for track. As a sophomore, he competed in only the minimum number of meets he needed to qualify for Regionals.
“Imagine what I could do if I practiced,” said Blanchard, who next heads to Central Michigan University to run the 110 and 400 hurdles for the Chippewas.
In the field events, Jacob Ager of Boyne City sat seventh going into the final round of the shot put. On his last attempt, he launched a bomb 59 feet, 11 inches to comfortably win the championship. Jack Boyle of Roscommon was second at 58-1½.
The finish surprised even Ager.
“My first three or four attempts were not that good, but then my coach told me to explode back and focus on the snap at the end, and that’s what I did,” said Ager, whose best put of the day before the winner was 56-1. “It’s a good feeling (to win). I was looking at the rankings and thinking about it. It’s kind of surreal.”
Ager, who also finished 10th in the discus, is heading to Northern Michigan in the fall and will play football.
In the pole vault, Manton senior Zach Flint won after being the only athlete to clear 13 feet, 6 inches. Flint, who entered the meet with a vault of 13-0, failed in his quest to conquer 14 feet but already had first place in his pocket.
“It feels good to finally get a medal at states,” said the senior, who was 14th in Division 4 last season. “I knew I was better than that.”
Flint, who cleared 14-3 on Monday in winning the Cadillac News meet, will vault for Aquinas College in the fall.
Saugatuck junior Corey Gorgas was a double winner on the day, claiming the 1,600 in 4:15.74 and later adding the 3,200 in 9:17.32.
Caro won the 3,200 relay in 8:05.71 with juniors Yami Albrecht, Caleb Cotton, Bryden Miller and Aaron Hulburt.
Junior Caleb Schuette of Grandville Calvin Christian won the 100 in 11.10 seconds, and Hart senior Logan Wells won the 400 in 48.89 seconds. Leslie senior Devin Gibbs won the 800 in 1:55.88.
Sam Spaulding, a junior at Berrien Springs, won the high jump with a 6-7, and Quincy senior Bryce Ruhl won the long jump with a 21-¾.
VIDEO: Blanchard Doubles in D3 Hurdles
PHOTOS: (Top) Clare scored big in relays on the way to its first Finals title since 2000. (Middle) Houghton Lake's Jackson Blanchard pulls away from the field during one of his hurdles victories Saturday. (Photos by Annette Tipton. Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
March 14, 2023
KALAMAZOO — Harrison Wheeler has not been a pole vaulter for very long – two weeks to be exact – but he already has some lofty goals.
The sophomore is aiming for the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep record board and, if he makes it, he will be in good company.
Coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder, a 2001 Hackett graduate, still holds the girls record of 10 feet, 2½ inches.
“I’m hoping to have my name next to hers (on the record board),” Wheeler said.
The sophomore has a few feet to go before surpassing current record holder Brian Kucinich, who vaulted 12 feet, 6 inches in 1992.
Wheeler’s unofficial best is 9 feet; officially it is 8 feet, 6 inches.
“That is going to be a very big jump in my pole vaulting career,” he said.
Wheeler is one of 42 athletes on the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion boys team, which includes 12 seniors and 13 juniors. Besides Wheeler, the team has six sophomores and 10 freshmen.
One of the returners is senior Liam Mann, who helped lead the Irish to the Finals title last year.
Mann, Andrew Finley, Evan Wurtz and Isaac Backman won the 800-meter relay with a time of 1:31.55 last season, setting a school record as well.
While he lost his relay mates, Mann said there are good runners to replace them.
“(Senior) Brice Brown is coming out to do track, and I’ve been working with him this winter,” Mann said. “Jude Coffman, who is a sophomore, is coming out this year. I think he’s going to be a good addition to our 4-by-1.
“(Junior) Gabe Oeurn, last year he was running solid times, but this year he’s been putting in the work and I think he’ll be able to break that 12-second barrier.”
Mann, who will attend Ashland (Ohio) University on a track scholarship in the fall, also added gold in the 200-meter dash (22.82) last season.
“Last year, I played basketball and was able to lift to keep in shape,” he said. “This year, I wanted to focus all my time on track, so I’ve been doing indoor track, practicing once a week and going to meets on weekends.”
He continued to put his skills on display as a running back during football season with Kalamazoo United, ending the fall with 1,413 rushing yards on 177 carries and 267 receiving yards on 10 catches.
Opportunities & possibilities
The biggest group of competitors impacted by graduation are the sprinters, coach Charissa Dean said.
“Hackett’s been really big on sprinting talent in general,” she said. “But track has 17 events, and only two of them are open sprint events and two are relays.
“The other 13 are wide open for possibilities, and there’s a lot of younger talent that’s coming back this year. While they didn’t go to the state meet, they are the next generation of athletes coming up.”
Among that next generation are freshmen Marek Butkiewicz and Sean Siems, who “are incredibly talented athletes,” Dean said.
“(Junior) Gavin Sehy figured out how to do the distance thing this year in cross country.”
Sehy said he wanted to run track, but wasn’t sure where he fit.
“I thought I was mid-distance when I was younger, but my dad forced me to do cross country my sixth-grade year and it turned out I was decent at it so I kept doing (long distance) in track,” he said.
“It’s kind of brutal at times to train for long distance, mentally and physically, because you have to go on long runs, but I have fun with it. At the cross country state finals, I hit an 11 flat split at the two-mile, which beat my 3,200 best from last season, so we have yet to see my best times.”
Butkiewicz and Sehy have been running consistently six days a week all winter to prepare for their first meet, March 22.
“I’ve never done track,” the freshman said. “I know I can perform well. I know my times compared to other people.”
A sophomore this year, Alex Dumont had a 400-meter time that “came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “Toward the end of the season we recruited him to do the 4x8, so an 800-meter runner. That kid came through.
‘We actually took him to the state meet in the 4x8. He did the lead leg, and I clocked him at a 2:07. He was sprinting. It was an amazing leg in that relay.”
It was Germinder who converted Wheeler to the pole vault last year.
“Harrison’s a strong athlete, and just the way his mind works in that he asks questions and he wants to learn and he wants to improve,” she said.
“He wants to work hard, and he wants to put in the time. That’s something you need for that, along with the athletic component.”
Wheeler, who said he was shocked at being successful right away, competed for two weeks last season before a foot injury suffered on a vault sidelined him.
“It took her a whole season to finally convince me to do it,” he said. “I grabbed a pole one day and ended up being really good at it. Ever since, I’ve had a love of it.
“The feeling I have once I get in the air is almost like I’m just floating. When you get really good vaults and you get that nice height and good form, you get what we call a ‘stall.’ You just feel like you’re sitting up in the air for a second. It’s gotta be the coolest thing ever.”
Germinder has the background to help the Irish vaulters.
While at Hackett, she competed in the AAU National Championships and said she learned from the best, Oran Mitchell, a noted pole vaulting coach.
Her own coaching style revolves around the safety of the athletes.
“You can teach a lot of people to grab hold of a pole and pop yourself over,” she said. “But I want to make sure my athletes are safe. That’s really, really important to me, and that’s something that was instilled in me.
“When you’re jumping 6 to 16 feet, that’s a long way to fall. Safety is very important to me. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then I’m not the coach for you.”
Germinder said one of the foundations on which the team is built is leadership, which was instilled in the younger athletes by last year’s seniors.
“That’s one of the things our program is built on,” she said. “If you’re there because you want to get ready for the next sports season, we’ll coach you for that.
“If you want to be a state champion, we’ll coach you for that. That’s the really unique thing about track. There’s something for everyone, whatever that might be.”
As for the girls team, numbers are steadily climbing.
Five years ago, the team had just two girls. This year, 25 girls are on the team.
No matter girls or boys, track or field events, one thing is common for all the athletes.
“We pray before every meet, we put God first, and all those pieces have fallen into place for us.” Germinder said.
“I really believe that foundation is what is going to be our success this year. It’s there, it’s just a different team.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Hackett's Harrison Wheeler points to the pole vaulting record he hopes to break this season, while pole vaulting coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder points to the record she still holds at the school. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. (Below) The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. (Top photo and head shots by Pam Shebest; team photo courtesy of Hackett track & field.)