Corunna Star Recovers to Shine Again

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 3, 2017

ZEELAND – Noah Jacobs of Corunna is another in a long line of tremendous distance runners to come out of this state.

Among the names he’s chased include Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford and Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc.

Jacobs, a senior headed for University of Wisconsin, was the two-time defending Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals champion in the 3,200-meter run and last year he added the New Balance two-mile national championship.

This past fall Jacobs won the Division 2 cross country championship with a time of 15:28.00.

Unbeknownst to him, this year would be different. Challenges always present themselves, but Jacobs was shaken by what he had to face as he began to prepare for the 2017 track & field season.

In February, Jacobs was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left tibia. A stress fracture is more severe. Fortunately for Jacobs, the injury stopped just short of a fracture.

Still, for five weeks he had to shelve his training and deal with the mental anguish of knowing it would be a long, painstaking road back to the MHSAA Finals, if indeed he could return.

A few weeks ago, Jacobs noticed his times were getting back to where they were a year ago. On Saturday, he fought off fierce competition and defended his LP Division 2 Finals titles in the 3,200 (9:11.63) and added a first-place finish in the 1,600 run with a time of 4:14.03 at Zeeland East to complete was has been a courageous comeback.

“Last season I was blessed with great health,” Jacobs said. “This year I was battling. I was losing races, to some good runners. I didn’t have that same kick. I had to break that mental barrier.

“(In February) I was a mental wreck. My teammates and my family kept me going.

“It was around Regional time, in early May, I was running in two or three quality meets. I kind of got my routine back. I got to use the race situations I used to use. The last two weeks have really been good. (My leg) is not perfect. People asked me how it is, and I have one word for them – ready. I’m ready.”

Jacobs had to fend off a couple runners coming into the second-to-last turn to win the 1,600.

“I took the lead with about 250 meters left,” he said. “I knew they wanted it. It could have been a tenth of a second, it could have been five seconds. I don’t know.”

His win in the 3,200 held more drama. He led with 600 meters to go before Shuaib Aljabaly of Coldwater put forth a burst of speed to pass Jacobs by two meters.

“I knew that I had to draft (early in the race),” Jacobs said. “I’ve raced (Aljabaly) before. I didn’t worry about him running. I just had to attack the last half. I had to push and push and push.

“I had a couple of coaches with 100 meters to go screaming at me. When he took the lead, I had to fight, fight. It’s happened before.”

Jacobs overtook Aljabaly with 50 meters left and won by 21 hundredths of a second.

Home cooking

One thing that can top winning an MHSAA Finals title is winning one at home.

Zeeland East won its first boys track & field team title with a score of 71 points. Coldwater placed second with 42.

East had clinched its 1,600 relay team took first as well.

Coach Ralph Neal, in his seventh season, said everything went right for his team.

“It was an amazing day,” he said. “I can look back at two years ago and what we were trying to build. I saw enough talent. I saw the field events. I saw the relays. We had all these pieces that came together. Nothing went wrong today. It’s what a coach dreams about.

“It is special winning it at home. (Athletic director) Tim Ritsema pulls his hair out to get this (event) going.”

Junior Brenden Knoll placed second in both the discus (176 feet, 7 inches) and shot put (55 feet) to earn his team 16 points. He said the formula to winning was basic.

“We put in the work, every day,” he said. “I just had my mind right. I put everything else aside. It feels real good. These are the reasons you work so hard.”

Getting serious pays off

John Adams III of Ferndale never qualified for the MHSAA Finals until this year. Last year he started running track for the first time, to stay in shape for football. That reasoning paid off as Adams, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound slot back and defensive back, will attend Olivet College in the fall with every intention of competing for a starting spot on the football team.

Fearless, Adams competed in the 100 dash, and he certainly wasn’t one of the favorites. That didn’t bother him. With a time of 10.94, Adams placed first in the 100.

“I won because I worked the hardest,” he said. “I didn’t take track seriously until this year. When I got beat in the (Oakland Activities Association) meet (May 11), that’s when it hit me. I finished third. It was hand-held time, and it was really close. I’m not sure anyone knew who won. I didn’t want that to happen again.”

Special days

Sunday is Noah Caudry’s 18th birthday. It’s likely he’ll remember the day before his 18th birthday better in the years to come.

Caudry of Lake Odessa Lakewood won the 110 and 300 hurdles, and helped his team place fifth in the 400 relay even though it didn’t compete in the fast heat.

His time in the 110 (14.05) was a personal best. He’s a three-time champion in that event.

“This is my specialty,” he said of the 110. “I was hoping for (the three consecutive titles). I was hoping to get in the 13s, but I’ll take a PR.”

Caudry is a remarkable person. He graduated with a 3.94 grade-point average and plans on entering optometry school after earning a degree in biology.

New event, new success

Junior Cameron Oleen was a half-miler since he began running track at Fruitport two years ago.

This season, it was suggested Oleen run the 400 dash. He’d never run it before but thought he’d give it a shot.

“I really like it,” he said. “It’s the most difficult race. I can pace myself in the 800. In the 400 you have to run as fast as you can all the way through it. You could pace yourself in the first 300 meters and then die in the last 100. You might as well run as fast as you can the first 300.”

It would be difficult to argue that point with Oleen. He won the 400 with a time of 49.21 seconds.

“It’s conditioning,” he said. “The 800 helps me train for the 400.”

Oleen also competes in cross country and basketball. He added that running cross country helps him maintain the proper conditioning for the other two sports.

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PHOTO: Corunna's Noah Jacobs, far right, stays a step ahead of Coldwater's Shuaib Aljabaly during Saturday's 3,200 at Zeeland. (Photo by Janina Pollatz/

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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.

Southwest CorridorThe 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.

Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. “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.”

Seeing potential

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.”

The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. 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 ShebestPam 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 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.)