East Kentwood Adds Perfection to Streak
June 1, 2019
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
KENTWOOD – A hard pounding rain began to fall shortly after the East Kentwood boys track & field team reached the podium.
It was only fitting, as the Falcons reigned once again.
East Kentwood completed a three-peat Saturday at home in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals.
The Falcons scored 63.5 points in winning the Finals for the eighth time in the last 11 years. They also won three consecutive championships from 2009-11.
Ann Arbor Pioneer placed runner-up with 43 points.
“An amazing group of kids that just fought and fought and fought all day,” East Kentwood coach Dave Emeott said.
The Falcons did so despite winning only three events. East Kentwood claimed top honors in the 800 and 1,600 relays, while Stephan Bracey won the long jump (24-1.25).
“We only had three firsts today, and everything else was a battle and they did it,” Emeott said. “They stepped up in every opportunity they had, and they hung together. They trusted each other as teammates and came out on top at the end of the day. I’m just so proud of this team.”
Junior Michael Osteno helped the winning 1,600 relay team as he joined Elijah Ealy, Junior Hie and Jeremiah Applewhite to clock a 3:18.54.
“It’s something you dream about, running on this track and winning another state championship,” Osteno said. “Going back-to-back-to-back was the goal today and we wanted to finish, execute and give an elite mindset to get that third one.
“We came out and did what we’ve been doing all season, and when it came time to step up like we knew other teams were going to do, that’s what we did.”
The victory also culminated a perfect season. The Falcons went undefeated in duals, in the conference championship and also won their Regional.
“At the beginning of the season the seniors talked about what we wanted to accomplish, and they talked about a perfect season,” Emeott said. “That hadn’t happened in the last couple years. They wanted to be perfect, and that’s hard to do, especially in the O-K Red, but they stepped up and did it.
“We have a lot of young athletes, and some of them sacrificed for the team. They did four or three events. The other day I said that I didn’t know why I was so stressed because I have nothing to be stressed about, because they are so nice and so great.”
Ann Arbor Pioneer finished second for the second straight year and was led by senior standout Nick Foster, who capped an illustrious prep career with wins in the 1,600 (4:12.32) and 3,200 (9:08.55).
“This is the last time wearing a Pioneer uniform, and it’s been a crazy last four years,” Foster said. “I just wanted to go out with a bang, and our team got second. I’m going to miss all these guys, and it’s pretty awesome to go out like this.”
Foster competed in four events, and actually got a little rest because of delays due to inclement weather.
“I knew it was going to be a similar challenge, and I knew I was stronger coming in,” Foster said. “This year there was more of a goal of winning all the events and trying to place in the 1,600 relay.
“There was a lot of pressure coming back, but I knew I was strong enough to do all these events and I tried to take one race at a time. Mother Nature helped with the delays.”
Foster’s final race was the 3,200, which he won by a little more than two seconds ahead of Alpena’s Aden Smith.
“My third one, that was the toughest,” Foster said. “I knew I had to stay close, and I had confidence in my finish.”
Lansing Waverly’s Keshaun Harris repeated in the 300 hurdles (37.75) and also won the 110 hurdles (13.98) after placing runner-up last season.
Rockford’s Noah Stallworth also took home a pair of titles in the 100 (10.76) and 200 (21.64).
The following also collected individual championships: Grand Blanc’s Ethan Vargo (high jump), Brownstown Woodhaven’s Clarence Corbett (shot put), Alpena’s Gabe Bullis (pole vault), Alpena’s Eli Winter (discus), Novi’s Miles Brown (800) and Westland John Glenn’s James Flournoy (400).
PHOTOS: (Top) East Kentwood stays just ahead of Oak Park to claim a relay championship Saturday in LP Division 1. (Middle) Ann Arbor Pioneer's Nick Foster leads the way. (Photos by Carter Sherline. Click to see 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.)