Finals Preview: Opportunities Abound

May 31, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This weekend's MHSAA Boys Track and Field Finals couldn't be set up better for new traditions and standouts to be born. 

Predicting team champions is tougher than usual with individual contenders spread evenly among a number of schools at just about every meet. And while there are a few names and faces to recognize, many are lesser-known at this point – with opportunities for that to change by Sunday morning.

See below for some of the teams and individuals that look most likely to supply memorable performances Saturday.

Click for meet information including all qualifiers and also Saturday night for results as they come in. And check out for live streaming coverage of running events from both peninsulas. (NOTE: "Top ranked" aren't listed for U.P. divisions because the coaches association does not produce U.P. rankings for this sport.)

LP DIVISION 1 at East Kentwood

Top ranked: No. 1 East Kentwood, No. 2 Davison, No. 3 Traverse City Central.

East Kentwood: The Falcons tied for eighth last season coming off three straight Division 1 championships, but are favored again thanks in part to three top-five qualifying relays including the best Regional finisher in the 400 (42.2). Junior Devin McKinney tied for the second-fastest Regional time in the 110 hurdles (14.0) and sophomore Kevin Smith did the same in the 100 (10.6).

Davison: After finishing in the middle of the pack in 2012, Davison should improve this season. Senior Gabe Hodge had the top qualifying time in the 400 (48.4) and two relays ran among the top six in the division at Regionals.

Lake Orion: The reigning champion was unranked at the end of the regular season. But with qualifiers spread out among so many teams in this division, Lake Orion looks good to make another impressive showing. The team has seven individual qualifiers including five with Regional times among the top eight in their events, and all four relays also qualified – including the top-running 3,200 (7:49.2).

Walled Lake Central’s Cullen Prena: The senior had the best Regional discus throw, 195-3, by nearly 20 feet and should approach the Division 1 Final record of 197-11 set by Portage Northern’s Joey Sarantos in 2001. Prena also had the second-best Regional shot put.

Birmingham Brother Rice’s Justin Flynn: Six sprinters went 10.6 or faster at Regionals in this division. But Flynn, a senior, was the lone runner to time 10.5 – which would beat Ricco Hall of East Kentwood’s record time of 10.55 at last season’s Final.

Utica’s Freddie Crittenden: The senior ran the Regional in 13.7, which would approach Kenneth Ferguson of Detroit Mumford’s record time of 13.65 set in 2002. Crittenden also had the fastest Regional time, 37.0, in the 300.

Other returning individual champions: Kevin Weiler, Swartz Creek (shot put, qualified first this season, fifth in discus), Brian Kettle, Highland-Milford (1,600, qualified third this season and tied for 17th in the 800), Jacorey Lipsey, Portage Northern (300 hurdles, qualified third this season and tied for fourth in the 110).

LP DIVISION 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern

Top ranked: No. 1 Zeeland West, No. 2 Williamston, No. 3 Adrian.

Zeeland West: The Dux have seven individual qualifiers and also will run all four relays – three relays posted Regional times that ranked among the top six in the division. Three individual qualifiers rank among the top eight in their events for West, which finished sixth last season.

Williamston: The Hornets should contend for their first team title since 2008 thanks to nine individual qualifiers – including five that rank among the top four in their events by Regional performance. Senior Austin Loewen is the favorite in both the 110 (14.2) and 300 hurdles (38.9) and won the former in 2012. All four relays also will run.

Chelsea: Also unranked at the end of the regular season, last season’s third-place team has two athletes who posted the top Regional performances in the division – senior Michael Hovater in pole vault (14-10) and senior Berkely Edwards in the 100 (10.4) – plus eight more qualifiers who rank among the top eight in their events based on Regional finishes.A 10.4 by Edwards would break the meet record and tie the all-Finals mark.

Cadillac’s Riley Norman: Last season’s shot put champion as a junior had the top Regional throw by nearly three feet of 57-6.5. He also had the eighth-best Regional discus toss of 152-9.

Petoskey’s Louis Lamberti: The senior will look to repeat as high jump champion, and his 6-8 jump at the Regional equaled his winning launch from the 2012 Final.

Cedar Springs’ Connor Mora: Division 2’s top distance runner is the reigning 800 and 1,600 title winner, but is changing up a bit from what he ran as a junior. He had the top Regional time in the 1,600 by more than six seconds at 4:11.1 and the best in the 3,200 by 18 seconds with a 9:13.9.

Allegan's Gary Jones: He won the 200 as a sophomore in 2011, and last month tied for the top Regional long jump (23-0) while posting the top time in the 200 (21.5).

LP DIVISION 3 at Comstock Park

Top ranked: No. 1 Lansing Catholic, No. 2 Ithaca, No. 3 Hanover-Horton.

Hanover-Horton: With reigning champion Lansing Catholic bringing only three qualifiers Saturday, Hanover-Horton could be the favorite with five individual qualifiers and three relays that posted times among the top seven at the division’s Regionals – including the top 3,200 relay (8:06.8). Senior Bryce Stroede is the reigning individual 3,200 champ and posted the second-best Regional time in that race (9:40.5), the 1,600 (4:18.1) and the best in the 800 (1:55.4).

Wyoming Kelloggsville: The fourth-ranked team at the end of the regular season could end up on top boasting the top Regional relay performer in the 400 (44.2), 800 (1:31.7) and 1,600 (3:27.8). Kelloggsville also qualified eight times in individual events, with senior T.J. Burnett tops in the 400 (49.6) and second in the 110 hurdles (14.7).

Standish-Sterling: Although ranked No. 6, Standish-Sterling could move into the mix with six individual qualifiers and three relays also running. Junior Clayton Walderzak is one of the division’s top throwers, coming in with the top Regional shot put (55-4.5) and second-best discus toss (163-10).

Niles Brandywine’s Evan Hartman: He had the top Regional discus throw by more than 15 feet of 179-3, less than two feet off the Division 3 Final record. He won the event last season; he also will compete in shot put.

Dillon Brooks, Perry: His 100 time at his Regional, 10.3, is simply incredible and would beat the all-Finals record by a tenth of a second. He also ran the top 200 Regional time, 22.1, and tied for the fourth-fastest 400 time with a 50.6.

Morley-Stanwood’s Travis McCuaig: The high jump champion as a junior, he looks good to add up to three more titles in his final weekend. He tied for the top Regional high jump of 6-5 after winning the Final last season at 6-8, and posted top-four times in both hurdles races. He’ll also compete in long jump.

LP DIVISION 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Street Middle School

Top ranked: No. 1 Evart, No. 2 Saugatuck, No. 3 Petersburg-Summerfield.

Evart: The Wildcats will compete for their first  MHSAA team title with strength throughout the lineup. Four of the team’s 10 individual qualifiers are among the top eight in the division based on their Regional performances, and all four relays also will run. Three of those four relays posted Regional times among the top nine in the division.

Saugatuck: Also competing for its first MHSAA team title, Saugatuck might be the favorite with a number of athletes expected to score big. Five individual qualifiers and two relays are among the top five in their respective events based on their Regional finishes, with senior Sean Kelly posting the second-fastest times in both the 1,600 (4:28) and 3,200 (9:48.1). He is the reigning champion in the 3,200.

Albion: Despite being unranked at the end of the regular season, Albion is an intriguing possibility. The Wildcats shared the Division 4 team title in 2011 and won it outright last season, but the school is closing after this spring. The team brings 12 qualifiers and lots of scoring potential into its last Final. Eight of those qualifiers are ranked among the top eight in the division in their events based on Regionals, with Nolen Bright-Mitchell topping the lists in the 100 (10.6) and 200 (21.7). If he runs those times again Saturday, he’ll own two MHSAA meet records to go with his shared championship in the 400 last season. The 1,600 relay (3:30.5) also is a favorite.

Litchfield’s Jacob Patrick: The senior set the Division 4 Final discus record last season at 190 feet, and threw 189-6 at this spring’s Regional. He also tossed the division’s fourth-best shot put, 49-0.

Climax-Scotts’ Alexander Lodes: While Bright-Mitchell’s 100 time at the Regional would be fast enough to break this Final meet's record, so too would Lodes’ Regional time of 10.7. He’s also behind only Bright-Mitchell in the 200 with a Regional time of 21.9. Lodes won both races at the 2012 Final.

Morenci’s Austin Sandusky: With a time going down to the thousandth of a second, Sandusky tied with Bright-Mitchell for the 400 title in 2012. Now a sophomore, Sandusky enters Saturday tied for fourth-fastest with a time of 11.0 in the 100, fifth on the 200 list with a time of 22.9 and tied with Peck’s Cody Abrego for the best Regional time in the 400, 50.7.  

UP DIVISION 1 at Kingsford

Gladstone: The Braves finished runner-up to Marquette last season and are looking for their first title since finishing a run of six straight in 2009. They won their Regional with ease and have an incredible number of field event qualifiers – 13 – plus three relays that posted the second-fastest Regional times in their respective races. Thrower Jared Vuksan had the top Regional shot put of 52-2, which would break the record of 52-0.5 set three seasons ago, and is the reigning champ in that event. Teammate Justin Pederson ran the 100 in 10.78 at the Regional, which would erase Garrett Pentecost’s record time of 10.95 set last year for Marquette. Senior Justin Pederson is the favorite in multiple events, the long jump and 100.

Kingsford: The Finals hosts are seeking their first championship since 1990 and are coming off a Regional title as well. Kingsford can keep up with Gladstone with points from 10 individual race qualifiers plus four relays – and big performances by top Regional discus thrower Hilding Beaudoin and pole vaulter Ryan Camp. Beaudoin is the reigning champion in his event.

Escanaba’s Andrew Stenberg: The senior is the reigning champion in the 1,600 and had the third-fastest Regional time, 4:41.34. He also posted the third-fastest in the 3,200, 10:18.97.

Marquette’s Andrew Bannitt: He won the 800 last season as a freshman and had the fastest Regional time this spring, 2:03.79, by more than two seconds.

Menominee’s Bryan Hines: The senior comes in with the top Regional times in both the 110 (15.82) and 300 hurdles (42.86).

UP DIVISION 2 at Kingsford

Manistique: The Emeralds finished third in Division 1 last season and dominated their Division 2 Regional with wins in eight events. They come into Saturday with the top Regional performer in six events – including last season’s Division 1 300 hurdles champion, now-senior Kennar Broulire. His Regional time of 40.67 would best the Division 2 Final record of 41 seconds set in 2004, and he also comes in with the best Regional time in the 100 (11.34). Junior Ryan Ramey had the fastest Regional times in the 200 (23.37) and 400 (52.64), and the 3,200 relay (8:56.13) was more than 23 seconds faster than anyone else in the division.

Ishpeming: Also a Regional champion, Ishpeming has only one qualifier coming in off a Regional-best time – the 1,600 relay (3:41.66). But the Hematites have 19 qualifiers overall. Senior Hunter Wirtanen in the 100 and 200 and sophomore Nate Meyer in the 400 and 800 should put up big points as Ishpeming pursues its first team title since 2003. Meyer won the 400 last season.

Newberry’s James Sutton: He set the high jump record of 6-3.5 as a junior last season and jumped 6-7 at this season's Regional. He also had the top Regional long jump of 19-6 and is a contender in both hurdles races. He won the 110 hurdles last season and finished runner-up in the 300.

Ironwood’s Cole Stevens: The senior finished second in the pole vault last season at 11-0, but went 13-0 at this year’s Regional – which would be more than enough to break the Division 2 Final record of 12-6 set in 2001.

Ishpeming Westwood’s Vincente Carlson: He was the runner-up in the 110 hurdles as a freshman, and his 15.4 in the Regional a few weeks ago would tie the Division 2 Final record set in 2003. He also will run the 300.

Other returning individual champions: Conner Cappaert, Stephenson (3,200, qualified second this season and third in the 1,600).

UP DIVISION 3 at Kingsford

Bessemer: The Speedboys have four individual qualifiers among the top five in their events by Regional performance, but will rely on strong relays if they are to emerge from a strong group of potential contenders. The 800 relay (1:39.2) posted the fastest Regional time in the division and the 400 relay had the second-fastest in that event; the 1,600 and 3,200 also fell among the top eight. Junior Alex Smith had the second-longest long jump and tied for the best 100 time, 11.42.

Pickford: The reigning champion gets the nod over a few others who should be in the mix – including 2012 Division 2 champ St. Ignace, Rapid River and Felch North Dickinson – because of five individual qualifiers and two relays that posted top-five Regional performances in the division. Senior Jared Lavingne had the top 300 time, 42.93, and the third-fastest in the 100 hurdles (16.78). The 1,600 relay also comes in as a top seed after running a 3:46 at the Regional.

Rock Mid-Peninsula’s Brett Branstrom: The senior set the meet record for discus of 154-8 last season and had the top throw of these Regionals of 146-3. He also had the second-best shot put and high jump of this division’s Regionals.

St. Ignace’s Parker Simmons: He won the 100 and 200 in Division 2 last season as a junior and will compete in those and both jumps.

Other returning individual champions: Robert Metter, Rapid River (pole vault, qualified second this season), Jacob Pikka, Wakefield-Marenisco (shot put, qualified sixth this season and seventh in discus), Richard Bentley, St. Ignace (Division 2 pole vault, qualified third this season), Joe Ostman, St. Ignace (Division 2 shot put, qualified third this season and sixth in the 400).

PHOTO: Perry's Dillon Brooks (middle) won three titles at his Division 3 Regional and posted a 100 time of 10.3, good enough to set an all-Finals record if he can run that fast Saturday. (Click to see more at 

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 [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.)