Hillsdale Begins March Toward Big June

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

April 3, 2018

HILLSDALE – The MHSAA Track & Field Finals are still a couple months, a few thunderstorms and maybe even some snow showers away.

But, there’s once again one thing you can most likely count on – the Hillsdale Hornets boys track & field team will be well represented June 2 at Comstock Park High School.

In Clay Schiman’s first season coaching the Hornets track team in 2013, Hillsdale scored three points at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals meet. In 2014, Hillsdale made the big jump to a fourth-place finish. In each of the three seasons since, Hillsdale has finished second. In each of the past two seasons, they finished five points out of first place; Chesaning won the championship in 2017 and Sanford Meridian in 2016.

Schiman says it’s much too early to tell if the Hornets will have the depth and points to finish that high again. But, no one is counting Hillsdale out.

“It takes so many points in so many different areas to win that state meet,” Schiman said. “We haven’t set our team goals yet. We try and get a few meets under our belt first, then take a realistic look. I’d say we have a chance to score some points and have a few all-state athletes.”

That translates into a team to watch come June.

“Our kids value hard work, whether that is in the weight room or the classroom or learning technique,” Schiman said. “The kids know if they are going to be an athlete here, they are going to work.”

Hillsdale had eight seniors qualify for the boys meet last year, either in an individual event or relay. They have 33 out for track this season, which is slightly down from the last couple of seasons but enough to give the Hornets some depth and options when it comes to dual meets, Lenawee County Athletic Association events and invitationals.

“For a Division 3 school, we have a lot of options for kids,” he said. “It’s just about getting them out and motivating them. We don’t focus on winning every meet or invitational. It’s all about progressions and improving from one meet to the next or one year to the next.”

A good example of how an athlete can improve from one year to the next is what Rees Nemeth did last year for the Hornets. The pole vaulter went from 11-foot-6 as a junior to winning the LPD3 championship last year.

“Track is unique in that way,” Schiman said. “You never know who else is out there or who is going to take that leap from one year to the next.”

At the top of this year’s list of Hornets is junior Spencer Eves, the Division 3 high jump champion last year. He has a good track pedigree. His older brother was an all-state distance runner who now races in college. Spencer went 6-7 last year at the Finals.

“He was on the MITCA team, representing Michigan in the high jump,” Schiman said. “For a Division 3 athlete, that is really impressive. We are excited about his prospects and potential this year.”

Sam Nash was on the Division 3 championship 1,600 relay team in 2016 and will be in multiple events this year, including the 400.

“In his first event of this season he was right where he left off in June,” Schiman said. “That doesn’t happen very often. It was a great start to the season.”

Hurdlers Noah LoPresto and Colby Nash have a ton of potential and Ryan Reiniche is one of those athletes that Schiman expects to make great strides. Reiniche is a discus thrower.

“He finished (last) season really strong,” the Hillsdale coach said.

Hillsdale began this spring like it has for the last several years – at the Charger Preview, hosted annually by Hillsdale College. Hillsdale High uses that meet as a barometer for the season. The school is on spring break next week, meaning the athletes will have a week of working out on their own before returning to action the first full week in April.

“It’s great for us,” he said. “It sets the tone for the whole year. Twenty teams were there competing, so you know, in every event, you are going to get some good competition. It’s good for all of the kids who go to that meet.”

Hillsdale made some strides, Schiman said. Now, its up to the athletes to keep working, improve each week and be prepared for the big stage come June, whether it’s raining, windy or 85 degrees and sunshine.

 “We believe in our program and what we are doing,” Schiman said.

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Hillsdale's Spencer Eves competes in the high jump last season. 

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.

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 pamkzoo@aol.com 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.)