KENT CITY – For four years of MHSAA cross country and track, Benzie Central’s boys runners and competitors alike have been trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Specifically, Benzie Central senior All-American Hunter Jones.
Well, Pol Molins lives with the Joneses (Hunter’s family) as a foreign-exchange student from Spain. Over the last few months, Molins has done a better job keeping up with Hunter Jones.
Now Jones, Molins and their Benzie Central teammates are all on the same level – as MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 champions. The Huskies captured their first MHSAA Boys Track & Field Finals title, powered by Jones’ three individual championships along with strong efforts by Molins & Co. at Kent City High School.
Benzie Central totaled 51 points to hold off runner-up Pewamo-Westphalia, which tallied 44 points. Hart finished third (38), Sanford Meridian fourth (36) and Ottawa Lake Whiteford fifth (28).
“I’m very proud of myself, but ultimately my biggest goal today was to win a team state championship. We came out here, that’s what we did,” said Jones, a 6-foot, 160-pound Wake Forest signee, who cruised to victories Saturday in the 800-meter run (1:57.60), 1,600 run (4:17.48) and 3,200 (9:10.19).
Jones expressed much gratitude for not only Molins – who earned valuable points by taking second in the 1,600, fifth in the 3,200 and seventh in the 800 -- but for the other two runners on Benzie Central’s runner-up 3,200 relay team: Lucan Louwsma and Dorian Olson.
Benzie Central veteran coach Asa Kelly said Olson had never competed at Finals track meet before, and that this was the first time this foursome had run the 3,200.
“I really praise the 4x8 – those other two guys, they put us in the race and we got those eight points we needed,” Jones said. “If we didn’t run the 4x8, we would have lost. I thank those guys and I feel very blessed to finally get a team state championship. That’s been my biggest goal since I’ve gotten to Benzie.”
That’s a big statement coming from a generational runner who closes his MHSAA career with 10 individual Finals championships: four in Division 3 cross country and six in track & field.
Jones is a multiple-time national champion in various events as well as an indoor state champ numerous times. He holds MHSAA LP Division 3 Finals records in the 800 and 1,600, and he missed the Finals record in the 3,200 on Saturday by 1½ seconds.
After he learned Benzie Central had wrapped up the team title, he said he didn’t even care if he had won any events Saturday.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling, you know,” Jones said. “A couple of minutes ago, I was getting tears in my eyes and I was like, ‘It’s all over now.’ But I’m really happy that it ended with this and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m very, very happy.”
There was plenty of joy to go around Saturday. North Muskegon junior Jerry Wiegers, who was making his Finals debut, raced to victories in the 200 and 400 with personal-record times in both. In the 200, he won with a time of 22.11 seconds. In the 400, he finished first with a time of 49.49.
Wiegers also anchored North Muskegon’s 800 relay team that placed seventh (1:32.44) for all-state honors.
“Yeah, I’m still processing it,” Wiegers said. “It’s just, like, a good feeling to have when all the work you put in through the whole year finally comes to a close out of everyone. I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time.”
It was a bit of a “bittersweet” day for Hart senior standout thrower Kellen Kimes. The Liberty University signee defended his Division 3 title in discus with a toss of 174 feet, 3 inches, but he came up just short in winning the shot put with a second-place toss of 57-¼.
It was the second-straight year Kimes finished runner-up in shot put, but the New Balance Indoor national champion in the weight throw was trying to keep proper perspective.
“I’m pretty sad that it’s over. I’ve got two more meets this year with the high school events, but from then on I’m going to be moving to college (competition),” Kimes said. “It’s easy to be, like, ‘OK, next chapter in my life,’ but I do need to spend some time reflecting on it and just realizing just how blessed I am with all the people that God’s put in my life.”
Kimes is a fierce competitor, but he’s always willing to help others, including his direct competition.
That was the case with Pewamo-Westphalia junior Gavin Nurenberg, who launched a personal record in shot put by two feet with an effort of 57-¼ that edged Kimes.
“I mean, it means a lot. It’s just, we were competitors – honestly, he taught me the most out of anybody in shot put,” Nurenberg said. “Like, this guy is telling me, get like certain cues and stuff and I do credit him for some of that for sure.”
Other champions Saturday included: Warren Michigan Collegiate’s Jailin Spikes in the 100 (10.71 PR), Napoleon’s Holden Van Poppel in the 110 hurdles (14.48 PR), Delton Kellogg’s Torren Mapes in the 300 hurdles (40.01 PR), Meridian’s Sawyer Moloy in high jump (6-4), Ovid-Elsie’s Tryce Tokar in pole vault (15-0), Grayling’s Mitchel Harrington in long jump (22-1.75), Meridian’s 400 relay (Kenneth Emmerson, Madix Saunders, Nickolas Metzer and Brayden Riley; 43.47), Burton Atherton’s 800 relay (Romiel Clausell, Joseph Embury, Jaymes Vines, Patrick Rice; 1:30.51), Whiteford’s 1,600 relay (Shea Ruddy, Ryin Ruddy, Dylan Anderson, Jacob Iott; 3:27.28), and Hart’s 3,200 relay (Clayton Ackley, Seth Ackley, Guillermo Ortega, Wyatt Dean; 8:04.54). Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett junior Jake Juip won the adaptive 100 race (1:04.21), and Perry junior Alec Chapman competed in the adaptive shot put (3-8¼).
Benzie Central was the Division 3 runner-up in 2021 and 2001. This time, the Huskies got over the hump.
Dominant as Jones was, Molins provided quite the boost in the way of quality depth.
“It’s crazy with Pol (when he applied to be an exchange student) – they said he liked to run and he checked off track & field as an interest, but can’t find anything else about the kid,” Kelly said with a smile. “… In cross, he was maybe like 23rd (in the state) or something like that, but then over the course of the winter running every day with Hunter, he just exploded.”
Kelly said that Molins will head back to Spain in a few weeks and he’ll race in the Spanish U18 Nationals. Kelly noted that after this season with Benzie Central, Molins is ranked second in Spain for his division in the 1,500 and 800.
Molins, a sophomore who recently turned 16 years old, said he could not have asked for a better experience or better host family than the Joneses.
“They’ve pushed me in every way,” he said. “I’ve learned lots of stuff, a lot of discipline. I’ve worked a lot, put in a lot of miles. All of this, I’m going to take it to Spain. I’m going to get better and if I can, I’m going to come back in a couple of years for college. It would be great.
“I’m really grateful,” added the lanky, 6-foot-3 Molins. “l couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I’m looking forward to coming back one day and checking on everyone, how they are doing.”
(PHOTOS) Benzie Central’s Hunter Jones, far right, leads one of his races by a significant margin Saturday at Kent City. (Middle) Teammate Pol Molins, second from right and leading the rest of the field, follow Jones. (Photos by Carter Sherline/RunMichigan.com.)
Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.
Richards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.
He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.
While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.
Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.
This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”
The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.
“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.
One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.
Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.
“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.
“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”
True to his school
One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.
“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.
Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.
The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.
That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.
Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.
Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.
Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.
Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.
“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”
Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.
The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.
“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”
The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.
Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.
The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.
McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).
“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”
Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.
Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.
“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.
Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.
“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.
That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)
Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.
“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”
Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.
The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.
Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.
Only after all of that will it be college decision time.
“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)