Performance: Oxford's Connor Bandel
June 1, 2016
Oxford senior – Track & Field
Bandel could’ve been a selection most weeks this season; the spring has included that many highlights for the reigning Lower Peninsula Division 1 champion in shot put and discus. He was perhaps most dominant at his Regional on May 20 at Lake Orion, winning shot put by 16 feet with a toss of 63, 7 inches, and discus by nearly 28 feet at 189-2 to earn the Michigan National Guard Performance of the Week for May 16-22.
Bandel went on to win the Oakland County Championship titles Friday in both at 67-2½ and 192-0, respectively, and his top throws this spring are that shot put and a discus toss of 204-2 on April 23 at the Oxford Invitational. He will compete in the LP Division 1 Finals this weekend with opportunities to break the all-Finals records in shot put (Todd Duckett, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, 64-0½, 1999) and discus (Cullen Prena, Walled Lake Central, 210-1, 2012). Prena is among those Bandel has consulted for advice as he’s improved significantly over the last few seasons; his top throws in 2016 are six feet better in shot put and 11 in discus from a year ago.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior also played goalkeeper for Oxford’s varsity soccer team the last four seasons and will be the second sibling from his family to play at the Division I college level; he’s signed for track & field with the University of Florida, while his older sister Darien plays volleyball at Oakland University. Connor also played basketball as a freshman and carries a 3.3 grade-point average; he’s considering majoring in chemical or biomedical engineering.
Coach Matt Johnson said: “The number one thing Connor brings is (his example) that track and field is a year-round event, from conditioning to weight training to building camaraderie with his teammates around the track. … He’s a dedicated athlete, he sets goals for himself, and that would be a value set that I’d say could be passed on to another level of student. He’s not just setting benchmarks for things within reach; he’s setting dreams he’s going to work toward. Early on last year, he told me he’s aiming not for the state record, he’s aiming to become an international competitor, and that raises the bar right there. Most high school kids are not even thinking (about that) at that point.”
Performance Point: “I’m trying to improve every meet; that’s always the goal. But this past week I started to improve more. I’m constantly moving the benchmark forward a bit. … Sometimes I just can’t really explain how much emotions I'm feeling when something (like a personal record) just happened. When you PR something that you’ve never reached, it’s just so satisfying to actually do that.”
Expert advice: “The biggest thing with (my sister) was her type of dedication and trying to do the same thing as her. Another big thing was the recruiting process; it was nice to have a sibling because not only did I get to learn from her but my parents got to learn a lot from her about the questions to ask coaches and that kind of deal. (From Prena), I learned definitely technique from him; it’s nice to have him having worked with his college coach, because … then he could teach me a lot of what he had learned. I always ask him about summer track, nationals and international competition. Even though he hasn’t gone to an international competition, he went to meet qualifiers for those, and if I have questions about what the atmosphere is like, things like what I need to bring, he’s always a good resource.”
The mental game: “For me, it’s not to get really tense. If I get really tense, really focus on trying to throw as far as I can, I’m not going to throw as well. The more relaxed you are, the longer you’ll be, the more comfortable you’ll be. Not getting tight and seized up and that sort of deal, that’s the biggest thing to me, to really relax … and trust what I’ve been doing the last couple of years, be comfortable and have fun with it. If you have a smile on your face, you’ll probably throw farther … (and) I’m just trying to throw farther than I did before.”
Final countdown: “I’d definitely, now that I’ve won (in 2015), I would like to re-break the shot put record, and I would like to break the discus record for the first time. I really want to hit my goals; I wrote them down before the season, and I’m still on pace. I feel like breaking 79 (feet in shot put) and 215 (in discus) before the season is over, that would be absolutely fantastic.”
Create and explore: “I’ve always really been into math and science, always really liked the engineering aspects of creating and exploring new ideas. I thought with how much petroleum that the United State is using, and with how many athletes have injuries, I thought it would be cool to create new ways to produce energy, or for athletes the fastest ways to recover.”
– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2015-16 school year, Second Half and the Michigan National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom, or protecting lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2015-16 honorees
May 18: Kalyn Breckenridge, Birch Run girls soccer - Read
May 11: Morgan Beadlescomb, Algonac boys track & field - Read
May 4: Abby Krzywiecki, Farmington Hills Mercy softball - Read
April 27: Mike Mokma, Holland Christian baseball - Read
April 20: Abby Divozzo, Cadillac girls soccer - Read
March 30: Cassius Winston, Detroit U-D Jesuit boys basketball - Read
March 23: Kierra Fletcher, Warren Cousino girls basketball - Read
March 16: Jacob Montague, Grosse Pointe South swimming & diving - Read
March 9: Kyle Tuttle, St. Charles boys bowling - Read
March 2: Brittney Schnicke, Caledonia girls bowling - Read
Feb. 24: Kamari Newman, Detroit East English boys basketball - Read
Feb. 17: Jason Whitens, Powers North Central boys basketball - Read
Feb. 10: Rachel Hogan, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Read
Feb. 3: Nehemiah Mork, Midland Dow swimming & diving - Read
Jan. 27: Mardrekia Cook, Muskegon girls basketball - Read
Jan. 20: Sage Castillo, Hartland wrestling - Read
Jan. 13: Rob Zofchak, Dexter swimming & diving - Read
Jan. 6: Tyler Deming, Caro wrestling – Read
Dec. 15: Jordan Weber, East Jordan boys basketball – Read
Dec. 8: Kaitlyn Geers, Kent City girls basketball – Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Oxford's Connor Bandel unloads a shot put during a meet this season. (Middle) Bandel is the reigning champion in both the discus and shot put in Lower Peninsula Division 1. (Photos courtesy of Connor Bandel.)
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@example.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.)