Pieces Adding Up for Addison Title Run

May 11, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ADDISON – Aaron Wesche didn’t waste any time in setting some goals for the Addison boys track & field team.

“I told them at signups that we were going to compete for the Regional title, and our goal was to compete for the top three at the state meet,” Wesche said. “I wanted to put that out there.”

If the last few weeks of the track season end up anything like the first few, the Panthers are right on target. Wesche began building this year’s team in the middle of last season, preparing for what he and his assistants figured was going to be a strong year. Addison is ranked on top of the recent Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Division 4 team power rankings with individuals up and down the rankings list.

“We’re set up pretty good for MITCA,” he said. “I’m blessed to have a great group of juniors and seniors. We’ve turned into a well-rounded team.”

Addison scored 13 points at the 2017 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship meet, good for 26th place. This year’s team is eyeing a big jump from that spot.

“We’ve looked at the Regional and, with some luck, we could possibly see ourselves scoring points in every event,” Wesche said. “Now, things would have to go our way, but it’s possible.”

Addison has talent throughout its lineup.

The 400 and 800-meter relay teams of Josh Brown, Dakota Knieper, Caleb Gramm and Dominic Young are steady and fast. Noah Hermansen has emerged in the 110 hurdles, and Gavin McAndrews has been a pleasant surprise in the pole vault.

Freshman Marquis Bills has been a big addition to the lineup in the high jump, where he competes with teammate Matt Sylvester. Brown and Knieper are joined in the 1,600 lineup by Jesse Mullin and Zac Steiner. Zach Morse is a strong distance runner. Knieper was all-state last year in the 400, and Young ranks among the top 10 in the division in the 100, according to the MITCA rankings.

In the field events, standout athlete Donovan Underwood is expected to push for a high finish in both the shot put and discus.

Underwood is trying to earn all-state notice in his third sport in this, his senior campaign. He was honorable mention again in football after compiling 91 tackles and 16 for loss as the Panthers tied for the Cascades Conference championship and made the playoffs. In wrestling he finished in the top eight in his weight class, and now he has a shot to improve on last year’s fourth-place showing at the MHSAA Finals in the shot put.

“Our goals are pretty high,” he said. “We can achieve them if we just stay focused on what is ahead of us.”

Underwood is one of four seniors on the 29-member track team, up six from last year’s 23 athletes. He said the group of seniors have been playing sports together since a young age and has always felt by the time they became seniors, the Panthers would be putting out some good sports teams. They haven’t disappointed.

“Ever since we were young, we played football together and have always wanted to make everything we do, including track, as fun as we can,” Underwood said.

In track, he credits Wesche with teaching him the right technique for the throws. Wesche was a throws coach at Siena Heights University in Adrian from 2008-2012.

“Coach Wesche is an amazing coach,” Underwood said. “He helps us a lot.”

Wesche is in his 18th year teaching at Addison and has coached track for a good chunk of those, other than his years at Siena Heights.

“In high school, I did track, but I wasn’t a star or anything,” he said. “I was more of a technique guy. I worked at having the best technique and how to refine that technique.”

At Addison, he’s also been a master at getting kids out for track and putting them in the right spots in the lineup. He introduces freshmen at Addison to track while they are in his classroom and displays some trophies and other track memorabilia in his room to help get the buzz going about the sport.

“The team we have this year, we started to put in place last year,” he said. “We started moving kids around then, finding hurdlers and working on the relays. Some of it was kind of luck. Things have worked out pretty well.”

At one point, he lined up the entire team to find someone to run the hurdles. Hermansen emerged and is now a threat to score points at the Finals.

“This is the most complete team we’ve ever had,” he said.

The Panthers are scheduled to compete at the Hillsdale Invitational this weekend and have an important Cascades Conference dual meet with Hanover- Horton on Tuesday.

“They have won the last several conference championships,” Wesche said. “As coaches, we still have to sit down and figure out where we are going to score points against them. That’s going to be a dog fight.”

After that, Addison has the Regional and the Cascades Conference championship meet and, hopefully for Panthers fans, the MITCA and MHSAA meets left to go.

“The most important four weeks are coming up right now,” he said. We’ve got to start shining. I want us to be known as a blue-collar team. We aren’t a team with a superstar. We come to work every single day and grind it out.”

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 [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Addison thrower Donovan Underwood unloads a discus toss during a meet this season. (Middle) Dakota Knieper charges down the straightaway during one of his races. (Photos courtesy of the Addison boys track & field program.)

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 [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.)