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.)

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)