There are a number of knowns entering Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Boys Track & Field Finals, as a number of stars are returning and looking to add to their past achievements.
What’s more difficult to forecast than usual is how the team competitions will finish. All four divisions appear to have multiple serious contenders, and many more possible outcomes.
Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions.
Division 1 at Rockford
Team forecast: Last season saw the top 10 teams packed in within 14 points of each other and co-champs Fenton and Rockford – and Saturday could produce something similar. Detroit U-D Jesuit is seeking its first team title since 1993 and has qualifiers in a variety of events but major strengths in sprints and relays. East Kentwood saw its three-season title streak end with a 13th-place finish last spring, but again has intriguing relay, sprint and hurdle possibilities. Rockford may again be in the hunt as well.
Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron junior: He qualified in the 200 and 300 hurdles last season, and could leave a lasting impact this weekend entering as the top seed in the 100 (10.44) and 200 (21.26) and running on the 400 relay.
Riley Hough, Hartland senior: The latest Michigan distance runner to earn national acclaim, Hough will attempt to follow up his 3,200 title from last year and back-to-back LPD1 cross country championships while seeded first in both the 1,600 (4:13.17) and 3,200 (9:08.71).
Armon Howard, Rochester Adams senior: He's seeded sixth in the 100 hurdles and seventh in the 300, but he has the top 300 time in the state this spring (37.30) and third-best in the 110 (14.37). He also will run on two relays.
Brayden Kennedy, Milford sophomore: He’s joined the state’s elite hurdlers in his second season, entering this weekend seeded first in the 300 (37.43) and second in the 110 (14.62).
Tamaal Myers II, Detroit Cass Tech senior: Last season’s champion in both hurdles races is seeded third in the 300 (37.87) and will run on the top-seeded 1,600 relay.
Jaiden Reed, Detroit U-D Jesuit junior: He also should move up substantially after finishing ninth in the 100 in 2021. Reed is the second seed in both the 100 (10.45) and 200 (21.44) and will run on the second-seeded 400 and top-seeded 800 relays.
Kellen Reed, Holt senior: After qualifying in the 100 last season, he’ll have a much busier Saturday competing in four events. He’s seeded fourth in long jump (22-9) but with the state’s best leap this season of 23-4¾. He’s also seeded sixth in the 100, seventh in the 200 and could run on the top-seeded 400 relay.
Cole Sheldon, Dexter senior: The reigning pole vault champion has the top seed by eight inches at 16 feet and the state’s highest vault of the season at 16-1. He’ll also run on the 800 relay.
Division 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Team forecast: Reigning champion Frankenmuth could be lined up well with all four relays qualifying including the top-seeded 800 group, plus strengths in the sprints, hurdles and throws. Detroit Martin Luther King will be in the mix too with strong sprints and relays, and a contender in long jump. Flint Powers Catholic should make a push after finishing runner-up by only 3¾ points last season.
Patrick Adams, Allendale senior: The reigning champion in the 110 hurdles is seeded first in both hurdles races – at 15.09 in the 110 and 39.97 in the 300 – and he’ll also run on the 800 relay.
Camryn Battjes, Allendale senior: He won pole vault last season and is back in the mix with a top vault this spring of 14-6½ – although the field might be chasing Charlotte senior Landon Cosby after he went 15-7 at his Regional.
Troy Cranford, Romulus senior: The reigning 200 champion will run the 100, 200 and is seeded fourth in the 400 (50.36).
Austin Hamlin, Flint Powers Catholic senior: The reigning 100 champ is back in that race, seeded third in the 200 (22.49) and running on two top-three seeded relays.
Alex Mansfield, Monroe Jefferson senior: After finishing first in shot put and second in discus last season, he’ll again take a run at both titles seeded first in shot (59-9) and seventh in discus.
Luke Stowasser, Edwardsburg senior: The reigning champion in both jumps is tied for the top high jump in Michigan this season at 6-9 and had the best Regional long jump in LPD2 at 22-1.
Garrett Winter, Parchment senior: He finished fourth in the 3,200 and 10th in the 1,600 in Division 3 a year ago, but has major last-meet opportunities seeded first Saturday in both the 1,600 (4:20.83) and 3,200 (9:32.94).
Division 3 at Kent City
Team forecast: Division 3 has seen 11 champions over the last 12 Finals. The only team that won twice during that time, Sanford Meridian, should contend Saturday. Pewamo-Westphalia is a possibility with strong relays, hurdles and field events. Saugatuck and Benzie Central could follow multi-event individual stars into the mix as well.
Carson Brunk, Potterville senior: He finished fifth in the 800 last season and should cap his high school career in a big way, seeded second in both the 800 (1:57.20) and 1,600 (4:23.20).
Benny Diaz, Saugatuck senior: After sweeping the hurdles races in Division 4 last season, Diaz is seeded first this weekend by nearly a second in the 110 (14.31) and almost a half-second in the 300 (39.75). He’s also seeded sixth in the 100 and fifth in the 200.
Hunter Jones, Benzie Central junior: The reigning 1,600 champ and three-time LPD3 cross country winner is seeded first in the 800 (1:54.42), 1,600 (4:19.51) and 3,200 (9:25.26).
Dane Plichta, Sanford Meridian senior: He finished third in the 200 last season and enters Saturday as the top seed in the 200 (22.36), tied for the top seed in the 100 (11.09) and running on two relays including the second-seeded 800.
Corey Schafer, Pewamo-Westphalia senior: The Pirates could receive their most points from Schafer, who was seventh in the 300 hurdles in 2021. He’s seeded second to Diaz in the 110 (15.26) and 300 (40.15) hurdles this time and will run on two relays.
Division 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School
Team forecast: Carson City-Crystal ended Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep’s two-season championship run last spring, and 2021 runner-up Saugatuck moving to Division 3 opens up even more possibilities. Hackett should return to contention and Carson City-Crystal will be back among the best as well. Reading, Flint Beecher, Concord and Hillsdale Academy all look to have enough points opportunities to push up the standings.
Tyler Bays, Reading junior: He finished 12th in the 1,600 last season, perhaps previewing this spring as he enters as the top seed in the 800 (1:59.64) and 1,600 (4:31.91) and could run on two of three relays including two second seeds.
Zane Forist, Carson City-Crystal senior: He set LPD4 Finals records in both the shot put and discus last season and has the state’s top throws by significant amounts this spring. He best shot put of 67-4 would threaten the all-Finals record.
Liam Mann, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep junior: He qualified in the 100 and as part of a relay last season, but could lead Hackett back into the team title mix this time seeded first in the 200 (23.01), second in the 100 (11.06) and running with the top-seeded 800 relay and fourth-seeded 400 group.
Jok Nhial, Wyoming Potter’s House Christian senior: He won the long jump last season and is tied for the fourth seed this time at 20-10. His 21-9½ at last season’s Final would be the top seed.
Jaylin Townsend, Flint Beecher junior: He also had a headlining 2021 Finals with championships in the 100 and 200 and as part of the 800 relay. He enters Saturday top-seeded in the 100 (10.83) and running on the top-seeded 400 relay and fourth-seeded 800 relay.
PHOTOS (Top) Carson City-Crystal's Zane Forist unloads a shot put toss during a league competition May 11. (Middle) Pewamo-Westphalia's Corey Schafer leaps a hurdle during the Alma Invitational on May 13. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)