Preview: 4 Team Championships, Many More Contenders at LP Boys Finals

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 3, 2022

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.

Events begin at 10 a.m. (EDT) and tickets to attend can be purchased online only at GoFan. The meets also will be broadcast on and viewable with subscription.

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.

Pewamo-Westphalia trackCarson 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.)

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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.)