Preview: Contenders Fill Boys Finals

May 29, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Few days during a school year provide as much opportunity for a statewide showcase of talents as the day each spring when all seven MHSAA Track & Field championships are decided.

This weekend’s boys lineup features plenty of familiar names from Finals past – but also plenty of chances for new stars to emerge.

See below for some of the teams and individuals who should be among those in the championship mix at Saturday's boys meets. Click for meet information including all qualifiers and come back Saturday night for results as they come in, and check out MHSAA.TV for live streaming of running events from both peninsulas, available with subscription.

LP DIVISION 1 at Rockford

Top Regional scores: East Kentwood 161, Saline 144, Warren DeLaSalle 124.

East Kentwood: The Falcons are up to five team championships over the last six seasons after finishing first again in 2014. Senior Tristen Frey posted the fifth-fastest time in the 110 hurdles (14.56) and third-fastest in the 300 hurdles (38.91) for all LPD1 Regionals. Two relays posted times among the top three overall, and sophomore Andre Welch should be a contender in long jump after finishing second in 2014. East Kentwood won by 21 points last season with only event champion, in the 800 relay – where it posted the fastest Regional time, 1:28.41.

Saline: The Hornets should be contenders in eight events Saturday after winning one and finishing a distant third a year ago. Senior Skyler Bowden posted the fourth-fastest Regional 400 time (49.04) and second-fastest 200 (21.68). Senior Logan Wetzel (third in 800 – 1:53.82), senior Kevin Hall (first in 3,200 – 9:16.60) and junior Josiah Davis (first in 300 hurdles – 38.54) are favorites as well, and the 800 relay (1:28.46), 1,600 relay (3:22.98) and 3,200 relay (7:56.04) all ranked among the top six for all Division 1 Regionals.

Warren DeLaSalle: The Pilots have star power to contend after finishing sixth in 2014, led by reigning high jump champion Brandon Piwinski. His Regional jump of 6-foot-8 was five inches better than the rest of Division 1, and he won last season at 6-10. Senior Mickey Davey could score well in the 1,600 and 3,200.

Oxford’s Connor Bandel – Posted Division 1’s best Regional throws in both shot put (58-9½) and discus (187-1) after taking fourth in shot put as a sophomore at last season’s Final.

Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills’ Donavan Brazier – Set an LP Division 1 Final record last season as a junior with a time of 1:50.24 in the 800; his 1:48.07 was the fastest Regional time in Division 1 this month.

Grand Ledge’s Austin Edwards – Won the long jump by four inches last season as a sophomore and was one of only three in LP Division 1 to clear 23 feet at Regionals this month, going 23-0¼.

Grand Blanc’s Grant Fisher – Senior standout has three track & field championships and two in cross country, and he is the likely favorite to repeat in the 1,600 (4:18.45) and 3,200 (9:18.60).

Westland John Glenn’s Jaron Flournoy – Last season’s third-place finisher in the 200 could earn his team 30 points Saturday entering with the fastest Regional times in the 100 (10.66), 200 (21.40) and 400 (48.53).

Farmington Hills Harrison’s Michael Ojemudia – After finishing seventh in the 110 hurdles as a junior, should be in the mix for both hurdles races with the top Regional time in the 110 (14.21) and second-fastest in the 300 (38.71).

LP DIVISION 2 at Zeeland

Top Regional scores:  Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 161.5, Zeeland East 135.5, Chelsea 122.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – Fast relays keyed the team’s fourth-place finish at the 2014 Final – the Eaglets won the 800 and 400 – and they had the fastest Division 2 Regional times this month in those races at 42.79 and 1:28.35, respectively. That 800 time is only 36 hundredths of a second from the LP Division 2 Finals record. St. Mary’s 1,600 relay time of 3:26.71 was seventh-fastest for all LPD2 Regionals, and the 3,200 (8:03.15) had the second-fastest. Sophomore Richard Bowens had the fastest Regional time in the 300 hurdles (38.58), while junior Kahlee Hamler posted the seventh fastest in the 200 (22.68) and junior Tyler Cochran was seventh fastest in the 400 (50.33).

Zeeland East – East watched as neighbor Zeeland West won last season’s championship, and could keep the title on campus with strong performances in field events, middle distance and relays. Senior Jacob Bachman had the third-longest shot put (52-1½) and discus (165-8) throws at LPD2 Regionals, and senior Devin Butler is a contender in long jump (21-3½). Senior Matt Cramer (1:56.39) and sophomore John Groendyke (1:56.72) were top-five overall in LPD2 Regionals, and the 1,600 relay (3:24.47) and 3,200 relay (7:59.98) were third and fastest, respectively.

Auburn Hills Avondale – Last season’s runner-up returns major talent led by senior Joshuwa Holloman, the reigning champion in both the 100 and 200.  His Regional times of 11.1 and 22.53, respectively, prove he’ll be in the hunt again, and junior Noah Burton posted the second-fastest 300 hurdles time (38.62). Three of the team’s four relays also seed among the top eight. 

Algonac’s Morgan Beadlescomb – The junior distance standout is set to dominate if Regional times are an indication; his 9:28.24 in the 3,200 was fastest in LPD2 and his 4:23.26 was second fastest in the 1,600.

Melvindale’s Anthony Fitzgerald – The senior’s Regional jumps weren’t among the best in the division in either event, but he won long jump at last season’s Final by a foot and high jump by three inches.

Saginaw Swan Valley’s Alex Grace and Flint Southwestern’s Jonathan Fife – Grace is seeded first in the 100 (10.84) and Fife is second (10.89), while Fife is first in the 200 (21.95) and Grace is third (22.41) in that race.

Algonac’s Mitchell Mueller – The senior’s LPD2 Regional pole vault of 15-0 was more than five inches better than anyone else in the division, making him a strong favorite to repeat after winning last year’s Final by 11 inches.

Pontiac Notre Dame’s Nathan Mylenek – The reigning 3,200 champion won’t run that race, but had the third-fastest 1,600 (4:25.10) at LPD2 Regionals and also should contend in the 800 (1:59.87).

Cedar Springs’ Austin Sargent – The latest distance star from his school is the reigning Finals champ in the 1,600 and has the fastest seed time (4:23.03) and ninth-fastest in the 3,200 (9:49.64).

Coldwater’s Logan Targgart – The reigning discus champion (and runner-up in shot put) can finish with two more titles, coming in with the best LPD2 Regional discus throw (180-1) and second-best shot (57-0).

LP DIVISION 3 at Comstock Park

Top Regional scores: Macomb Lutheran North 157, Benzonia Benzie Central 125, Hillsdale 123.

Hillsdale – If last season’s close finish is telling of this weekend, then Hillsdale may have enough to move up from third to first. The Hornets got the top long jump in LPD3 Regionals from senior and reigning Finals champion Austin Hawkins (22-8¼), and his 15.45 was fifth-fastest in the 110 hurdles with senior Kevin Curby seventh fastest in that race. Senior Ben Wise is a contender in the 400 (51.15), and the 800 (1:32.6) and 1,600 (3:28.8) relays should contend as well.

Lansing Catholic – The Cougars have the star power to move up from fourth in 2014, led by senior Keenan Rebera. He is the reigning champion in the 3,200 and runner-up in the 1,600, and his times of 4:23.4 in the 1,600 and 1:55.6 in the 800 both seed first this weekend. Sophomore Konner Maloney (51.15) is a contender in the 400, and the 1,600 relay (3:30.5) could be another winner.

Hanover-Horton – The Comets are competing for their first MHSAA championship in this sport, but enter with the fastest LPD3 Regional times in the 3,200 (8:05.9) and 1,600 (3:28.1) relays. Juniors Austin Shepherd and Seth Vincent in the middle distance could score, and junior Joe Gray tied for the highest pole vault in LPD3 with a 14-6 at his Regional.

Almont’s Jacob Battani – The reigning champion in pole vault and a junior, Battani tied Gray for the highest vault in LPD3 Regionals at 14-6.

Hopkins’ Quincy Collings – After winning high jump last season, he’s going for a sweep coming in tied for the second-highest jump at LPD3 Regionals (6-4) and also second-longest (21-5) to make him a contender in that event.

Niles Brandywine’s Andrew Duckett – The fastest Regional finisher in both hurdles races in LPD3 went 15.11 in the 110 and 39.16 in the 300 after winning the latter and finishing fourth in the former as a junior at last season’s Final.

Madison Heights Madison’s Jaylin Golson – Also a senior, Golson set the meet record in the 400 last season at 48.17 and tied for the fastest Regional time in the division this month. He also ran the fastest 200 (22.48) as well in this division’s Regionals.

LP DIVISION 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School

Top Regional scores: Saugatuck 150, Ubly 147, Eau Claire 143, Springport 143.

Concord – The reigning champion should score big points in all four relays, coming in with top-five Regional times for the entire division in all of them. Senior Jesse Hersha can cap a career filled with championships in both track and cross country by repeating in the 3,200 (10:15.43) and making it a double in the 1,600 (4:30.60) after taking third in that race last season.

Muskegon Western Michigan Christian – The Warriors have similar strengths to Concord, with the fastest LPD4 Regional times in the 3,200 (8:26.89) and 1,600 (3:27.95) relays and the second-fastest in the 800 (1:33.25). Junior Braxton Snuffer is a contender in the 1,600 (4:28.07). Senior Elijah VanderVelde had the fastest Regional time in the 400 (50.17) and also could score in the 200.

Saugatuck – Last season’s runner-up and the 2013 champion is back in the mix led in part by sophomore hurdler Blake Dunn in the 110 (15.57) and 300 (40.31) races; he posted the fastest LPD4 Regional time in the latter and is the reigning Finals champion in that event. Senior Joe Brown could score in the 800 (2:03.45), and the 1,600 relay (3:31.06) had the second-fastest Regional time.

Harbor Beach’s Luke Anderson – He won the 1,600 last season and finished second to Hersha in the 3,200, and now as a senior posted the best LPD4 Regional times in both – 4:26.54 and 9:50.16, respectively.

Morenci’s Austin Sandusky – The reigning champion in the 400 sits with the fifth-fastest Regional time in that race (51.03) and the second-fastest in the 200 (22.71).

Southfield Christian’s Blake Washington – A relay champion and runner-up in the 200 in 2014, he could be in line to carry his team into contention with the top seed times in the 100 (10.97) and 200 (22.27), and second-fastest in the 400 (50.60).

Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s Casey Williams – Only a sophomore, his Regional long jump of 22-3¾ would tie the LPD4 Finals record.

UP DIVISION 1 at Kingsford

Top Regional scores: Marquette 77, Kingsford 72, Negaunee 51.

Kingsford – The Flivvers won last season’s Final by 50 points and their Regional this spring by 21. Daniel Harrington and Trevor Roberts are contributors in both field events and races, and Kingsford won all four relays at its Regional, three by sizable margins.

Marquette – The Redmen were runners-up last season and haven’t won since finishing a three-peat in 2012. But after winning only one event (3,200 relay) at last season’s Final, they finished first in nine at this month’s Regional. Junior Lance Rambo in the 3,200 (9:56) and 1,600 (4:32) and junior Andrew Banitt in the 400 (51.40) and 800 (2:00.50) should be key.

Negaunee’s  Jason Bell – After sweeping the hurdles races last season, he’s lined up to do the same after Regional wins in the 110 (16.25) and 300 (42.24) by convincing margins.

Menominee’s Justin Brilinski – He finished only second at his Regional in the long jump (19-3¼) but won the event at last season’s Final.

Houghton’s Jacob Colling – Like Brilinski, he finished only second in his key event, the 3,200 (10:41.68), at the Regional, but remains the reigning Finals champion.  

UP DIVISION 2 at Kingsford

Top Regional scores: Ishpeming 95, Ishpeming Westwood 57, Manistique 45.

Ishpeming – The Hematites are seeking a second straight Finals title and dominated their Regional by winning four races, three of four relays and a field event. Nate Meyer won all three sprints with times of 12.21 in the 100, 24.26 in the 200 and 52.74 in the 400; he was second in the 400 and third in the 200 at last season’s Final.

Westwood – The Patriots won a closer Regional by a comfortable 15 points and should move up from fifth at last season’s Final. They’re strong in relays, winning three at the Regional, and can count on hurdler Vincente Carlson, who won the 110 (16.06) and 300 (45.03) at the Regional and was second and third, respectively, in those races at last season’s Final.

Ironwood’s Jared Joki – He’s looking to again dominate the distance races after winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 last season as a junior and two straight U.P. Division 2 cross country championships.

UP DIVISION 3 at Kingsford

Top Regional scores: Munising 85, Stephenson 59, Bessemer 59.

Munsing – After last season winning its first team title since 1996, Munising is favored to repeat. Andy Cooper became the fourth athlete in MHSAA history to win four boys track & field titles, and he claimed wins in the high jump (6-0), 200 (23.31) and both hurdles races (14.81 and 40.60) at his Regional. Reigning 1,600 and 3,200 Finals champion Brett Hannah also won the Regional in 4:37.77 and 10:55.31, respectively.

Stephenson – The Eagles should be able to ride standout distance runner Conner Cappaert to big points. He was third in the 3,200 at last season’s Final but won that race (11:15.70) and the 1,600 (5:06.47) and finished fourth in the 800 (2:16.23) at the Regional.

Crystal Falls Forest Park’s Bill Ragio – He won pole vault (13-2), finished second in the 200 and fifth in the 100 at his Regional and is the reigning Finals pole vault and long jump champion.

PHOTO: Niles Brandywine’s Andrew Duckett will look to repeat in the 300 hurdles after winning the Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship in 2014.

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

By John Vrancic
Special for

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.)