Seniors competing at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Boys Track & Field Finals have won a combined 20 individual championships over the last three seasons, a feat even more impressive considering their freshman season in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
But as is often the case in this sport, picking out individual favorites is a simpler task than reasoning out possible team champions – and that’s certainly true in at least three divisions this weekend.
All four LP Finals will again be contested at Grand Rapids-area schools, with pole vault and long jump beginning at 9 a.m., race semifinals and the 3,200 relay at 10 a.m. and the rest of the running finals starting at noon. Tickets cost $11 and are available digitally only via GoFan.
MHSAA.tv will live-stream all four meets beginning at 10 a.m., viewable with subscription.
Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions:
LP Division 1 at Rockford
Team forecast: This meet has been won with 34 and 41 points over the last two seasons, and a few standouts could be the difference-makers Saturday. Ann Arbor Huron, led by Braxton Brann, has enough with him to make a run at a first Finals championship. Rockford, a co-champion in 2021, had three top-five seeded relays and speed in the sprints to be in the mix. Reigning champion Detroit U-D Jesuit and sprinter Jaiden Reed could make a strong push again.
Benne Anderson, Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills senior: He’s been the next of a stellar group of distance runners to come through Michigan, winning the LPD1 cross country title in the fall after taking the 3,200 title last spring. His Regional times were first in LPD1 in the 800 (1:52.98) and 3,200 (9:10.53) and second-fastest in the 1,600 (4:14.23).
Andrew Berryhill, Battle Creek Lakeview senior: Last season’s shot put champion and 11th-place finisher in discus posted the top LPD1 Regional throws in both at 58-6½ and 166-0, respectively.
Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron senior: After finishing fourth in the 100 and second in the 200 at last season’s Finals, Brann enters this one coming off the fastest LPD1 Regional times in the 200 (21.65) and 110 hurdles (13.92) and fifth-fastest in the 100 (10.7).
Shamar Heard, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley junior: The reigning champion in the 100 and 200 is switching gears for this weekend entering with the fastest LPD1 Regional time in the 400 (48.46) and as part of two relays.
Nathan Levine, Canton junior: The reigning high jump champion at 6-8 jumped a winning 6-6 at his Regional and likely will contend with Muskegon Reeths-Puffer’s Liam McHugh, who posted a 6-8½ to also win a Regional title.
Kayenn Mabin, Kalamazoo Central senior: He had the second-fastest LPD1 Regional time in both the 110 (14.33) and 300 hurdles (39.21) and also is expected to run on two contending relays. He won the 110 and was fourth in the 300 last season.
Trent McFarland, Utica senior: The reigning 800 champion won last week with the third-fastest LPD1 Regional time overall of 1:53.91, about two seconds off his winning Finals time from 2022.
LP Division 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Team forecast: The last six LPD2 Finals have seen six schools win championships and three more finish runners-up. Berrien Springs has a chance to break that trend after claiming last year’s title, entering this weekend with the fastest 400 and 800 relays in all Division 2 Regionals, plus contenders in at least three individual events. Whitehall, third last year, is seeking its first Finals title since 1996 and combines a significant group of scorers in races, relays and field events. Forest Hills Eastern was last year’s runner-up and has representatives in nearly every race including all four relays, plus two field events. Vicksburg, Freeland and Corunna also have opportunities.
Dalton DeBeau, Frankenmuth senior: Last season’s discus champion and shot put seventh-place finisher won both at his Regional with throws that were third for shot put (53-9½) and sixth for discus (156-9) among all LPD2 Regional performances.
Stuart Gould, Howard City Tri County senior: His lone event at the 2022 Finals was a win in the 400, and he’ll be a little busier this time also contending in the 200 and running a relay. He finished second in the 400 (49.15) at his Regional to Whitehall junior Trannon Aylor – who finished second to Gould at last year’s Final.
Carter McCalister, Monroe Jefferson senior: He just missed scoring in the 3,200 last season, finishing ninth, but he should put up some points this time entering off the fastest LPD2 Regional times in both the 3,200 (9:20.47) and the 1,600 (4:17.33).
Aiden Sullivan, Ada Forest Hills Eastern senior: The reigning champion in the 800 is coming off a Regional win in 1:58.40, exactly two seconds off his Finals time of a team ago. He’ll also run the 1,600 and on two relays.
Michael Wright, Vicksburg senior: Only a single relay contributor at last year’s Finals, he’s set to offer much more with the fastest LPD2 Regional times in the 100 (10.82) and 200 (22.0) while running on two relays including a contender in the 800.
Division 3 at Kent City
Team forecast: The top seven teams last season finished within 10 points of each other, and a strong group of favorites could make this close at the top again. Sanford Meridian tied for sixth last season and enters with tons of scoring potential in sprints and jumps, including with the fastest 400 and 800 relays from all LPD3 Regionals. Benzie Central, third last spring, could be carried by distance stars Hunter Jones and Pol Molins. Last year’s ninth-place Chesaning has qualifiers all over the meet and contenders in hurdles and relays, and Hart – fifth last season – also is strong in distance, and throws.
Hunter Jones, Benzie Central senior: The graduating Benzie star and four-time cross country champion has won the 1,600 the last two seasons and the 800 last spring as well, and he ran the top LPD3 Regional times in the 800 (1:57.76), 1,600 (4:19.78) and 3,200 (9:24.89) – the latter two by notable margins – and was part of the fifth-fastest 3,200 relay.
Torren Mapes, Delton Kellogg junior: He competed in the 110 hurdles last season but didn’t make the final – but he’ll be in the hunt for multiple championships after running the second-fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 110 (15.34) and third-fastest in the 300 hurdles (41.13).
Kellen Kimes, Hart senior: Last season’s discus champ and shot put runner-up topped the LPD3 Regional performances in both with tosses of 181-9 and 57-11, respectively.
Brayden Riley, Sanford Meridian senior: He qualified in the 200 last season and didn’t make the final but was part of the winning 800 relay. He could pace a team title run entering with the fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 200 (22.25), fourth-fastest in the 100 (11.20) and as part of the two top sprint relays mentioned above.
Tryce Tokar, Ovid-Elsie sophomore: Last season’s pole vault champion as only a freshman posted the top LPD3 Regional vault (14-8¼) by more than eight inches.
Jerry Wiegers, North Muskegon junior: After finishing ninth in the 400 last season, Wiegers is lined up to score with the top 400 LPD3 Regional time (50.58) and second-fastest in the 200 (22.52).
Division 4 at Hudsonville
Team forecast: Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep is the reigning champion and has won three of the last four championships (not counting 2020, where the season was canceled due to COVID-19). The Irish have qualifiers in good position to score in five individual races, three relays and at least three field events. Flint Beecher has coverage in fewer events but big points potential in sprints, hurdles and relays led by speedy Jaylin Townsend. Reading has qualifiers in all but three events and a pair of relays that could lead a team title run.
Alex Affer, Peck senior: Last season’s long jump champ by more than three inches had the second-farthest LPD4 Regional jump this time (21-7¼), just a half-inch shorter than that of Detroit Frederick Douglass’s Anthany Buford, who finished second to Affer at last year’s Finals.
Tyler Bays, Reading senior: He’s back after winning the 800 and finishing third in the 1,600 last spring and returns with the third-best 800 (1:57.86), sixth-best 1,600 (4:32.95) and fourth-best 3,200 (10:00.98) times from all LPD4 Regionals.
Isiah Biers, Coleman senior: He won the pole vault last season by seven inches and enters with the fifth-best vault (12-9) from LPD4 Regionals.
Brady Feldpausch, Fowler sophomore: After running on a relay at last year’s Finals, Feldpausch will be busier entering with the top LPD4 Regional times in both the 110 (15.33) and 300 hurdles (40.84) and as part of two relays.
Liam Mann, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep senior: The reigning champion in the 200 and runner-up in the 100 also was part of a winning relay last season, and he enters with the second-fastest LPD4 Regional times in both the 100 (11.13) and 200 (22.76) and slated to run on both sprint relays.
Lezawe Osterink, Wyoming Potter’s House Christian senior: He’ll look to add to his 1,600, 3,200 and 3,200 relay championships from a season ago, plus two cross country titles, entering this weekend with the top LPD4 Regional time in the 1,600 (4:22.73) and also running the 3,200 and on two relays.
Braden Prielipp, Marion junior: He won the high jump by seven inches last season, and his 6-3 at his Regional was the third-highest in all of LPD4 two weeks ago. He’ll also long jump and run the 400 and on a relay.
Jaylin Townsend, Flint Beecher senior: He’ll look to add to his two sprint and one relay championship from 2021 and third individual title won last season in the 100. He had the fastest LPD4 Regional times in the 100 (10.99) and 200 (22.23) and will run on two relays expected to contend as well.
PHOTO Potter’s House Christian’s Lezawe Osterink takes the baton during a relay at last season’s LPD4 Finals. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
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.)