Rapid River Clinches on Final Relay
By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com
June 4, 2017
KINGSFORD — There appeared to be a sense of relief within the ranks of the Rapid River boys track team Saturday as it retained its Upper Peninsula Division 3 crown.
Rapid River edged Bessemer 108-104 for the title, but the teams were tied at 96 prior to the 1,600-meter relay.
Rapid River then secured the title by setting a meet record in the final race at 3 minutes, 34.52 seconds, topping the previous best (3:36.32) by Crystal Falls Forest Park run five years ago. Bessemer was runner-up (3:39.40).
“We really needed those points,” said senior Austin Wicklund, who anchored the Rockets’ 1,600 relay. “It feels great to win it in the last race. Our hard work paid off. Our first three legs were unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for a better lead.
“Going out this way is great. Thanks to Coach O (Steve Ostrenga) and his assistants. They got us well prepared.”
The Speedboys pulled even in the 3,200 as Adam Mazurek placed third (10:54.31) and Isaiah Aili took fourth (10:58.94).
Senior Jared Anderson, however, kept the Rockets from falling behind by taking fifth (11:02.33).
Bessemer started the day by setting a meet record in the 3,200 relay (8:29.88), beating the old mark (8:30.1) by Powers North Central in 2004.
“I really had to push myself,” said junior Brayden Tomes, who anchored the winning relay. “The clock read 8:25, and I knew I had to gut it out. It was really close.”
Rapid River junior Lucas Sundling captured the 400 (52.41), helped the winning 800 relay (1:35.41) and was runner-up in the 100 (11.96) and 200 (23.76).
“I wasn’t feeling the best early in the meet,” said Sundling. “I didn’t have a good start in the 100, but managed to catch up. This is my first year in the 100, so I guess I can’t be too disappointed.
“Our first handoff in the 800 relay was bad. Our coach said we could have been under 1:35 without that.”
Junior Luke Gustafson provided the Rockets with a first in pole vault at 12 feet, took the second leg of the 1,600 relay and helped them place third in the 3,200 relay (8:55.61).
“I’m happy to get first,” said Gustafson. “I wanted the U.P. record, but it didn’t work out. I was up and over the bar twice (at 13 feet), but hit it with my arm. I’m pleased with my day overall.”
Bessemer’s main strength was in the distances where Isaiah Aili took first in the 800 (2:07.35) and 1,600 (4:39.82). Cade Mazzon was runner-up in the 800 (2:09.06), and Uriah Aili took fourth in the 800 (2:10.59) and 1,600 (4:52.56).
Tomes won the 200 (23.34) and placed third in the 300 hurdles (43.25).
“I had a good start in the 200,” said Tomes. “I wanted to take advantage of the first 50 meters where the wind was on our back. I knew I had to give our team some points. Having the competition helped me get a better time.”
Third-place Pickford’s lone win took place in high jump on Nick Edington’s leap of 6-2.
North Dickinson senior Garrett O’Neil was a triple winner, taking the 110 hurdles (16.34) and 300 (41.97), and long jump (18-10).
“My starts were good, but the races didn’t go as good as I wanted,” said O’Neil. “I hit a couple hurdles in the 110s and landed on the wrong foot on two of the first three in the 300s. I was going for the school record, but landing on the wrong foot made that difficult. I just had to push through and get to the finish line.”
Lake Linden-Hubbell senior Brendan Middleton took the 100 (11.83) and anchored the winning 400 relay (46.76).
Ewen-Trout Creek junior Jake Witt won shot put (45-5½) and was runner-up in discus (129-3), both with personal bests.
“I’ve been working on the glide the past week,” said Witt. “I brushed up on my technique, and with a little help from our assistant coaches I learned how to use my lower body. I threw eight feet further than in the Regional (at Wakefield), which definitely gave me some confidence.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rapid River’s Luke Gustafson runs his leg of the 1,600 relay Saturday. (Middle) Bessemer’s Brayden Tomes stretches for the win in the 200. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
The 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.
“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.”
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.”
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 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@example.com 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.)