Record Throws Set Up Carson City-Crystal's Soar to 1st Title
By Will Kennedy
Special for Second Half
June 5, 2021
HUDSONVILLE —For the first time in school history, the Carson City-Crystal Eagles boys track & field team has claimed the title of state champion.
Carson City-Crystal finished Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals with 68.5 points, 10.5 more than the closest competitor. The Eagles did it with a small group – only eight athletes travelled to Hudsonville to compete. But by the end of the day, all of them had earned the title of all-state athlete.
Junior Zane Forist got the day started off on the right foot in the field events. He won the discus with a throw of 196-5, nearly 60 feet more than the second-place finisher. He also won the shot put with a hurl of 62-4, over 14 feet more than anybody else.
Both were meet records – the discus toss breaking the 190-0 throw by Litchfield’s Jacob Patrick in 2012. The shot put bested the former LPD4 record of 58-5.25 by Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s George Flanner in 2007. And together gave Carson City-Crystal a comfortable lead heading into the track finals, helping alleviate the pressure on the rest of the team.
“When you have the number one thrower, that kind of helps,” said Eagles coach Grant Woodman. “The field events set the tone, and then we let our distance guys ease into it and it just works out for us.”
The distance runners did what they had to do to get the job done. Senior Coleman Clark earned second place in the 1,600 and the top spot in the 3,200. Those points helped keep Saugatuck at bay and put the Eagles firmly atop the podium.
Clark said that in other years, he focused on his individual performance. But this time around, he knew he wanted to give it his all for the overall team victory.
“This year, going into the season knowing we would have a top team, I knew I was going to be team-focused,” Clark said. “It feels so good to hit that top goal as a team. We knew we could do it.”
Jaylin Townsend from Flint Beecher set the standard in sprint events. He came away with an individual title in the 100 with a personal record time of 10.98 and edged Saugatuck’s Benny Diaz for first in the 200 with a time of 22.75. Townsend also helped lead the Buccaneers to a title in the 800 relay with a school record of 1:30.59.
The sophomore said that when he crossed the finish line as a Finals champion for the first time, he got excited realizing he was among the elite of the elite runners in Michigan.
“It feels great,” Townsend said. “I’m always thinking that I have to win, I have to win. … The excitement through my head is just so crazy. Only a couple people can really be state champions, and I’m one of them.”
Diaz earned two individual titles himself, in the 110 hurdles with a time of 14.77 and in the 300 hurdles, crossing the line in 39.59.
While all the excitement was taking place on the track, Wyoming Potter’s House Christian junior Jok Nhial finished first in the long jump with an incredible leap of 21-09.50, a personal record. He shattered his previous PR by seven inches, something he wasn’t expecting to do Saturday.
“It feels amazing that I’m able to do this at the state championship,” Nhial said. “I didn’t expect to make a PR today, or even break our school record. It was a great moment. I’ve worked so hard and for this to be the outcome, it feels great.”
But the true triumph of the day belonged to Carson City-Crystal. The eight athletes and the coaching staff were able to put together a season that none of them will soon forget.
“Everybody stepped up and did their part,” Forist said. “It really is a team thing. It wasn’t just a one-man show. Everybody did their thing. It’s so awesome.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Carson City-Crystal celebrates its first MHSAA Finals championship in track & field. (Middle) Flint Beecher's Jaylin Townsend, right, races Saugatuck's Benny Diaz. (Below) The Eagles' Coleman Clark races in the 3,200. (Photos by Will Kennedy.)
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.)