Revived Mancelona Boys Charging Ahead
May 9, 2019
By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half
Ability alone won’t get it done on the track.
That’s why the transformation of the Mancelona boys track & field team didn’t happen until the Ironmen added confidence to their talent.
“I always thought they could do it,” said Rick Ancel, Mancelona’s head coach. “I always thought we had a lot of talent. They just didn’t believe in themselves, and they ran mediocre. Once they started believing, the workouts changed. The times changed. There are very few people they are afraid of. They get beat on certain days, but they don’t beat themselves up. I think before this change they were afraid before they ever got on the track.”
Since they’ve developed some faith in themselves the Ironmen have been a force to be reckoned with, running undefeated through every regular-season invitational they competed in last year on the way to capturing the Ski Valley Conference title. With most of its squad returning this season, Mancelona has continued to dominate meets and figures to be a shoo-in to capture the league crown for a second straight year when the conference championships are run May 22. The squad has been so impressive that it earned a No. 6 ranking in the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Division 3 poll two weeks ago.
“It’s kind of hard to think about (being ranked) because a couple years ago we weren’t even winning our conference let alone being ranked at the state level,” said junior Johnny Ancel, one of the team’s three captains, along with classmates Tommy Palmer and Wesley Fulk.
Members of the team or coaching staff point to when Rick Ancel took over as head coach before last year as the pivotal moment when the Ironmen’s outlook, preparation and performance all changed. Ancel, who ran collegiately at Saginaw Valley State, deflects the credit back to his team and its willingness to do what it takes to find success.
“I do remember during the year that the workouts started changing,” said Rick Ancel. “They started going from trying to complete a workout because they had to run that much to trying to improve. Instead of just getting through it, they were doing the workout to get better.”
The fruits of their labor paid off in the form of the league crown, a fifth-place finish in the Regional — which came in their first year competing in Division 3 — MHSAA Finals qualifiers in three events and a school record in the 1,600-meter relay.
“At the end of last year I was feeling pretty good,” said Fulk. “We were only losing two of our (top) people, so the majority of our team was still going to be here. I knew we were going to be better than last season.”
The Ironmen haven’t disappointed. In an indoor meet at Central Michigan University in mid-March, the Ironmen kicked off their season by finishing second among Division 3 and 4 teams, easily surpassing their 11th-place finish a year ago. They followed that by winning their first five regular-season meets outside. Only a second-place finish at the Blue Devil Classic in Gaylord — where Mancelona tested itself against Division 1 and 2 teams — broke up the streak of regular-season first-place finishes that started early last season.
“This year we added some big meets,” said Rick Ancel. “We really tried to ramp up our competition this year.”
Ancel’s veteran squad has welcomed the tougher competition. It’s a core of athletes who individually have the versatility to fill in at a number of different events and compete at a high level. The three captains, for instance, can run any event from the 100-meter dash up to the 800-meter run.
“We can try more people in different spots,” said Fulk.
It comes down to doing whatever the team needs at a particular meet. Even though track & field is in many ways an individual sport, the Ironmen see it from a team standpoint and embrace that perspective.
“We always start every meet and end every meet together as a team,” said Palmer. “You can’t do it alone, obviously. You can’t win a meet with just us three who are here or just one of us.”
Two years ago the Mancelona team had only 11 members. Depth is not an issue any longer, however, as the Ironmen have bolstered their roster and now have nearly every event covered. Sophomore Ryan Rebh is ranked among the best hurdlers in the state in Division 3. Sophomore Jayden Alfred is the reigning Regional champion in the high jump and long jump and has emerged as the team’s top sprinter this season. Sophomore distance runner Tyler McClure is a Finals qualifier in the 3,200-meter run. Junior Michael Wagner is one of the better discus throwers in the Ski Valley Conference. James Dunne, Ben Palmer, Sam Squires and Austin Anderson have been key point scorers as well.
Mancelona also has four top-notch relays — all four should be favored to win conference crowns — highlighted by the 1,600 team. Ancel, Tommy Palmer and Fulk all return for that squad and have their sights set on breaking the school record for a second straight year.
“We’re just trying to find the right day where we all run fast at the same time,” said Johnny Ancel. “We could probably break it again right now. We just haven’t found the day.”
Records aside, the Ironmen seem to have the lineup that could challenge for a Regional title. Mancelona’s last Regional championship came in 2012, but that was in Division 4. Running in Division 3 is a bit more difficult, the Ironmen say, but they are up for the challenge.
“Harbor Springs was (in Gaylord), and they’re in our division. They’re really good. We’ll meet them again at Regionals,” said Rick Ancel. “That will be a tough day for us, but I think we’ve got a shot at winning that.”
Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mancelona’s Ryan Rebh leads the charge through the 110-meter hurdles during a recent meet. (Middle) Jayden Alfred launches during the long jump. (Photos by Chris Dobrowolski.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)