Smart Choices Pay Off for Sanford Meridian
May 31, 2014
By Butch Harmon
Special to Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – The Sanford Meridian baseball team was down a man Saturday as it worked its way to a District title.
Senior Jacob Wenzlick was busy on the other side of the state, helping the Sanford-Meridian boys track and field team win the championship at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals.
Wenzlick was a member of three winning relay teams for the victorious Mustangs. He also is a member of the Mustangs baseball team and had a pair of hits in the District opener earlier in the week.
But the lure of a lofty finish at the Track and Field Finals had him on the track Saturday afternoon.
“This was just nuts,” Wenzlick said. “We didn't even win our conference or our Regional. To win a state championship is incredible.”
That Sanford-Meridian was in a position to win was pretty incredible.
Wenzlick was not the only assist the Mustangs’ track team received from the baseball team. Senior Dan Johnson, who played baseball last season, broke his wrist before the season this spring. Unable to play baseball, he decided to come out for the track team.
On Saturday, Johnson found himself running a leg on the 1,600 relay team that not only won but set a meet record in the process.
“This is my first year of running track, and it was awesome,” Johnson said.
The track team received an even bigger assist from the Sanford-Meridian basketball team. Seniors Kevin Scheibert and Jacob Ham are first-year runners and members of the basketball team. They were busy in previous springs playing travel basketball together to prepare for the next season.
But with their high school basketball careers finished, the duo was talked into coming out for the track team by Sanford-Meridian coach Dave Pettyplace.
Scheibert and Wenzlick stepped in to open vacancies on the 400, 800 and 1,600 relay teams and helped all three squads win championships Saturday.
“We had three guys who were in their first year running track,” Pettyplace said. “They were part of three relay teams that took first place and that was a big key.”
Another big key was a fifth-place performance from Ham in the 200-meter run. Seeded eighth, Ham told a teammate he was going to take it easy in the 200 to save himself for the 1,600 relay at the end. His teammate let him know that those points in the 200 would be key for the team, and Ham changed his game plan.
“Those points were pretty important,” Ham said. “I had the mile relay after that and I wasn’t going to try very hard, but when I was told we needed those points, I ran as hard as I could.”
A feeling he and Scheibert would not have enjoyed had it not been for his coaches’ recruiting efforts.
“Coach has always talked to me about coming out for track,” Ham said.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Scheibert said. “This was the first year for the two of us. We just came out for the fun of it never realizing we would get in this position.”
For New Haven junior Josh Harris, the Finals were a very special occasion. Not only did Harris win the 110 hurdles in a personal-best time of 14.96, but he also celebrated his 17th birthday.
“This has been a goal of mine since my freshman year,” Harris said. “I also made a promise to my deceased coach, coach Rob who coached me as a freshman, that I would do this for him. Doing this on my birthday just adds the icing on the cake.”
Harris just missed qualifying as a freshman and last season he did not run track as he played travel basketball instead.
“Once the race began I felt very loose and confident, “Harris said. “I had no nervousness at all.”
Union City junior Aaron Watson also missed out on the Finals last year. Watson suffered a torn hamstring early last season and was never at full strength.
Healthy this year, Watson not only made it but won the 100 dash in a personal-best time of 10.9.
“As a freshman I made it to state but I was knocked out in the prelims,” Watson said. “Last year in the first meet of the season I tore my hamstring. At the beginning of this season my goal was just to qualify for state. As the season went on I started setting my goals higher and higher.
“I came out of the blocks real good. The leaders kind of bunched up in the middle of the race, but then I pulled away at the end. I started strong and finished strong today.”
Thanks to some help from his teammate, Niles Brandywine senior Andrew Duckett came away with a championship in the 300 hurdles. Duckett turned in a winning time of 39.1 while his teammate, senior Nathan Anders, placed third.
“Finishing in the top three together is a big deal for us,” Duckett said. “It is so helpful having a teammate like Nathan. He pushes me in practice every day. Most teams don’t have that luxury.”
Almont sophomore Jacob Battani picked a good time to make a big improvement. Battani won the pole vault with a vault of 13-9, a nine-inch improvement over his previous personal record.
“I had a better invert today, and that was something I was working on all week in practice,” Battani said. “I’m really excited and happy. I was just hoping to make it to state this year. I was not expecting to finish first.”
Hopkins junior high jumper Quincy Collings went out for track for the first time last season. One year later he not only made it to the Finals but he won the high jump with a leap of 6-9, three inches better than his previous record.
“I’ve been working on my technique a lot lately,” Collings said. “I was told to back up when the height goes up to get over the bar, and I’m happy with the result. My goal was to clear 6-8 and finish in the top three.”
PHOTO: Sanford Meridian's Jacob Wenzlick carries the baton for one of his team's relays. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
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.)