State's Fastest Aiming for Record Finish

May 24, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

KENTWOOD Khance Meyers is widely regarded as the fastest sprinter in the state.

The East Kentwood senior track star will attempt to live up to that billing next weekend when he competes in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals.

Meyers is the reigning champion in the 100 and 200.

“I feel amazing going into the state meet as a 100 and 200 runner and defending my title,” Meyers said. “I’m just really excited, and I’m planning on trying to take the state meet record in the 100 and going back for the 200 record and dropping that even more.”

Meyers made a sparkling debut last season at the Finals as a junior, becoming a dual champion while also setting a new meet record in the 200.

He clocked a 21.24, eclipsing the previous mark of 21.30 seconds.

Although he had never competed in the Finals until last season, Meyers had lofty expectations for himself.

He had spent the previous two seasons watching and waiting for his time to shine.

“Last year was just like, ‘wow,’” Meyers said. “I’m here, and it’s time to show them what I have. It’s my time to show them what I can do, and that’s where all the pressure came from. My coaches explained to me how big it was and how important it is to be a state champion and to try my best.”

Meyers also ran the first leg on the victorious 800 relay team.

For Meyers, his final Finals meet is expected to be special for a couple reasons.

Not that he needed extra motivation, but he will be running on his home turf as the Division 1 Finals will be held at East Kentwood High School.

“Being able to run my last year with my team and to run at East Kentwood is making me feel so amazing inside,” he said. “To have that feeling that I have that advantage to run in my home territory.”

Meyers has the top times in the state this season in both of his signature events (10.55 in the 100, 21.29 in the 200), but he knows the competition will be stiff at the Finals.

He isn’t taking anything for granted.

“You get everybody at their best level and everybody is battling for a title,” Meyers said. “There is just going to be a lot of pressure on not only me, but everyone else to get a state championship.

“I’m always looking at other people because someone who isn’t ranked can come out of nowhere. You have to be prepared for that, and being number one in the state you can’t slack off or take your time. You have to be fully alert that anybody can just come up and do anything.”

Falcons boys track coach David Emeott said Meyers remains humble despite his past accomplishments. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, and instead displays a work ethic that is unmatched.

“He’s a pretty amazing athlete, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s an incredible worker and no one outworks him,” he said. “He puts the time in on the track more than anybody and he spends time watching film and studying the sport.

“He does what he needs to do to get better, and it’s pretty rare. Usually you get a kid that talented and he doesn’t necessarily want to put in the time. He comes with some natural ability, but he just trusts the process.”

Meyers didn’t know he was gifted on the track until he was in middle school. As an eighth-grader, people began taking notice of his raw speed.

“I came from nowhere in seventh grade to somewhere the next year,” Meyers said. “I became pretty fast, and everyone was telling me that. I was happy and excited to become better for myself and also help people around me get better.”

Meyers also has displayed his prowess at the national level. He took part in the New Balance Outdoor Nationals and placed second in the 200 with a time of 20.78 seconds.

He said competing against the top runners in the country was beneficial.

“Running in the 200 open on the big stage at the national level was amazing,” he said. “That experience gave me a different thought process. I just wanted to run my race, and do what I can do to get better.”

Meyers, who next will attend Hinds Junior College in Mississippi (which finished fourth at junior college nationals this past weekend), has a ritual before the start of every race.

“I pray before I go, and I try to channel everything,” Meyers said. “I just have my mind go blank and just focus on the race. As soon as I get off the blocks, I know it’s just a straight shot from the starting line to the finish.”

Meyers will be the catalyst of an East Kentwood team that will vie for a team Division 1 title. The Falcons placed third last season.

“I feel good about where we’re at,” Emeott said. “All of the guys who made it through have the opportunity to score. If we step up and do our jobs and focus on what is important, then we have a real opportunity to maybe win another state title. I have no reason to think that we’re not definitely in the conversation.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him atdream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Kentwood's Khance Meyers breaks away from the field during last season's 200-meter preliminaries at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Meyers stays a step ahead of Oak Park's Miles Daniel (left) and Saginaw Heritage's Sean Beckom II during last season's 100 championship race. (Photos by Carter Sherline/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.

Southwest CorridorThe 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.

Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. “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.”

Seeing potential

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.”

The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)