ADA – If Michael Wright was a baseball player, he probably would've been called out on strikes a year ago.
Instead, the Vicksburg senior can celebrate after winning the 200 at Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Track & Field Finals at Forest Hills Eastern.
The road to the championship in the 200, via a time of 21.72, was anything but a straight line for Wright. An aspiring baseball player, he was cut from the Vicksburg squad as a freshman. His football career, by Wright's own admission, was "on and off." And then a year ago in his first track meet, Wright suffered a leg injury that virtually ended his season. He did return to finish fifth in the 200 at Finals while helping the 400 relay team to a 16th place.
So there is nothing to realistically explain how Wright found himself in the position Saturday at sweltering Forest Hills Eastern to win a championship. Except for returning this season to break the school record in the 200 four times in two months. Well, that and willpower and simple desire.
"I knew I could finish high, maybe in the top five. But this is better," said Wright, who credits drinking large quantities of milk for his resurgence. "I looked to football because I didn't think I could bounce back for track. But I overcame the bumps, the obstacles."
While Wright was jump-starting his track career, Corunna won the team title with 41 points. Mason and Forest Hills Eastern tied for second with 35. Whitehall was fourth with 33 points, and Frankenmuth fifth with 29 points.
Corunna coach Jeff Sawyer, who had never won a Finals title in 37 years coaching at Owosso and three more at Corunna, said the championship came after little fanfare during the season. Virtually right up until the time Corunna hauled off its first-place trophy, Sawyer said it was never really on his team's mind. The title came after the team managed only a runner-up finish at the Regional.
"We kind of low-keyed it," he said. "We knew scoring 40 points was possible. We lost to Frankenmuth by one point at the Regional. … We were a little disappointed we didn't win, but we had some good times today. We knew it was possible.
"Every day we just come and do what we do. We talk about getting better every day with PRs (personal records). And we're still getting better because we have some tough guys. Just competitive, tough kids. But we were the underdogs."
Corunna had only two firsts on Saturday, in the 400 relay (42.63) and Wyatt Bower in the long jump (22-8½).
Among the individual highlights was Frankenmuth senior Dalton DeBeau, who successfully defended his Finals title in the discus (171-6). He was fifth in that event as a sophomore and after winning a year ago, was considered a good bet to repeat.
"I kind of expected it," said DeBeau, who will compete at Michigan State next spring. "There wasn't a lot of pressure. I knew what had to be done. I threw 160 feet on my first throw to get in the finals, and that helped right away. I knew I could go all out."
Berrien Springs' Jake Machiniak won the 100 (10.54) while the team also captured the 800 relay (1:28.18). Machiniak said his season hasn't been without its share of difficulties. There was a time when he couldn't seem to come out of the starting blocks smoothly. But beginning with the conference meet where he ran school record 10:73, Machiniak felt himself back on course.
"There were ups and downs. I struggled in the middle of the season," he said. "But my teammates helped me through some difficulties. I came here to finish the job; I knew I could do something here."
Mason's Tyler Baker won the 100 hurdles (14.63) to complete a long journey that included finishing just ninth in last year's prelims. The success was as simple as putting in loads of offseason work.
"I practiced and did stuff about every day," he said. "I might not be the fastest, but I make up for that in form. It's a fine-tuning thing. Everyone wants to be faster."
Mason also got a championship from A.J. Mantel, who captured the 300 hurdles (38.90).
Among other highlights was Forest Hills Eastern senior Aiden Sullivan successfully defending a 2022 title on his own home turf. He won Saturday's 800 (1:53.92).
Adrian won the 3,200 relay (7:39.77), while Grand Rapids Christian took the 1,600 (3:24.49).
Alma had two individual winners in Michael Howey in the shot (55-08) and Jacob Dunlap in the high jump (6-7).
The other champs were Kyle Eberhard of Linden in the 1,600 (4:14.79), Whitehall's Trannon Ayler in the 400 (48.83), Freeland's T.J. Hansen in the 3,200 (9:11.56) and Sam Vesperman of Grosse Ile in the pole vault (15.01). Chelsea senior Jacob Nelson competed in the adaptive 100 (27.28), 200 (57.71) and shot put (6-6).
PHOTOS (Top) Vicksburg's Michael Wright celebrates after winning the 200 on Saturday. (Middle) Corunna's Tarick Bower enjoys a moment after anchoring the winning 400 relay. (Below) Mason's Tyler Baker, center, works to stay ahead in the 110 hurdles. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)
David Kozisek ♦ Pickford
Senior ♦ Track & Field
Kozisek was an exchange student from Czech Republic this school year, and when he returns home this week he'll do so having accomplished a rare feat in MHSAA track & field history. On Saturday he became the ninth male athlete to win four individual events at a Finals, taking first in the 110 hurdles (15.40), 300 hurdles (41.39), high jump (6-3) and long jump (20-10) in helping Pickford to the Upper Peninsula Division 2 team championship.
After also playing football and basketball for the Panthers, Kozisek joined the track & field team this spring with plenty of knowledge having competed in that sport over the last six years in his home country. He was incredibly close to leaving an even larger historical imprint last weekend; Kozisek's long jump and high jump both were just one inch off tying UPD2 Finals records, and his 110 time missed that meet record by only six hundredths of a second. He was the first to win four boys events with the combination of two hurdles races and two jumps, and the second four-time individual winner joining Joe Baker, who in 1974 became the first from any school to win four Finals events.
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PHOTOS courtesy of 2BU Photography.