By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There are communities all over Michigan known for nurturing their athletes from the youngest levels through high school – football towns, basketball towns, volleyball towns, etc.
Marquette is a skiing town, with a decades-old infrastructure that would seem to guarantee no slowing down for the Marquette High boys team that has won six straight Division 1 championships and the girls team that last month clinched its third consecutive title.
Marquette’s boys and girls ski teams are the MHSAA/Applebee’s Teams of the Month for February after continuing those impressive streaks.
In Marquette, skiers who fill the high school teams came up on the local Marquette Mountain Race Team and Great Lakes Ski Academy. And every once in a while there’s an athlete with especially high aspirations who chooses to continue competing solely outside the high school.
But second-year coach Dan Menze – who has coached in both non-school programs and skied for the Redmen through graduation in 2009 – said over the last two seasons every student who ski races has raced with his high school teams.
“The amount of skiing that’s available to these kids to make them better athletes and come to high school as already accomplished skiers – this wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have the programs that do bring those kids up,” Menze said.
“They teach skiing the right way. When they come to the high school, (athletes) already have a good foundation and good base. It’s just taking them to the next level for me, which I don’t usually have a ton of kids that I have to bring up to that level.”
The boys team won its title Feb. 26 at Boyne Mountain with 56 points, as Traverse City Central came in second for the fifth straight season this time with 80.5. The Redettes scored 48 points to finish ahead of Traverse City West’s 76.
Sophomore Ainsley Kirk and senior Sadah Scheidt took first and second in the girls slalom, and junior teammate Natalie Robinia was sixth. Kirk was then third in the giant slalom, and sophomore Jacey Johnson was seventh.
On the boys side, sophomore Aaron Grzelak, senior Andrew Thomas and freshman Haydn Kauppila took the first three places, respectively, in the slalom. They then finished second, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the giant slalom.
If the feeder programs are the key, Marquette Mountain’s participation is nearly as important. Menze said the hill “bends over backwards” to make it easier for the Redmen and Redettes to get in their training runs – and with the ability to set up courses comparable to any of the terrain the teams might see elsewhere.
Marquette High, the largest school in the Upper Peninsula, dominates in a number of sports throughout the school year. But also making the ski teams’ accomplishments impressive is the competition – skiing and hockey are two sports where Marquette regularly sees and succeeds against teams from both the Upper Peninsula and downstate.
The boys team has won 13 MHSAA Finals titles, dating to its first in 1997. The girls have won 11 going back to 1999.
“There’s not really a lot of other teams at the high school that get to compete with a lot of these teams from downstate,” Menze said. “It is nice to go down there; we’re in our element.
“The last 30 years we’ve been fairly consistent and competitive, and it’s awesome to bring that back to the school.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2017-18
January: Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer - Report
December: Cadillac boys bowling - Report
November: Ottawa Lake Whiteford football - Report
October: Beaverton volleyball - Report
September: Shepherd girls golf - Report
PHOTO: Marquette’s girls and boys ski teams hold up their latest MHSAA championship trophies last month at Boyne Mountain. (Photo by Keith Dunlap.)
BOYNE FALLS — Petoskey’s dynasty continued to brew at Monday’s Division 2 Ski Finals at Boyne Mountain.
The program added its 12th Division 2 championship over the last 13 years – and fourth straight – finishing first with a combined score of 63.
Pontiac Norte Dame Prep (83) finished runner-up, and Great North Alpine (116) finished third. Harbor Springs placed fourth at 128.
“It's great to see the seniors be able to close that out with four state championships in a row," Petoskey coach Ben Crockett said.
Northmen senior Nolan Walkerdine earned an individual medal finishing first in the slalom with a combined time of 1:10.87. Walkerdine said afterward he couldn't believe his team won again after experiencing an emotional roller coaster season.
"I've been working towards this for my entire life," Walkerdine said.
Senior teammate Wyatt Mattson won giant slalom (1:07.77) and finished seventh in the slalom. He noted he grew up watching Petoskey win 10 straight Division 2 Finals – a level of success he always wanted to take part in.
"When I was in eighth grade, we broke our winning streak," Mattson said. "I felt like we had to avenge that because I was used to us winning, to win four years in a row.
"This feels good," he continued.
Crockett has been coaching Petoskey for three seasons and never experienced anything but a Finals championship. Crockett realizes that won't last forever, but being undefeated on championship day is something he'll cherish.
He couldn't help but smile and laugh when realizing the feat.
"I had a few tastes of defeat, but that's just a testament to how strong the program is and how much it's a part of our community," Crockett said.
"It's a year where the team gelled together, and they enjoyed themselves the most of all the years," Crockett added. "Many of them are upperclassmen, and that sense of the end is coming — as every student (experiences) — as they get towards the end of their high school careers, they just seemed like they enjoy the experience as they're moving through it."
Walkerdine is hopeful that since his time on the team is at an end, newcomers can continue the dynasty they’ve continued building.
“Let’s keep this thing rolling,” he said.
Mattson was followed in the GS by Houghton’s Eli Heathman and Walkerdine, as Petoskey put four placers among the top 11 in that event.
Walkerdine was followed in slalom by Great North Alpine’s Corbin Murphy and Heathman in third.
PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Nolan Walkerdine races past a gate during Monday’s Division 2 Finals at Boyne Mountain. (Middle) Houghton’s Eli Heathman eyes the path ahead during one of his races. (Click for more later this week from Sports in Motion – Division 2.)