3 Upper Peninsula Athletes Among History-Makers in 1st Finals Adaptive Events

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

June 17, 2022

KINGSFORD — A trio of Upper Peninsula wheelchair athletes were among five statewide who concluded their seasons June 4 competing in first-time adaptive events at MHSAA Finals.

This spring, the MHSAA Track & Field Regionals and Finals included its first adaptive 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes and shot put.

“Learning the technique and staying motivated is very challenging,” Houghton senior Maria Valet said after the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference meet May 31 at Calumet. “I go to regional competition downstate and in Indiana and Wisconsin. I also do little bit of weight training, but practice mostly on the track. I also work a little bit with Dean Juntunen (a longtime wheelchair racer from Ontonagon), who gives me some pointers. It’s good to have something to work for and see other people do it.”

Houghton track & fieldJoining Velat at the Upper Peninsula Finals in Kingsford were Marquette freshman Jim Bennett and Sault Ste. Marie freshman Johnny Osborn.

Velat covered the 100 in 26.56 seconds, 200 (51.15) and 400 (1:35.96) and recorded a 10-foot toss in shot put.

Her effort in the 400 at the Finals was nearly a personal-best.

“My best time in the 100 is 25.7 and I’ve done the 200 in approximately 48 seconds,” she said. “I think the 100 is my hardest event because it’s harder to gain momentum.”

Velat will attend the University of Michigan and major in biology. She will also be on the track team.

Bennett shattered his previous best time in the 200 by more than 2½ seconds was clocked at 24.31 in the 100 and 1:39.74 in the 400.

“It feels real good to race against other people,” he said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to do this before. There are so many opportunities available. Colleges are looking for wheelchair racers.

Sault Ste. Marie track & field“Today was my best time in the 200 (47.52). It feels great to do that. I had my best time in the 100 (23.15) in Marquette. The longer distances are more challenging for me. Right now I’m building up.”

Osborn threw the shot 13-4 at Kingsford, missing his personal best by just two inches.

“It means a lot to me to get a chance to compete,” he said. “This helps bring out the competitive spirit. I do cross country, which gives me more endurance and definitely helps me for track. I also manage the basketball team at our school.”

Osborn finished the 100 in 33.18, 200 in 1:17.95 and 400 in 2:21.03.

In the Lower Peninsula, Chelsea junior Jacob Nelson competed in the Division 2 100 meters, and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett junior Jacob Juip competed in the Division 3 100 and 200.

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Marquette's Jim Bennett races during the UP Finals on June 4. (Middle) Houghton's Maria Velat competed in all four adaptive Finals events in UPD1. (Below) Sault Ste. Marie's Johnny Osborn also competed in all four events at Kingsford. (Photos by Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.)

Finals Title Next Step for Versatile Swan Valley Record-Breaker Kuhn

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 22, 2024

Sydney Kuhn’s habit for smashing school records at Saginaw Swan Valley has forced the track & field program to start taking cost-cutting measures.

Bay & Thumb“We stopped changing out the records on our record board,” Swan Valley coach Dave Dawson said. “We just figured she has another year and she’ll break it again, so we figured we’re going to save money this way.”

Kuhn, a junior, owns the school records in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. She also has the program record in 60 meters, an indoor track event. She’s run the school’s second-fastest 300 hurdles time, and one of the top five 100-meter times. The 1,600-meter relay team she’s part of with Mackenzie Morgan, Grace Spear and Mackenzie Powell is close to setting a record, as well, and has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on June 1.

“Her ninth-grade year, everybody knew, depending on what happens and her attitude, they knew she could be something special. There was potential there,” Dawson said. “Lauren Huebner, she graduated in 2016 and went to SVSU and was a two-time Division II national champion, she had eight records on the board. Sydney feeds off that. Especially now that Lauren is helping coach, she’s definitely been pivotal in this.”

Kuhn qualified for the Finals in the three events she ran at last week’s Regional: the 200, 400 and 1,600 relay. She will be the No. 1 seed in the 400, and has run the fastest time in the state regardless of division, at 55.11 seconds. She’s the No. 2 seed in the 200, where her personal best of 24.89 is the fifth-fastest time in the state this year, regardless of division. She finished third and sixth, respectively, at the Finals in the events a year ago.

“I feel good,” Kuhn said. “I’m just getting ready. It’s been a good year, it’s been going smoothly. The 400 looks pretty good, and the 200 there will be some good competition. Freshman year, I got fifth, then third (as a sophomore) in the 400, so hopefully this year is first.”

She did not run the 800 at the Regional, as it was decided it was too close in the meet order to her other events. She’s run 2:12.75 in the event, the fourth-fastest time recorded in the state this season.

That could be where she has the most potential, however, as it’s a race she had never run competitively until her sophomore season. The first time she ran it in a varsity meet, she recorded a 2:21, setting the school record.

Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth.“(Coach) Andrew Wendler put a bug in her ear, ‘If you’re running this fast in the 400, think of what your 800 would be,’” Dawson said. “She says, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it.’ So, in one of our first conference meets, she ran against a girl that’s pretty good in the 800 and we just said to follow her – stick with her and see what you can do. With 200 meters left, she just took off and broke the school record the first time she ran it.”

A year later, they tried the same thing with the 1,600. And again, Kuhn responded by running 5:12.73 in her first try, setting the school record. She’s since run 5:06.45.

“The first time I ran the 800, I ran against Mary Richmond from Frankenmuth who is really fast, and I sort of paced behind her the first 400, then the last 300 I took off. Same thing with the 1,600. I felt like staying behind her, I wasn’t really racing, so I could just go, I thought.”

Richmond is a three-time all-state finisher in both the 1,600 and the 3,200, as well as a four-time all-state cross country runner. 

With Kuhn’s instant success in every race she’s tried, the logical next question is, what about the 3,200?

“My coach mentioned that,” Kuhn said with a laugh. “But I usually just shake my head. You never know.”

There is a real question, however, about what event, or events, Kuhn is best suited for moving forward. She said that she would like to shift some focus to the 800 for her senior year, and several college coaches who have been in contact with her have indicated that’s where she could land.

“The pattern typically is they would probably turn her into a half-miler or a miler,” Dawson said. “Some college coaches want her for the heptathlon with her hurdle experience, and she is not a stranger to the weight room. That’s the fun part about this, she tries something and it’s usually pretty fun. It’s usually a positive experience.”

Kuhn is ready for whatever is thrown at her.

“They’re mostly like 800, 1,500, those types of races,” she said. “Some of them just say whatever you like best. One coach mentioned the steeplechase – I don’t know about that. One coach did mention (heptathlon). I’d be open to whatever is best.”

While she’s taken some unofficial visits, she said she’s in no hurry to choose a college. Her focus remains on winning a Finals title at Swan Valley, and a series of times she’s set as goals for herself: 24.4, 54.9, 2:09.9, 4:59.9.

They’re all saved on her phone screen, where they’re easy to change as she reaches them. And at no cost.

“Every time I look at my phone, I see the times I want to get,” she said. “I’ve changed my screen saver a lot when I do break it.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Saginaw Swan Valley’s Sydney Kuhn runs toward the finish during the Korf/Schultz Saginaw County Invitational on May 10 at Hemlock. (Middle) Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth. (Photos by Eagle Eye Photography.)