Blissfield's Smith Aims to Spring into More Long-Jumping Success

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

March 30, 2022

BLISSFIELD – The 2021 track & field season didn’t start the way Annabelle Smith had hoped, but it sure finished the way she wanted. 

Smith opened the season by long jumping only 15 feet, 5 inches, well short of her best. She bounced back quickly and never lost in the event again, culminating with a Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship in the event. 

“I think it was probably my worst day since middle school,” she said of last spring’s start. 

Those days are long behind her. As she prepares for her senior season, she is confident, mentally strong, and physically ready to beat the early spring Michigan weather. 

“It’s sort of hard for me because I much prefer warmer weather,” the Blissfield senior said. “Spring is my time to prepare. I try to give as much as I can.” 

Michigan’s weather doesn’t do prep athletes any favors this time of the year. But, Smith said, it’s something you have to set aside and push through. It’s part of being mentally strong and focused. 

“It’s something you can’t really control. You just have to deal with it.” 

Smith picked up track & field in middle school. Her coaches had all of the athletes try every event to see what they were best at. She immediately took to the long jump. She qualified for the Finals as a freshman and tied for eighth place in the long jump but missed out on being named all-state due to a tiebreaker.  

She trained hard for her sophomore year, only to have it canceled due to COVID-19. Last year she recovered from that early-season meet to win the Lenawee County championship, Lenawee County Athletic Association championship, Regional and Finals titles. She set a personal record at the LPD3 Finals meet with a jump of 18-1.5 and became Blissfield’s first female athlete to win a state track title in 30 years. 

“What sets her apart is her competitiveness and ability to adapt in any situation,” said Calvin Sullins, a former decathlete at Siena Heights University who now coaches Smith at Blissfield. “She trusts our process and is an exceptional student of the sport.” 

There was a time that Smith just went out, located her marks, and jumped.  

Blissfield track & fieldSullins and the rest of the Royals coaching staff turned her head by concentrating on technique. 

“Coach Sullins has a lot of knowledge about track in general,” she said. “It’s been great to work with him. Being a decathlete, he knows about every event.” 

One of the techniques she learned was to count steps rather than just look for her mark when starting to sprint as she approaches the long jump platform. 

“I use an 11-step approach,” she said. “I count 11 strides, and I lift off.” 

She counts down in her head every time her left foot hits the ground. 

“I jump when I’m at one,” she said. “I don’t have to worry where I’m at. It took a little bit to get used to, but it makes everything easier.” 

She has scratched on occasion, but she trusts in her ability to take equal strides and count the 11 steps during her approach. 

Being consistent in her events is her biggest challenge. She also takes pride in her mental approach to every event. There can be long breaks during a track meet, but she makes sure to get focused when she has to. 

“Mentally, I’ve changed a lot,” she said. “For me, what works is to be very involved with the team and not spend my down time thinking about my event. When I start to warm up, I just envision what my jumps are going to look like. That’s my time to myself, my time to get focused.” 

In between her junior and senior year of high school, she competed in a United States Track and Field Junior Olympic event in Atlanta, placing third in her division. She also had a national event in Florida. Closer to home, she entered some indoor meets in the open class in the area and trained whenever she found the opportunity to get out of the cold. 

“I just tried to stay consistent all winter,” she said. “For me, technique is very important.” 

Smith is looking at a few colleges, some nearby and some across the country. She’s undecided what she wants to do or where she wants to compete at the next level. 

This year she intends to compete in the 100 or 200 meters and possibly some relays as well as the long jump. Her goal is to start stronger than last year and steadily improve as the season goes on and be at her best come the first weekend in June – when the MHSAA Finals take place. 

“This year, my goal is to PR and get back to the state meet and place,” she said. “I have a lot of time to improve myself. That’s my main goal – to be better.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Annabelle Smith, right, and credits her Blissfield coach Calvin Sullins with helping her become a championship long jumper. (Middle) Smith jumps during the 2019 Lenawee County Championships. (Top photo courtesy of the Smith family; middle photo by Mike Dickie.)

Elk Rapids' Schulte Sisters Splitting Finals Weekend Between Tennis, Track

By Tom Spencer
Special for

June 2, 2023

Today began with a bye for Elk Rapids’ Jaida and Brynne Schulte as the Elks returned to the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Girls Tennis Finals in Kalamazoo.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThey’re planning to say bye to their tennis teammates, though, when the first day of competition is over. The Elks will have to advance to Saturday without them.

That goodbye is just fine with tennis coach Keith Schulte. And, it will be more than fine with the Elk Rapids track & field team – which will be happy to say hello to the sister pair as they head to their LPD3 Finals in Kent City.

Regardless of how they fare today, the Schulte sisters will run Saturday.

Coach Schulte, who teaches strength and conditioning at Elk Rapids, is also the father of Jaida and Brynne. Today’s he’s beaming with pride, and not just for his tennis team’s success. He’s proud of all the student-athletes and their successes this spring, including the girls soccer team moving on to Regionals with a 2-0 win Thursday over Boyne City.

And while all this is going on, he should have a moment or two to just be Dad. Jaida and Brynne teamed up to win the No. 2 doubles title at their Regional as the Elks tied for first place with Traverse City St. Francis two weeks ago. Then the Schulte girls captured first place in the Regional track meet to qualify for Saturday’s Finals. Brynne won the 1,600 and 3,200, and Jaida’s 3,200 relay team took first to move on.

Brynne Schulte sets to start a track relay. Coach Schulte hasn’t had much time to pause and soak in the moment of his daughters’ qualifying for two Finals competitions during the same season.

“I didn’t think much of it until now,” the fourth-year coach said. “I’ve always just challenged my kids to do something difficult and not be scared to fail.  

“They’ve just kind of found the balance on making this stuff happen,” he continued. “It is a pretty cool opportunity if you can go to two state championships.”

Getting to today’s Tennis Finals is a story full of success. The Elks’ first year under Schulte was halted after a week of practice due to the pandemic. The second year saw the team looking at a season with just nine potential players, but recruitment efforts resulted in the 2021 Elks managing to qualify for the  Finals for the first time in their history.

Elk Rapids went on to win the Regional championship in 2022. And then, after graduating six athletes, the Elks were able to repeat this spring with a valiant effort resulting in the co-championship with their conference rival St. Francis.

Dual-sport standouts, while rare, aren’t entirely unheard of – especially at the state’s smaller schools where athletes frequently are needed to fill rosters in multiple sports during the same season. In fact, the Schultes aren’t even alone on their tennis team – sisters Ryleigh and Haleigh Yocum also are playing doubles today but softball on Saturday.

The Yocums won the Regional title at No. 2 doubles and also are slated to be the Elks’ first two batters as they take on Mancelona as one of the favorites to win a Division 3 District title on the softball diamond.

“I do feel bad for them – it’s states,” said 14-year veteran softball coach Erin Merchant. “I do want them to have that opportunity. 

“I hope they go far,” she continued. “But then deep down, I’m like, ‘We need them Saturday.’”

Tim Nance and Jesse Way are in their first year co-coaching the boys and girls track teams at ER. They’re pleased the Schultes are prioritizing track while enjoying tennis.

he Schultes helped the Elks to their first two Regional titles in tennis, including their second straight this spring.“I think it is remarkable how resilient, laid back and casual the girls are about their success,” Nance said. “I would say it hasn’t compromised their talent, hard work and success.

“I think it has worked out great,” he continued. “I am selfish and I want them to myself only, but I am happy they can have two successes.”

The Elks will have Ayva Johnstone at No. 1 singles, Kelly Minidis and No. 2, Morgan Bergquist at No. 3 and Jasmine King at No. 4 this weekend. They also will have No. 1 doubles Chloe Taylor and Caroline Best and No. 4 doubles Tessa Nico and Portia Beebe, in addition to the Yokums and Schultes.

Jaida Schulte is a junior. She’s one of the recruits who joined to help the Elks get to their first Tennis Finals in 2021. Bergquist and Beebe were recruits in 2022.

Tennis is the favorite sport today for those three, but track and cross country are right up there for Jaida thanks to the opportunity to run with her freshman sister Brynne.

Jaida is hoping to at least match her personal-record split of 2:36 in the 3,200 relay Saturday. But her goal was first to win all of her doubles matches Friday and see the tennis team finish top-five in its division.

“Brynne loves track, and I love the challenge of running,” Jaida said. “I don’t think I would have the experience of running track or cross country without Brynne.”

Coaches saw very little disruption, if any, with their track, softball and tennis teams this spring with the Yocums and Schultes dual-sporting. The Schultes were able to get track and tennis practice or competition most every day.

“I prioritized track,” Brynne said.  “I also got a lot of hitting time in for tennis.

“I would go to track practice first, and as soon as I would be done I would run over to the tennis courts and hit with my sister for a half an hour before going home,” she continued. “It has been worth it.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Elk Rapids sisters Brynne (left) and Jaida Schulte have teamed up at No. 3 doubles for the tennis team this season. (Middle) Brynne Schulte sets to start a track relay. (Below) The Schultes helped the Elks to their first two Regional titles in tennis, including their second straight this spring. (Photos courtesy of Jaclyn Schulte.)