Gall Makes Most of Last Finals Run

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 1, 2019

JENISON – Shepherd senior Amber Gall withstood the elements and pressure to end her tremendous career the way she hoped it would.

Gall won the 800-meter run and the 1,600 on Saturday, and began the day helping her team to a first-place finish in the 3,200 relay (9:33.89) at the MHSAA Division 3 Track & Field Finals at Jenison High School.

Three weather delays – one that delayed the start of the finals until 3 p.m.; the second, a 30-minutes delay, halfway through the meet; and the last one just before the start of the final event (1,600 relay) that pushed the conclusion deeper into the night – caused athletes and officials to pack and unpack throughout much of the day.

The rain, wind and hail didn’t seem to bother Gall, who will attend University of Michigan in the fall on a track scholarship. She won the 800 run as a sophomore and also ran on the winning 3,200 relay that season. Gall finished second in the 800 last season, one hundredth of a second behind Judy Rector of Hanover-Horton, and she and her teammates also placed sixth in the 3,200 relay in 2018.

“I’m excited,” Gall said after crossing the finish line in the 800 with a time of 2:12.72. Lauren Freeland of Kent City was second with a time of 2:13.97. “Last year I lost by .01 to one of my best friends.

“Mentally, it takes a toll. Last year I had a good year, not my best. I couldn’t be happier with the way this year has gone. The 800 is probably the toughest to run. It’s the gutsiest. You have to find another gear. For me, my blood pressure drops really fast so I have to do a lot of prerace work.”

As far as strategy, Gall said it all depends on how the race is run. She trailed Freeland at the halfway point before making her move.

Gall spent two minutes immediately following the race talking and consoling her teammate, Amelia Gouin, a sophomore, who finished ninth in the 800.

“I told her she has some big races ahead of her,” Gall said.

Pirates capture title

Pewamo-Westphalia won its first team title since 2015 and fourth overall as it finished with 45 points. Last season’s co-champion, St. Charles, was second with 37.5 points and Shepherd took third with 35. Scottville Mason County Central was fourth with 31, and Quincy placed fifth with 30.

Kent City won the meet’s final event, taking the 1,600 relay with a time of 4:04.15. Mason County Central, with a time of 4:04.55, placed second, and those eight points moved it past Quincy for fourth place in the team competition.

No Pewamo-Westphalia athlete placed first, but two of its relays, in the 800 and 3,200, placed second. The top individual finisher for the Pirates was Sophie Thelen. She placed third in the 100 dash and took fourth in the 200.


Motivation comes in many forms. For Elizabeth Gramza, a senior from Perry, it came from a fellow track athlete on the boys team at Perry.

Gramza did not place in any event last season but took first in the 100-meter hurdles on this afternoon.

She finished second in the Regional and was seeded ninth entering the finals. Seeded No. 1 was Brittany Bowman of Kingsley.

“I was perfectly getting over the hurdles,” Gramza said. “I was going against the top seed in the prelims and I beat her (with a time of 15.90. Bowman ran a 15.91). I felt really comfortable in the prelims. That gave me confidence.”

Gramza’s best finish last season was ninth in the 300 hurdles. Not only did she not score a point in 2018, but Perry as a team did not score.

“We came in to compete,” Gramza said. “I’m not sure what the difference was this year. I was with a very good hurdler (on the boys team) and he’s short. He said he works hard in practice day after day without getting much results. He said he watched me come out (last season) and saw that I just started running well. That flipped my switch. I started working a lot harder, every day in practice.”

Bowman did place second in the 100 hurdles with a time of 16.04.

Gramza was also scheduled to compete in the pole vault, 300 hurdles and 400 relay. She did well in the pole vault finishing third with a vault of 10 feet, 3 inches. Jael Wood of Scottville Mason County Central took first in that event at 11 feet, 6 inches.

Youth is served

It’s not supposed to be this easy, particularly when one considers Lexus Bargesser of Grass Lake is a freshman.

Bargesser won the sprint double, the 100 and 200 dashes, with times of 12.56 and 25.43, respectively. The time in the 100 is a personal best. She won the 200 by more than half a second.

“That’s my favorite race,” she said of the 200. “I love the energy. You feel yourself, on the run, having all that energy. It’s one of those races, a long sprint that I love. The energy of this meet made me better. I was hoping (to win both). Anything can happen. I was thinking this morning, I can win this.”

Jayden Humphrey of Manchester placed second in both (12.82 in the 100, 26.04 in the 200).

Sprint relays go to reigning co-champ

St. Charles won both the 400 and 800 relays last season on its way to the school’s first Finals team title, which it shared with Hart. On Saturday, St. Charles won both again – and there were some familiar faces leading the charges.

Celine Whiren, a junior, ran on both relay teams each of the last two years, and this time she ran anchor on the 800.

“Pewamo-Westphalia was winning when I got the baton,” she said. “Oh, it must have been four or five strides and I just ran my normal race.”

St. Charles won the 400 relay with a time of 49.95 seconds and the 800 with a time of 1:46.05.

Well worth the wait

Mikayla Williams of St. Charles competed in three field events and in the last one, the long jump, she recorded a personal best of 17 feet, 2 inches to place first. Last year she placed second in the long jump.

“It actually came on my first jump of the (event),” she said. “I jump three events (high jump, pole vault and long jump), and lately I’ve been babying my (left) knee. I jump off my left knee, and today it felt great.”

Williams will attend Wayne State next season and expects to compete in the triple jump and the long jump.

She also played volleyball in the fall. So why risk injuring your knee playing two sports?

“I jump off two knees in volleyball,” she said.

Makes sense.

Repeat champion

Renae Kutcha of Jackson Lumen Christi said she felt the pressure of winning the 400 dash as a freshman last season. To offset this she decided to work harder, a regiment that included running the 800, to improve her leg strength. It worked.

Kutcha’s time of 57.81 in the 400 on Saturday was good enough to get her past Josee Behling of Boyne City, who placed second in 58.04.

“Doing the (800) helped me,” Kutcha said. “I wasn’t running well early in the season, and then I remembered that this was my event. So I got my legs stronger, and my times started to go down.”

Winners all

Byron sophomore thrower Sarah Marvin won both the shot put and discus Saturday, ahead of Caro's runner-up Sheridan Dinsmore in both events. Marvin had taken third in both as a freshman.

Muskegon Western Michigan Christian freshman Abby Vanderkooi won the 3,200 in 10:36.17, clearing the field by more than 21 seconds. 

Onsted junior McKenna Russell repeated as champion in the 300 hurdles. Hillsdale junior Bailey Morgret won a close competition in the high jump.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Shepherd's 3,200 relay, including Amber Gall (second from left), celebrate a win Saturday at Jenison. (Middle) Pewamo-Westphalia breaks past the finish line for more points on the way to winning the team title. (Photos by Annette Tipton. Click to see more from

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.)