Ironwood's Smith Sisters, Bessemer's Stone Set Fast Pace in Western UP
By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com
May 9, 2022
IRONWOOD — There are at least three shining stars on the western horizon in Upper Peninsula girls track as Ironwood junior Lilley Smith, her freshman sister Aubrey and Bessemer junior Natalie Stone are setting the pace among distance runners on the Gogebic Range.
Aubrey Smith won the 1600-meter run at 6 minutes, 0.5 seconds in last Monday’s Jack Kraemer Invitational on a cloudy and chilly day at Longyear Field.
Stone, who had been dealing with leg issues, was runner-up at 6:11.47, and Lilley Smith took fourth (6:14.03), just 34 hundredths of a second behind senior Olivia Soltero of Washburn-Port Wing South Shore (Wis.).
Lilley then dominated the 3,200 at 13:34.16, nearly two minutes ahead of the field.
“In distance running we’re competitive, yet everybody is friendly,” said Lilley Smith. “You gain respect for yourself and others.
“Aubrey has an amazing kick. We started real early. I started in seventh grade and fell in love with it.”
Aubrey Smith was in sixth grade when she began her running career.
“Our mom ran marathons and told us great stories about running,” she said. “When you’re done with a race, you look back at what you did and you’re proud of what you accomplished.”
Stone also ran in the 1,600 relay in which the Speedgirls took fifth.
“Everything is very tight,” she said. “I felt good today, but I’m still a little sore. I’m just so happy to be able to run because I love it so much. Running is a lifetime sport, and I want to do it all my life. I had missed six weeks. This is only my second day back, and my lungs aren’t quite there yet.”
Last fall, Aubrey Smith was runner-up and Lilley placed sixth at the Upper Peninsula Division 2 Cross Country Final at Marquette. Smith was third in the 1,600 and second in the 3,200 at last spring’s UPD2 Track & Field Finals.
“Aubrey is very talented and hard working,” said Ironwood cross country coach Ben Schmandt. “It’s challenging for a freshman to compete at the highest level. Lilley is also one of the hardest workers on the team. She exemplifies perseverance. She fell down at Hancock and was the first one to finish (fourth overall in cross country) with bleeding feet. That’s dedication in the truest form. She’s one of the most coachable kids we’ve had.”
Stone placed third at the UPD2 Cross Country Final and in the 1,600 in UPD3 last spring at Kingsford behind Mid Peninsula’s Landry Koski and Rudyard’s Tristan Smith.
“Lilley and Aubrey push me, and I push them,” said Stone. “It’s so much fun to run with them. Hopefully, the U.P. Track Finals will go better for me this year. Landry is a very good runner. She just came from behind and won it. She has a real strong kick.”
Bessemer coach Tracy Rowe refers to Stone as one of the team’s leaders.
“Natalie is a great runner,” she said. “You feel so bad for kids when they get hurt. I’m just glad she can run and feels better.”
At Friday’s Ontonagon Invitational, Aubrey Smith placed fourth (6:10.8) and Lilley was fifth (6:11.2) in the 1,600. Lilley then took second in the 3,200 (13:10.3).
“We enjoy running with each other,” Aubrey said after the meet in Ironwood “We give each other the thumbs up when we pass each other in a race.”
“I love Natalie,” Smith added. “I’ve been running against her since middle school.”
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: Bessemer’s Natalie Stone leads a race during last season’s UPD3 Finals at Kingsford. (Middle) Ironwood’s Lilley Smith is among those pacing the pack during last season’s UPD2 Final in the 1,600. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
Elk Rapids' Schulte Sisters Splitting Finals Weekend Between Tennis, Track
By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
They’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.
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.
“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 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.)