Northern Hopefuls Chase Dream Finishes

June 2, 2017

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Can Gaylord’s Casey Korte, despite missing three weeks in May with shin splints, defend her MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 title in the long jump?

Can Benzie Central’s ironman, Brayden Huddleston, medal and earn all-state honors in four Division 3 distance races?

Can Harbor Springs sophomore Jeremy Kloss – the top seed in the 1,600 and 3,200, along with his teammates in the 3,200 relay – pull off a trifecta in Division 4?

Can the Traverse City West 400-meter relay team win the school’s first boys MHSAA Finals title in a running event?

In northern Michigan, those four storylines will be among the most compelling Saturday at the MHSAA track & field championships.

Casey Korte

The 17-year-old multi-sport athlete has been battling nagging leg injuries the last two seasons, but still won the long jump last June with a leap of 18-0¼.

Shin splints forced Korte to take three weeks off last month. She returned for the Regional and kicked off the rust by winning the long jump (17-01.25) and helping the 800-meter relay team qualify for the MHSAA Finals.

“It’s good,” she said of her health.

Her distance in the long jump was third best among state Regional performers.

“Usually my goal every meet is to be in the mid-17s,” she said. “Nobody was close to it (17-1¼) at the Regional so I was good with it.”

Korte had an interesting warmup Tuesday at Gaylord’s Meet of Champions. She won the 100, high jump and was on the victorious 800-meter relay, but took second in the long jump at 15-5½.

“Usually I don’t do the long jump last,” she said. “I do it second. But the way the meet was set up I did it after all my other events, and after it had rained and gotten cold and windy. My legs wouldn’t let me take off and jump.”

Korte does not expect similar problems Saturday.

“My goal is to double as a state champion,” she said. “Last year, during long jump, all the factors came together. I was feeling good, the high jump was going well, the wind was perfect. Everything went well. I’m hoping it happens again.”

Korte finished fourth in the high jump at last year’s Finals, but did not qualify in that event this year.

Nonetheless, it’s been a banner senior year for Korte. She was the team Most Valuable Player and an all-region pick in volleyball, then followed it up with a first-team all-state campaign in basketball, averaging 19.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game. Korte signed to attend and play basketball at Cornerstone University.

But her focus now is on the track. And what would it mean to her if she could repeat in the long jump?

“It would show that my hard work paid off,” she said. “A state championship isn’t just handed to you. You have to work hard for it. It would be awesome to know I did that. It’s still surreal that I was the state champion last year. There are times I still can’t believe it.”

Brayden Huddleston

Huddleston is preparing for an event-filled day at the Division 3 Finals. The senior is seeded second in the 800, seventh in the 1,600 and eighth in the 3,200. He also runs a leg on Benzie’s 3,200-meter relay, which is seeded third.

His goal? Medal in all four.

His goal? A podium finish in all four events.

“It’s pretty rare (to run four distance races at the Finals), especially if you’re a kid that has a shot to potentially win,” Benzie Central coach Asa Kelly said. “We talked. I said, ‘You’ve got to be a little crazy to do this.’ He said, ‘I want to.’

“He’s one of those exceptional kids that when he does something, he does it really well. He’s a 4.0 student, a salutatorian. I said, ‘You could be one of those rare kids that could be all-state in four distance races.’ That doesn’t happen too often. He’s committed 100 percent to this. It’s going to take a lot of careful planning (Saturday), as far as warming up, cooling down, diet, fluids. I think he’s going to do great.”

Huddleston, who will run at Bradley University, said he’s ready.

“They say it’s crazy to do (four distance races) at state finals, but I like that challenge,” he said. “I’m ready to put forth my best effort and see what I can do.’

Huddleston said he’s most concerned about the quick turnaround between the 800 and 3,200.

“I’m most nervous about that,” he said. “I think there’s only one heat in the girls two-mile at state finals so the turnaround will be quick. But I think I’m in good shape. This is the most fit I’ve ever felt.”

Huddleston won the Ryan Shay 1,600 meters in a season-best 4:19.84 at Tuesday’s Traverse City Record-Eagle Honor Roll meet. That time ranks second to St. Louis’ Evan Goodell’s 4:18.18 in LP Division 3 this year.

“I was shooting to see how close I could get to the school record of 4:14.7 by Jake Flynn,” Huddleston said. “I fell a little short, but I was running by myself, and running into a wind for half the lap. You take those things away and it puts me right in the ballpark. I was happy with my effort. It’s good to be rolling into the state finals.”

Huddleston smiles when he talks about a second seed in the 800.

“I’ve always looked at myself as a distance runner,” he said. “The two mile has been my best event. But this year I ran a couple open 800s, and I fell in love with it. It’s a strategic race.”

The 3,200 will be his last race of the day.

“He knows going in there will be guys who will be fresh,” Kelly said. “What a badge of honor if he could go out there and say, ‘This is my fourth event and I’m going to try and be all-state and beat some guys who haven’t run at all today.’”

Jeremy Kloss

Kloss will toe the line in three Division 4 distance races. His Regional times of 4:26.71 in the 1,600 and 9:49.52 in the 3,200 were best in the division. The Rams also had the top 3,200 relay time of 8:20.69.

Kloss, who was second in the LP Division 4 Cross Country Final, said he’s peaking at the right time.

“With the state meet coming up, it was time to kick it into gear, get motivated, get serious,” he said.

Kloss, who is coached by his father Mike, said he would like to achieve some goals he set at the beginning of the season – to run in the high 9:30s in the 3,200 and low 4:20s in the 1,600.

“I think I can,” he said.

Jeremy is the youngest of four brothers to run for the Rams. His mother, Emily, coaches the girls team.

“I was born in early October and wasn’t even a month old when I went to my first state finals cross country meet,” he said.

His brother Jake ran on the school’s LP Division 4 cross country championship teams in 2002 and 2003.

Jeremy Kloss was sixth in the 1,600 and 3,200 as a freshman. He said the 1,600 is his favorite event because it combines the speed of the 800 with the endurance of the 3,200.

“It’s the perfect medium,” he said.

And has he received any advice from his older brothers – Jake, Ben and Scott – who will all be in attendance Saturday?

“No, other than ‘Why aren’t you running faster?’” he said with a laugh.

Kloss would like the last laugh tomorrow.

“I’m very excited for it,” he said.

TC West 400-meter relay

In Division 1, Traverse City West enters the 400-meter relay seeded second to Rockford (42.57) with a time of 42.63 seconds.

“First is obviously a goal,” senior Dalton Michael said. “It’s there, but we’ll see.”

Twins Donovan and Dalton Michael lead off the relay, followed by Lukas Sawusch and Erik LaBonte.  Dalton Michael was the state’s Mr. Soccer in the fall.

“We’re all multi-sport athletes,” LaBonte said. “We’ve been working together the whole (spring). We’re getting better.”

The Titans placed seventh in the relay a year ago, but Donovan Michael is the only returnee. Dalton missed his junior season of track with a dislocated knee. LaBonte was bothered by a hip injury.

But that’s in the past.

“We’re coming into (Saturday) knowing we’re a good team,” Donovan Michael said. “If we have a good day, we could do really well.”

Coach Tom Brown said the Titans will need a school record-breaking performance to be in the hunt. The 42.63 in the Regional tied the school mark.

“I think we’ll have to run in the 41s,” Brown said. “That’s something Rockford did (41.6 at the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association state team meet last weekend).”

Detroit Cass Tech, led by three Big Ten football recruits, won the 400 relay last June in 42.26.

“I think we can go faster,” Sawusch said. “Our handoffs haven’t been great, so we need to work on that this week.”

Focusing on the exchange zone has been a point of emphasis in practice.

“The 4X1 is all about handoffs,” Brown said.

The Titans believe they have the speed.

“We’ve had 22 kids in school history run sub-11.3 – 18 different kids in the last seven years,” assistant coach Jason Morrow said. “The kids have worked hard at it.”

LaBonte, who also plays football, is the lone underclassmen in the group. Sawusch is headed to Spring Arbor to run track. The Michaels will play soccer at Western Michigan University. Dalton, who earned All-American honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association, became the second Titan to win Mr. Soccer, after Casey Townsend earned the honor in 2006 and 2007. Dalton had 29 goals and eight assists this past fall for West. Donovan added 20 goals and 20 assists.

What would it be like to add a Division 1 championship medal in track to his Mr. Soccer award?

“It would be a dream come true,” Dalton Michael said. “It would be one to remember.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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) Harbor Springs’ Jeremy Kloss carries the baton during a relay this season. (Middle top) Gaylord’s Casey Korte lands a long jump. (Middle below) Benzie Central’s Braydon Huddleston. (Below) Traverse City West’s 400 relay, from left: Dalton Michael, Lukas Sawusch, Erik LaBonte, Donovan Michael. (Top photo courtesy of the Kloss family, middle top photo courtesy of the Gaylord Herald Times.)

Not Even Sky Seems Limit as Richards Keeps Calvary Sports Soaring

By Tom Kendra
Special for

January 4, 2024

Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.

West MichiganRichards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.

He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.

While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.

Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.

This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”

The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.

“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.

One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.

Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.

“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.

“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”

True to his school

One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.

“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.

Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.

Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.

That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.

Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.

Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.

Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.

Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.

“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”

Great heights

Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.

The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.

“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”

The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.

Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.

Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.

McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).

“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”

Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.

Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.

“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.

Decision time

Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.

“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.

That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)

Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.

“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”

Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.

The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.

Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.

Only after all of that will it be college decision time.

“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)