Oak Park Gets Win that Matters Most
June 1, 2019
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
KENTWOOD – The Oak Park girls track & field team won the final event of Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals.
That victory in the 1,600 relay was the Knights’ lone victory of the meet. However, a lack of individual winners didn’t prevent them from going back-to-back as overall champions.
Oak Park’s depth was on display as it scored 74 points to win the Finals at East Kentwood High School. Detroit Renaissance took runner-up with 71 points, while Rockford was third with 69.
The Knights have won five Division 1 titles over the last six years.
“A complete team win, and we were solid across the board,” Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles said. “I think it’s the first championship we’ve won where we’ve only won one event, but they placed in everything else so it worked out for us. It was a great meet.”
Oak Park won the 1,600 relay with Jayla Jones, Tamyra Todd, Kourtney Kennard and Chloe Vines in a meet record-breaking time of 3:45.13.
“I’m so humbled and excited,” Vines said. “I’m proud of myself because there are times I don’t think I’m capable of doing certain things, but my teammates trusted me. The girls with me are all underclassmen and they are so motivational and inspiring. They make me want to do great.”
Jiles believed his team had the talent and depth to win even without notching first-place finishes.
“We were really balanced across the board this year,” Jiles said. “We weren’t exceptional in anything, but we were really good in a lot of things.
“It’s a little bit sweeter when you can win a tight battle with two other great teams. Renaissance was outstanding in sprints, and Rockford was amazing with their distance and overall team. I have a lot of respect for those teams, and we had to get the best out of our kids to even think about winning.”
Rockford senior Ericka VanderLende won the 1,600 (4:41.00) and 3,200 (10.24.57) and finished runner-up in the 800.
“I was really happy to complete all three events and not completely fall apart at the end, so I could get all the points I could for my team,” VanderLende said. “I was really happy to get two PRs (personal records) and then just come back and finish strong in my last race ever for Rockford.”
VanderLende won the 1,600 a year ago and placed runner-up in the 3,200.
“I just wanted to give it my best effort and go home knowing that I did all I could and laid it all on the line,” VanderLende said.
Her run at three titles was spoiled by Grand Haven senior Gabby Hentemann, who clocked a winning time of 2:08.70 to win the 800.
Hentemann, a senior, missed last year’s Finals due to a foot injury.
“I was in a boot cheering for my teammates last year after suffering a stress fracture,” Hentemann said. “It was a very painful and long recovery, so being able to just race today was a huge opportunity.
“It was very emotional for me to come back and win because my coaches and teammates watched me struggle the past year mentally and physically to recover from this injury.”
Detroit Renaissance freshman Kaila Jackson had an impressive debut and claimed a victory in the 200 (24.04), while finishing runner-up in the 100.
“I wanted to push myself harder after the 100 so I could win the 200,” Jackson said. “Most people get angry, but I build my anger up and take it out on the track. It was a great experience for my first state meet with the crowd and all the other runners. We pushed each other, and it was amazing.”
Jackson’s teammate, Leeah Burr, won the 400 in a time of 54.17.
White Lake Lakeland’s Grace Stark repeated in the 100 hurdles (13.43).
Other individual winners included: East Kentwood’s Qe’Neisha Young (100), Troy’s Lauren Fulcher (300 hurdles), East Kentwood’s Belle Okoroafo (discus), Dexter’s Nicole Bow (pole vault), Okemos’ Jasmine Clerkley (shot put), Mona Shores’ Elizabeth Knoll (high jump) and Walled Lake Western’s Kennedy Jackson (long jump).
PHOTOS: (Top) Oak Park celebrates its fifth Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship over the last six seasons. (Middle) Rockford's Ericka VanderLende capped her high school career with two more individual titles. (Photos by Carter Sherline. Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
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.)