Performance: Lakeland's Grace Stark

June 2, 2017

Grace Stark
White Lake Lakeland sophomore – Track & Field

The Eagles’ speedy standout has made significant strides – literally – this season, cutting more than a second off her fastest 100-meter hurdles time from 2016. How much she’s improved in that race gained the most notice at Friday’s Oakland County Championships when Stark won in 13.54 seconds, earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” If she can repeat that time at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals, she’ll break the all-Finals record set by Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Candice Davis in 2003.

Stark’s fastest 100 hurdles time as a freshman was 14.64 seconds, and she also ran 11.82 in the 100 dash. She approached the dash personal record as well at the Oakland County meet, winning in 11.86. She’s undefeated in both the 100 dash and 100 hurdles this season, plus won a Regional title in the 200 in a personal-record 24.99 seconds. Stark owns Lakeland’s records in the 100, 100 hurdles and 200 and as part of the 400 and 800 relays, the last two helped of course by a number of talented teammates, including a strong senior class finishing up this weekend. 

After developing bursitis in a hip over the summer, Stark took six weeks off from training. She upped her workouts to near-normal in December and competed indoor before showing her advancing speed on the outdoor track. Also a gymnast during elementary and middle school, Stark focuses solely on track now but said her time on the mat helped her improve physically and become more disciplined. She carries a 3.9 grade-point average, showing discipline and determination in the classroom as well.

Coach John Kababik said: "Grace is the fastest sprinter that I have coached in 40 years of coaching Lakeland girls track. What makes her so good is not only the talent she was born with, but the single-minded determination to be the best. She runs track both in season and out as a club runner. Grace was very good as a freshman, but she has improved by a full second over the last year in the hurdles. For sprinters to improve that much is not common. She came into high school fast, but she’s getting better due to the fact she’s so conscious of her technique. She’s just driven. She wants to be better, and she’s so knowledgeable that she’ll talk to me about former Olympic champions and the techniques they used. Grace will continue to break records and improve because that is who she is: that is part of her personality."

Performance Point: “I think I had a better start that day,” Stark said of the Oakland County hurdles race. “I got out to the first hurdle, and actually I’ve been working on my arms – working on not raising over hurdles, but keeping them low and right in front of me. … I thought I’d pulled off a good time, but I didn’t know it was good enough for a state record. I hit the last hurdle, and I didn’t know how much that slowed me down.”

Give it up for Gail: “Gail Devers (a U.S. Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996), she did the 100 and she did the hurdles too, and she’s the big person I look up to. I’ve been told she has a similar body structure to me, so I thought, well, she’s my height, she did the hurdles and the dash, so she’s very similar to me. And she’s someone I’ve been told to watch by my coaches."

Mat time pays off: “(Gymnastics) made me stronger, my whole body. I did a lot of sprints toward the vault table, and I thought that helped. And the technique we had; it taught me a lot about discipline, helped me prevent injuries, all the workouts that we did.” 

Fun to be fast: “I like the pressure of (racing). I like being out on the line, going off and being in the race. I like the thrill of it, really. Not knowing who is going to win, how the race is going to turn out. And giving all of yourself to something you care about is really fun.”

Difference in the details: “I take time with things, make sure they’re done right before I finish them. I think that reflects in both (athletics and academics) how I get stuff done. I’m very critical of myself. If it’s not done almost perfect, I find something to work on or something to fix.” 

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2016-17 honorees:
May 25: Brendon Gouin, Gaylord golf Read
May 18: Hannah Ducolon, Bay City All Saints softball – Read
May 11: Mason Phillips, Salem track & field Read
May 4: Lillian Albaugh, Farwell track & field Read
April 27: Amber Gall, Shepherd track & field  Read
April 20: Sloane Teske, East Grand Rapids tennis Read
March 30: Romeo Weems, New Haven basketball Read
March 23: Jaycie Burger and Maddie Clark, Pittsford basketball Read
March 16: Camden Murphy, Novi swimming & diving Read
March 9: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central wrestling Read
March 2: Joey Mangner, Chelsea swimming & diving Read
Feb. 23: Isabelle Nguyen, Grosse Pointe North gymnastics – Read
Feb. 16: Dakota Hurbis, Saline swimming & diving – Read
Feb. 2: Foster Loyer, Clarkston basketball Read
Jan. 26: Nick Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling – Read
Jan. 19: Eileene Naniseni, Mancelona basketball Read
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTO: (Top) White Lake Lakeland's Grace Stark clears a hurdle during a race this season. (Middle) Stark begins to break away from the pack. (Action photos courtesy of the White Lake Lakeland athletic department; head shot courtesy of the Oakland Press.)

Finals Title Next Step for Versatile Swan Valley Record-Breaker Kuhn

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 22, 2024

Sydney Kuhn’s habit for smashing school records at Saginaw Swan Valley has forced the track & field program to start taking cost-cutting measures.

Bay & Thumb“We stopped changing out the records on our record board,” Swan Valley coach Dave Dawson said. “We just figured she has another year and she’ll break it again, so we figured we’re going to save money this way.”

Kuhn, a junior, owns the school records in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. She also has the program record in 60 meters, an indoor track event. She’s run the school’s second-fastest 300 hurdles time, and one of the top five 100-meter times. The 1,600-meter relay team she’s part of with Mackenzie Morgan, Grace Spear and Mackenzie Powell is close to setting a record, as well, and has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on June 1.

“Her ninth-grade year, everybody knew, depending on what happens and her attitude, they knew she could be something special. There was potential there,” Dawson said. “Lauren Huebner, she graduated in 2016 and went to SVSU and was a two-time Division II national champion, she had eight records on the board. Sydney feeds off that. Especially now that Lauren is helping coach, she’s definitely been pivotal in this.”

Kuhn qualified for the Finals in the three events she ran at last week’s Regional: the 200, 400 and 1,600 relay. She will be the No. 1 seed in the 400, and has run the fastest time in the state regardless of division, at 55.11 seconds. She’s the No. 2 seed in the 200, where her personal best of 24.89 is the fifth-fastest time in the state this year, regardless of division. She finished third and sixth, respectively, at the Finals in the events a year ago.

“I feel good,” Kuhn said. “I’m just getting ready. It’s been a good year, it’s been going smoothly. The 400 looks pretty good, and the 200 there will be some good competition. Freshman year, I got fifth, then third (as a sophomore) in the 400, so hopefully this year is first.”

She did not run the 800 at the Regional, as it was decided it was too close in the meet order to her other events. She’s run 2:12.75 in the event, the fourth-fastest time recorded in the state this season.

That could be where she has the most potential, however, as it’s a race she had never run competitively until her sophomore season. The first time she ran it in a varsity meet, she recorded a 2:21, setting the school record.

Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth.“(Coach) Andrew Wendler put a bug in her ear, ‘If you’re running this fast in the 400, think of what your 800 would be,’” Dawson said. “She says, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it.’ So, in one of our first conference meets, she ran against a girl that’s pretty good in the 800 and we just said to follow her – stick with her and see what you can do. With 200 meters left, she just took off and broke the school record the first time she ran it.”

A year later, they tried the same thing with the 1,600. And again, Kuhn responded by running 5:12.73 in her first try, setting the school record. She’s since run 5:06.45.

“The first time I ran the 800, I ran against Mary Richmond from Frankenmuth who is really fast, and I sort of paced behind her the first 400, then the last 300 I took off. Same thing with the 1,600. I felt like staying behind her, I wasn’t really racing, so I could just go, I thought.”

Richmond is a three-time all-state finisher in both the 1,600 and the 3,200, as well as a four-time all-state cross country runner. 

With Kuhn’s instant success in every race she’s tried, the logical next question is, what about the 3,200?

“My coach mentioned that,” Kuhn said with a laugh. “But I usually just shake my head. You never know.”

There is a real question, however, about what event, or events, Kuhn is best suited for moving forward. She said that she would like to shift some focus to the 800 for her senior year, and several college coaches who have been in contact with her have indicated that’s where she could land.

“The pattern typically is they would probably turn her into a half-miler or a miler,” Dawson said. “Some college coaches want her for the heptathlon with her hurdle experience, and she is not a stranger to the weight room. That’s the fun part about this, she tries something and it’s usually pretty fun. It’s usually a positive experience.”

Kuhn is ready for whatever is thrown at her.

“They’re mostly like 800, 1,500, those types of races,” she said. “Some of them just say whatever you like best. One coach mentioned the steeplechase – I don’t know about that. One coach did mention (heptathlon). I’d be open to whatever is best.”

While she’s taken some unofficial visits, she said she’s in no hurry to choose a college. Her focus remains on winning a Finals title at Swan Valley, and a series of times she’s set as goals for herself: 24.4, 54.9, 2:09.9, 4:59.9.

They’re all saved on her phone screen, where they’re easy to change as she reaches them. And at no cost.

“Every time I look at my phone, I see the times I want to get,” she said. “I’ve changed my screen saver a lot when I do break it.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Saginaw Swan Valley’s Sydney Kuhn runs toward the finish during the Korf/Schultz Saginaw County Invitational on May 10 at Hemlock. (Middle) Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth. (Photos by Eagle Eye Photography.)