Preview: Opportunities Await for Standouts to Join All-Time Greats

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 2, 2022

Winners of 26 individual titles from the 2021 Girls Track & Field Finals will be back at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula championship meets hosted by Rockford, Ada Forest Hills Eastern, Kent City and Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School.

Events begin at 10 a.m. (EDT) and tickets to attend can be purchased online only at GoFan. The meets also will be broadcast on and viewable with subscription.

Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions.

Division 1 at Rockford

Team forecast: Oak Park has been the standard most of the last decade, last season winning its third-straight Division 1 championship and sixth in seven seasons (not counting the COVID-canceled 2020 season). Detroit Renaissance finished runner-up for the second straight Finals, but has the star power and depth to make a run at its first championship since finishing a run of 10 titles in 11 years in 2007. Rockford, Ann Arbor Huron and Ann Arbor Pioneer are others with an intriguing mix of possible event champions and qualifiers in numerous events.

Julia Flynn, Traverse City Central senior: Flynn has been among the state’s elite distance runners every fall and spring since the start of her high school career, and she enters her final race day for Central pursuing a first championship as the top seed in the 1,600 (4:53.88), second seed in the 800 (2:13.51) and fourth seed in the 3,200 (10:55.36).

Kaila Jackson, Detroit Renaissance senior: The three-time Finals sprint champion could make a run at the all-Finals records in the 100 and 200 as she enters her last championship meet seeded first in the 100 (11.52) and 200 (24.17) and likely to run on the top-seeded 400 and third-seeded 800 relays. That 100 qualifying time would break the all-Finals record of 11.54 run by Mumford’s Shayla Mahan in 2006.

Sophia Mettes, Dexter senior: Last season’s pole vault champion is the second seed with her Regional vault of 12-3. But she has the highest vault in Michigan this season by six inches at 13-6 from her league meet three weeks ago.

Arianne Olson, Holland West Ottawa junior: She finished only four seconds off the lead as the runner-up in last year’s 3,200, and she’s seeded first in that race (10:18.57) by 24 seconds. She’s also seeded second in the 1,600 (4:55.85) and could run on multiple relays.

Mackenzie Robinson, Ann Arbor Huron junior: She seeded right after Jackson in both the 100 (11.66) and 200 (24.36) and is likely to run on the second-seeded 400 relay and third-seeded 1,600 relay as well. She was sixth in the 200 and seventh in the 100 last season.

Abigail Russell, Allen Park sophomore: She also could take a major step this weekend after finishing 15th in shot put last season. This time she’s seeded first both in shot put (43-0) and discus (131-5), and both by impressive margins.

Nonah Waldron, Oak Park junior: She won both the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles at her Finals debut last season, and she’s seeded first in the 100 hurdles this time (13.88) by half a second, and seeded second in the 300 (42.66) only to sophomore teammate Morgan Roundtree. Waldron also will run on the top-seeded 1,600 and second-seeded 800 relays. She and Roundtree (42.42) should make a run at the all-Finals 300 record of 42.23 seconds.

Division 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern

Team forecast: Petoskey last season became the seventh team over the last eight LPD2 Finals to win the team championship. This season’s race is difficult to forecast. East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Christian both could score major points in distance competition, with the Eagles showing potential in field events as well. Madison Heights Lamphere, New Boston Huron, Allendale, Bridgeport, Petoskey for a repeat – in a low-scoring meet, all could have a chance, especially considering Petoskey was the only team to score more than 29 points last season.

Alma trackElizabeth Anderson, New Boston Huron junior: After finishing third in the 100 and 400 and fourth in the 200 last season, Anderson could climb the podium multiple times. She’s seeded first in the 200 (25.48) and 400 (56.90) and fifth in the 100 (12.45).

Madelyn Frens, Grand Rapids Christian senior: The LPD2 cross country champion in the fall also is back after winning the 3,200 a year ago. She’s seeded first in the 3,200 (10:58.33) by nearly 12 seconds and fourth in the 1,600 (5:04.61), and she’ll also possibly run on the second-seeded 3,200 relay.  

Ella Jenkins, Warren Regina junior: A qualifier in the 100 hurdles last season who finished 11th in the preliminary, she’s improved literally with leaps and bounds. Jenkins is seeded first in both the 100 hurdles (14.95) and 300 hurdles (45.20) and could also run on the 1,600 relay.

Chaniya Madison, Bridgeport senior: The reigning champion in the 100 and 200 also won the 100 as a freshman. She’s seeded third in that race (12.36) for Saturday, her time only a tenth of a second from topping the list, and she’ll also likely run on the 400 relay and top-seeded 800 relay.

Reese Powers, Marysville senior: The reigning 400 champion is seeded second to Anderson in that race (58.77) and second in the 800 as well (2:19.58) after finishing 10th in that race last season. She also will run on the 1,600 relay.

Ryann Rohrer, Ludington senior: Her third place in shot put last season was only 3½ feet off the lead, and she returns as the top seed in that event (44-6) by 3 feet, 7 inches. She’s also the fourth seed in the discus (122-6).

Division 3 at Kent City

Team forecast: Pewamo-Westphalia has been the standard for most of the last decade with four championships over the last eight seasons (not counting canceled 2020), and the Pirates and Grass Lake tied for the title a year ago. Qualifiers throughout the meet should have P-W contending again – but Hart’s distance and relay talent might make it the favorite. Onsted also has high-scoring potential with two top-seeded relays and two of the top three seeds in the 400.

Lexus Bargesser, Grass Lake senior: The future Indiana basketball player missed her entire senior hoops season because of a knee injury but will be back this weekend as a five-time individual champion after winning the 100, 200 and 400 last season. She’ll run just the 400 this time, seeded seventh (1:00.36).

Lani Bloom, Ithaca senior: She’s looking to add to her 800 and 1,600 championships won last season and LPD3 cross country championship won in the fall. She’s seeded second in the 800 (2:18.22), fourth in the 1,600 (5:04.77), fifth in the 3,200 (11:18.28) and will run on the top-seeded 3,200 relay.

Allison Chmielewski, Roscommon senior: Last season’s runner-up in the 800 and 1,600 has been one of the state’s top distance runners throughout her career and will finish with a chance to be multi-event champion. She’s seeded first in the 1,600 (5:01.94), third in the 3,200 (11:12.25) and fourth in the 800 (2:21.66).

Mickenzie Brancheau, Kent City senior: The reigning high jump champ is among 10 who qualified with a Regional jump of 5-0 to 5-4.

Audrianna Enns, Hart senior: She has a chance to be high points scorer as Hart goes for the team title, seeded first in the 800 (2:16.25), sixth in the 1,600 (5:07.55) and running on two top-four seeded relays.

Kylee Poulton, Holland Black River senior: She could finish her high school career with one of Saturday’s biggest performances in any division, entering as the top seed in the 100 (12.23), 200 (25.39) and 400 (57.24) and running on the 1,600 relay. She finished second in the 100, third in the 200 and fourth in the 400 last season.  

Annabelle Smith, Blissfield senior: The reigning long jump champion is seeded sixth (16-5½) in that event and also fourth in the 100 (12.65). She’ll also run the 200.

Division 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School

Team forecast: Fowler has won five of the last 10 championships including most recently in 2018 and 2019, and the Eagles are strong in relays with scoring possibilities all over this meet. Reigning champion Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart has three top seeds and relay strength as well, and Hillsdale Academy has two top-seeded relays and a third top seed in long jump that could put it in contention. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, moving over after running in Division 3 last spring, also has a strong opportunity with distance and relay power.

Nicole Olivieri, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior: Last season’s 400 champion is seeded first in that race (58.11) and the 200 (26.57) and will run on two top-four relays as well.

Aiden Harrand, Buckley sophomore: She won the 1,600 and was second in the 800 in 2021, and enters this weekend seeded first in the 800 (2:20.66), second in the 1,600 (5:05.54) and fourth in the 3,200 (11:49.22).

Makenna Scott, Maple City Glen Lake senior: Last season’s 3,200 champ and 1,600 runner-up is seeded first in the 3,200 (11:03.29) and third in the 800 (2:22.80) and 1,600 (5:09.92).

Jocelyn Hall, Athens junior: The reigning 100 hurdles champion is seeded third in that race (16.75) and will run on the sixth-seeded 400 relay.

Tara Townsend, Frankfort senior: She’s seeking to finish with her third pole vault championship in three tries (with 2020 canceled). She’s seeded second at 8-9 but has the sixth-best vault (tied) in the state this spring at 11-6. She’s also seeded fifth in the 100 (13.19), fourth in the 200 (26.96) and will run on the fourth-seeded 400 relay.

Emma Valentine, Morrice senior: The reigning high jump champ has tied for the sixth-best in the state this spring (5-6) and enters as the top seed with a 5-4 Regional jump.

Abigail VanderKooi, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian senior: She won the 3,200 in Division 3 as a freshman and junior and in the fall became the eighth runner in MHSAA history to win four cross country titles. She’s seeded first in the 1,600 (5:05.40), second in the 3,200 (11:13.12) and fourth in the 800 (2:24.87) and will run on the top-seeded 3,200 relay.

Tess VanDyk, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep senior: She swept the throws at last year’s Final and is seeded first in both with a toss of 40-0 in shot put and 125-5 in discus.

Allison Wichert, Vestaburg senior: She seeded third in the 300 hurdles (48.75) and seventh in the 100 hurdles after winning the 300 championship last season.

PHOTOS (Top) Vestaburg's Allison Wichert leaps a hurdle during her Lower Peninsula Division 4 Regional on May 21 at Coleman. (Middle) Alma's Trinity Greer, left, pulls away in the 100 during the Shepherd Invitational on May 6. She'll run the 100, 200 and on the 400 relay at the LP Division 2 Finals. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Hastings Relays Reigns as State's Oldest Continuous Track & Field Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 10, 2024

Bob Branch remembers dabbling in other sports, but his first love was always running.

Mid-MichiganThe Hastings High School graduate admits he could never hit a baseball, football didn't especially appeal to him and basketball was just another way to spend time with friends. But for Branch, now 93, there was always track. That's the sport where his fondest and sharpest memories remain. And if you're talking track, many of his favorite memories come from participation in the state's oldest continuous track meet, the Hastings Relays.

Always held in early April, the meet dates back to 1937 – a bygone time that saw the first hostilities of World War II, gas at 20 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread selling for a dime.

And at a dusty old track surrounding the county fairgrounds in Hastings, a small relay event that included a scattering of participants from a dozen high schools was taking its first tentative steps.

Branch recalls a time when kids would run home after track practice because there were no buses, inexperienced young coaches had little actual knowledge of running fundamentals, and athletes looked at the sport as an afterthought after spending most of their high school days playing football and basketball.

The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago.For Branch, the relays were the ideal way to ease into the track season.

"I just liked to run," said Branch. "I remember I anchored a relay with my brother, and it always seemed cold when we had that meet. I remember teams would come from all over and you saw a lot of good athletes. Everybody seemed to have someone who was really good. Track wasn't very popular at that time, but I have a lot of good memories from running."

The Hastings Relays, which has changed formats and even names during its nearly nine-decade history, would traditionally kick off the track season. The meet was originally held at a makeshift quarter-mile track which surrounded the town's fairgrounds and was part of the city's annual Hastings Carnival – the track would become the midway during fair time.

The meet eventually moved to Johnson Field when the football field was dedicated in 1949 and ballooned to as many as 50 teams at its peak in 1957. For more than seven decades it was known as the Hastings Relays and then the Hastings Co-Ed relays before becoming the current Hastings Invitational, with the latest edition scheduled for Friday.

Johnson Field had a cinder track before it became an all-weather surface in the 1980s. During a time long before computers would be used to organize meet heats in mere minutes, Hastings coaches of all sports – defined as "volunteers" by the athletic department – would meet on the Friday before competition to hash out events.

People associated with the meet still recall the camaraderie built on those long Friday nights, followed by working what would often become 10-hour meets. Steve Hoke has been involved since watching his father, Jack, who coached teams at 15 of the meets beginning in 1951 and also had run in the first Hastings Relays. Steve Hoke later competed in the Relays as well during the early 1970s before becoming an assistant track coach, later the Hastings athletic director and now a volunteer worker.

"It was always a huge deal," said Hoke, who said the meet began as a pure relay event before transitioning to its current team format in the 1990s. "I remember we'd line the track the night before, and all the coaches would come to the house to organize everything. There was a brotherhood.”

Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s.If you quiz many of the fleet of volunteers who've worked the relays over the years, each has a different memory from the meet. While Hoke describes the brotherhood and Branch the outstanding competition, others remember weather and the time a thunderstorm wiped out the line markings on the cinder track, or waking up to find three inches of snow that caused a rare cancellation of the meet. Others recall the shock of moving from the cinder to all-weather track or using the meet as an early measuring stick of what it would take to qualify for the state meet. The real old-timers remember the meet disappearing for three years during World War II.

Hastings native and Western Michigan grad Tom Duits was the state’s second collegian to break the four-minute mile when he ran a 3:59.2 at a meet in Philadelphia in 1978. Duits, who ran in three Hastings Relays, was in line to join the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 before the United States pulled out of the games due to tension with Russia.

Duits has his own memories of the meet and the competition he faced there.

"I remember sunshine and being excited to be competing again. There were all these athletes swarming around; it was an awesome display of talent," he said. "It was always one of the best meets we'd be in. You could pretty much see the level of runners who would be at state, which made it a big deal. It was always early, but you could tell where you stood. It was great exposure."

Hastings track star Wayne Oom competed in four Hastings Relays from 1984-87. One of his sharpest memories was the difference between running on a raw cinder track versus the far more comfortable all-weather surface.

"Those cinders would grind into your skin," said Oom, part of the Hastings school record in the two-mile relay. "But I think it helped us because when we'd go to other tracks, it seemed we would run faster. I remember how competitive it was, especially in the distances. There were some great runners."

While participants have their unique memories, so do coaches. Former Saxons coach Paul Fulmer remembers 2008 when his team finished first on the boys side of the meet while his wife, Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, saw her girls team win the championship.

Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays."I knew we were one of the favorites to win because we were usually near the top of our conference and Regional," he said. "But then Katie's team was pretty good, and it was cool for them to win too."

Fulmer, who coached Hastings from 1978-81 and then 1985-2010, said at least part of the meet's popularity was derived from a unique way of scoring. Instead of individuals earning points solo, participants worked in pairs. For instance, two athletes would combine their shot put or long jump scores. New events such as the 1,500 relay and sprint medley were added.

"We had a tradition of being the state's oldest meet, and that was a big deal," Fulmer said. "And we ran a good relay; that attracted teams too. We took a lot of pride in that.

"And we'd get quite a lot of people to come to the meet. We'd set up until like 9 or 10 p.m., and then we'd have a party with all the coaches on Friday night."

While the meet has stretched 87 years, Branch said early participants and current runners have one thing in common: a drive to win. Branch ran in an era when the popularity of high school track was in its infancy. Today some of the best all-around athletes at a school are involved in the track program. The relays span the nearly nine decades in between.

"The quality of teams has gotten better and better," said Branch, the 1947 Lower Peninsula Class B Finals champ in the 220. "And this has made for a better meet. We would get guys who played football or baseball kind of drift into track, and that made the sport better. I think people began to appreciate track because we'd get teams from all over.

"We went from not really knowing what we were doing to track being a good sport. Even then, I'm not sure we appreciated what we had. We really liked the Hastings Relays and always wanted to do well there. It became popular and quite an honor to do well. Those are the kind of things I remember."

PHOTOS (Top) Racers run at the Hastings Relays, with several more awaiting their turns to compete at the longtime meet. (2) The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago. (3) Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s. (4) Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays. (Top photo by Dan Goggins, Hoke photo provided by Steve Hoke and Duits photos provided by Tom Duits.)