Reeths-Puffers' Depies Rewrites Records

May 11, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

The Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet began in 1954, within days of Roger Bannister busting through the 4-minute mile barrier. So breaking a meet record is a big deal.

That perspective is necessary to truly appreciate what Muskegon Reeths-Puffer junior distance runner Maryssa Depies accomplished Friday at the 63rd annual meet at Holton High School.

Depies broke not one, not two, not three, but four meet records that evening – and since individuals are limited to competing in four events, it’s a performance which will never be surpassed. Depies powered the Rockets’ girls team to its 11th city championship over the past 12 years.

“I guess it proved to me what I can do when I’m mentally prepared,” said Depies, who ran the anchor leg of R-P’s winning 3,200-meter relay, then won three straight individual events – the 1,600, 800 and 3,200.

“It was a perfect night, perfect weather. The records just kind of built on each other – once I got one, I figured I should go after another one.”

Reeths-Puffer girls track coach Gary Niklasch knew his team was a safe bet to win the meet (R-P ended up 88 points ahead of second-place Whitehall), so he felt it was a good time to see how his standout junior could handle doing the four longest events in a single meet.

“It was first time we really turned her loose in all four events,” Niklasch said.

Her big day started by anchoring the Rockets’ wide victory in the 3,200 relay, where she joined with teammates Lilah Parker, Jayme Brantsen and Kendra Irvine to win in 9:36.23, breaking an 18-year-old record by a whopping 18 seconds.

The relay wins are the most special for Depies, because they are part of a team effort with her friends and the culmination of all the hard work they put in with Reeths-Puffer distance coach Dee Richardson, who is also the school’s cross country coach.

“He is like a second dad to me,” said Depies, the daughter of Grant and Laree Depies. “He plants the seed in all of us, letting us know all of the things we can accomplish. Then it’s up to us to go out and do it.”

Her first individual race that day was the 1,600, which she has never considered her best distance. But after posting one of the state’s best times this season (5:03.06), Depies and her coaches are starting to wonder whether the mile might be her ideal race for the upcoming Regional and MHSAA Finals meets.

Next came the 800 meters, where her time of 2:19.51 broke the oldest girls city meet record, the yard-converted time of 2:20.8 recorded by Amy Laswell of Mona Shores in 1977.

By the time the meet reached the 3,200-meter run, the second-to-last event, any drama surrounding the battle for the team title was long gone and the crowd was aware that individual history was about to be made.

Depies appreciated the cheers from spectators from all of the area schools, and really appreciated that the announcer knew how to say her last name correctly (pronounced Depp-pis).

Despite already winning three long events, and having a quick turnaround after the 800 meters, Depies dug deep and fed off the crowd to break the meet record she had set one year ago by more than 10 seconds, winning in 11:04.72.

“Maryssa only does things one way and that’s all-in,” said Niklasch. “She has made steady improvement since her freshman year. She has built up her strength, and that is why she was able to break all four records.”

Bigger challenges await the 17-year-old, starting Thursday with the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black meet at Reeths-Puffer. The featured race will be the 1,600, where Depies is expected to race her friend Madison Goen of Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills in a matchup of two of the state’s top milers.

Area track fans do not have to go far to watch Depies compete in any of her remaining big meets. Her Division 1 Regional is May 20 at Grand Haven, the Meijer West Michigan Invitational is May 25 at Reeths-Puffer and the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals are June 4 at Hudsonville.

Depies and her coaches are eager to see how she will match up against the top runners from around the state.

Depies is something of a late bloomer on the state distance-running scene. She first started running near the end of elementary school in the “Girls on the Run” program, and says it wasn’t until her sophomore year of cross country, when she first dipped under 19 minutes, that “a light bulb kind of switched on” and she realized she could be really good.

Niklasch hopes her record-setting performance at the city meet is another defining moment for Depies, and will propel her to new heights at the regional and state level.

Depies said she is just enjoying having fun and having success doing something she loves.

“Everyone has their escape in life, and for me, it’s running,” she said. “When I’m sitting in school all day, I’m like a big wad of energy just waiting to be released.”

Tom 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) Muskegon Reeths-Puffer junior Maryssa Depies competes at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet on Friday, May 6, at Holton High School. Depies won four events and set city meet records in all four - 800 meters, 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and anchoring the winning 3,200-meter relay. (Middle) Depies (third from left) poses with teammates after winning four events. The Reeths-Puffer girls won the city title for the 11th time in the past 12 years. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

Gaylord Record-Setter Embracing Challenges As Championship Season Approaches

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 3, 2024

Katie Berkshire has her eyes on the prize today.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd she’ll have her eyes on another prize Saturday. After that she’ll move on to more conquests yet this track season.

That pattern will be repeated for the next two years on the track and along the cross country course.

Berkshire, a sophomore at Gaylord High School, is already a long-distance record-holder and a regular feature at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. Today, she is throwing out the welcome mat to her opponents as Gaylord hosts its annual Blue Devil Classic.

She is welcoming this weekend’s competition because she knows fast races help her get better every day. Winning, although it happens often, is not her top priority. Putting in the work and getting better is what matters most, according to Gaylord girls track & field and cross country coach Lindsey Yates.

“She’s more than just a fast runner,” acknowledged Yates. “She knows she has to put the work in to get good results, and she’s always wanting more.

“The proof is in the pudding in what she does,” Yates continued. “She is a special — very special — athlete and young woman.”

Berkshire started this season by breaking the school record in the 3,200 at Gaylord’s first meet. She’s hoping to break the school’s 1,600 record yet this spring. And, she’s hoping to add to her collection of Regional and conference titles this month.

Higher finishes at the Division 2 Final on June 2 also are on the mind of the running sensation, who had a strong showing as a freshman finishing third in the 3,200 and 10th in the 1,600.

Track is known as an individual sport, but Berkshire looks at it more as a team sport with friendly competition.

Running, which started in Gaylord Elementary’s “Mileage Club” for Berkshire, wouldn’t be the same without teammates.

“Cross country and track are individual sports, but the team is a huge part – without the team it wouldn’t be the same at all,” Berkshire said. “We have all put in so much effort, and we deserve to go out and race and show what we can do.”

Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. “She’s a gift to the team,” Yates added. “It is an individual sport, but she has the whole team with her and she rallies for the team and the team rallies for her – it’s a family.”

Gaylord has had its share of individual Finals champions in the past under boys coach Matthew Warren, who Yates notes has played an integral part in Berkshire’s training.  But Berkshire is a one-of-a-kind runner for Yates, who has served as both the girls track and girls and boys cross country head coach the past two years at Gaylord.

“I have not seen anything as fine-tuned as Katie Berkshire, and it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Yates, who assisted both Blue Devils programs a few years before taking over. “The intrinsic desire for her is amazing.”

Running cross country and track brings endless challenges for Berkshire to conquer. The results, she notes, come from the training.

“Running shows me any challenge that comes my way I can just overcome,” Berkshire said. “It shows me if I have a goal in my mind, I can accomplish it if I work hard and put in the effort.”

During the fall, Berkshire won eight of her 12 cross country races including the Big North Conference meet and Regional. She’s already qualified for three Division 2 Finals across the two sports and is likely going to add a fourth Finals next month at Hamilton High School.

Before that, Berkshire is going after another Big North title and a Regional championship. Competitions, like those ahead always bring out her best; the conference includes Division 1 opponents.

“I enjoy running against even girls that are faster than me because they always push me to be better and they are there obviously to race and try their best,” Berkshire said. “They are an influence to me that I can get there one day and I can maybe even beat them the next season.”

This year she has hopes of running a sub-5-minute 1,600 to capture the school record; her best in the race is 5:11. She takes on both distance races regularly and also is a regular in relays. In Wednesday’s dual meet at Alpena, she set two personal bests running a 2:25.60 in the 800 and 1:05.71 in the 400.

Berkshire’s favorite event by far is the 3,200, as she likes finding the right pace and rhythm to handle eight laps.

“Most people would think I am crazy for that,” she said of her pick for favorite. “It’s the longest race on the track, and it feels the best for me.”

Yates says Berkshire has yet to run her best 3,200 of the season. The conference, Regional and Final should bring out the best in Berkshire, she noted.

“She’s amazing, and setting the record isn’t good enough for her. She wants to do it again,” Yates said. “She also wants the mile record, and she’s hungry for it.”

Tom SpencerTom 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) Gaylord’s Katie Berkshire readies for a relay Wednesday against Alpena. (Middle) Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. (Photos provided by the Gaylord girls track & field program.)