Seven Wins Help Fowler Hurdle D4 Again

By Wes Morgan
Special for

June 2, 2018

HUDSONVILLE – Nabbing seven individual event victories Saturday at Hudsonville, the Fowler girls track & field team racked up 87 points to win its fourth Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals championship in dominant fashion.

Pittsford took second place with 55.50 points, followed by Southfield Christian with 37. The title was the Eagles' second in three seasons and came after they finished runner-up to Southfield Christian a year ago.

“It’s a great feeling, said 11-year Fowler coach Jill Feldpausch, a former standout for the Eagles during the 1980s. “We had 30 points coming out of the morning (session) with a first place in high jump, a first place in pole vault and the 3,200-meter relay. That was pretty awesome.”

The 3,200 relay team of Josie Koenigsknecht, Taryn Schafer, Grace Boak and Morgan Goerge turned in a time of 9:51.85 to get things rolling in the right direction for the Eagles. Combined with Ciera Weber’s height of 10 feet, 3 inches in the pole vault, and Alyssa Vandegriff’s top effort and school record of 5-5 in the high jump, Fowler had a good cushion with some of its best events remaining.

The Eagles plowed through the rest of the relays, with Shannon Schmitz, McKenzie Koenigsknecht, Sidney Horak and Kaitlyn Langin winning the 800 in 1:46.28, and McKenzie Koenigsknecht, Langin, Weber and Horak clocked a 50.61 to win the 400. The 1,600 relay crew of McKenzie Koenigsknecht, Josie Koenigsknecht, Boak and Goerge put a bow on the meet with a victory in 4:05.99.

Vandegriff added a win in the 100 hurdles in 15.56 seconds and a fourth-place finish in the 300 hurdles (47.02). She led a trio of Eagles to make the finals in the 100 hurdles. Ciera Weber secured fourth in 16.41 and Sadie Weber was sixth in 16.76. Goerge also scored with a fifth-place run in the 800 (2:24.83).

“Our goal was to win all four relays, and I don’t think that’s been done at Fowler before,” Feldpausch said. “In the 100 hurdles, for three of them to make the finals? They are constantly being challenged, and it’s something to be proud of.”

“Everyone on the team has worked so hard to win a state championship,” Vandegriff added. “We all pushed each other at practices and worked our tails off.”

A couple of future University of Michigan runners capped their prep careers in style Saturday as Concord distance dynamo Samantha Saenz pulled off a hat trick and sprinting star Chika Amene nearly did the same, settling for two victories and a runner-up effort by the closest of margins.

Closing out a phenomenal four years, Saenz, who boasts three all-state performances in cross country, including a Division 4 title this past fall, entered Saturday’s meet as the two-time reigning champion in the 1,600 and a 2017 all-state performer in the 800 and the 3,200. She swept all three events this time around.

The first Saturday in June continues to be bittersweet for Saenz. It was just two years ago that her older sister, Saren, passed away due to complications from a combination of physical and mental disabilities the evening of Samantha’s first 1,600 title.

“I just wanted to go out there and do it one last time for my family, for my friends and for my sister,” Saenz said. “I just run for her. It’s a great feeling.”

Saenz took a conservative approach in the 1,600 (5:00.46) in an effort to leave some in the tank for her other two events. It paid off as she ran a personal-record time of 2:16.31 in the 800. She finished the 3,200 in 11:15.51.

“It never loses its excitement,” she said. “Every time I cross the finish line, it’s so meaningful to me because my sister couldn’t walk or talk. Just the fact that I get to have that gift, it’s just a good feeling.”

For Amene, winning championships has become standard operating procedure, but she certainly hasn’t taken them for granted. She captured victories in all three sprints and was part of Southfield Christian’s winning 1,600-meter relay last June and followed that up with wins in the 100 (12.44) and the 200 (25.33) in her final prep appearance Saturday.

As proud of those wins as she is, the second-place effort to Beal City freshman Angela Kotecki (57.53) in a photo finish at the line in the 400 stung.

“I didn’t get out to a great start in the 100, but I was able to run the girl down,” she said. “The 400 really didn’t go as planned. But the most exciting part was that I was able to PR in two events (100 finals and 200 prelims) and then have a season best in one. The loss in the 400 was painful, but my time was really good.”

So were the performances of several others who came away from Hudsonville with championships. Reading’s Baleigh Irelan was the top performer of the day in the 300 hurdles (45.85), Litchfield’s Allie Vanous notched victories in both the discus (132-10) and shot put (40-4) and Hillsdale Academy’s Katie Vanhavel claimed a title in the long jump (17-3¾).

Click for full results.

VIDEO: Fowler’s Eagles Fly High In Relays 

PHOTOS: (Top) Fowler’s Alyssa Vandegriff clears a hurdle during her team’s championship run Saturday. (Middle) Concord’s Samantha Saenz sprints the straightaway during one of her three victories. (Click for more from

Elk Rapids' Schulte Sisters Splitting Finals Weekend Between Tennis, Track

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThey’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.

Brynne Schulte sets to start a track relay. 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.

he Schultes helped the Elks to their first two Regional titles in tennis, including their second straight this spring.“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 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) 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.)