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

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.)