Sprint Star Leads Southfield Christian Surge

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

May 2, 2018

SOUTHFIELD – The village of Grass Lake, located in Jackson County, and the country of Nigeria are worlds apart in many ways.

But at Southfield Christian, chance circumstances have brought the two together – and the results have had a positive effect in the classroom and in the sport of track & field.

Todd Crouch ran track at Grass Lake High School and then in college at Spring Arbor before graduating in 2007. Crouch became a substitute teacher at Grass Lake soon after graduation, and he also helped coach the track team.

But securing a full-time teaching position wasn’t easy. Remember the times. The recession of the late 2000s left few unscathed.

“I applied, applied and applied,” Crouch said. “I graduated in 2007, and the recession followed. It was a situation where people who were working were holding onto their jobs, and art teachers weren’t in high demand.

“Then someone, I don’t even know who this person was, slipped me a sticky note. There was a message to contact a person. I had no idea what was going on. I’d never been to Southfield, and here I was contacting the superintendent at Southfield Christian, Sue Hoffenbacher, about a possible interview and Sue told me that she had been waiting for my call. I interviewed on a Friday, and on Monday I had the (teaching position).”

That was 2010. Crouch is now in his eighth season also as the girls and boys track & field coach at Southfield Christian and he teaches art classes at the high school level and at the middle school, which is located on the same campus.

In retrospect, Crouch said it was his destiny to coach and teach at a religious school like Southfield Christian.

“It’s a good story,” he said. “God meant for me to be here.”

It gets better. Southfield Christian won its first MHSAA track title last season, when the girls team finished with 62 points, 10 ahead of second-place Fowler at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals held at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids. The program’s previous best finish was runner-up in 2007.

Chika Amene and Kaelin Ray, both juniors last season, were the stars on that team. Amene placed first in the three sprints and ran the third leg on the winning 1,600-meter relay team. Ray ran the second leg in that race, placed first in the 300 hurdles and third in the 100 hurdles.

Of the six athletes who qualified for last year’s Finals, five were possibilities to return this spring. Two of those five, however, are not competing in track at this time. Crouch said Ray is focusing on club volleyball this spring. Junior Grace Sanders competed in Southfield Christian’s first two track meets but suffered an injury also playing club volleyball – she could return to the track before the end of this season and was part of last year’s 800 relay that finished third at the Finals.

But Crouch remains optimistic his team can contend for another title. The Chargers have 16 on the girls varsity team, and a number of those athletes have stepped up and shown much improvement over last season – including seniors Grace McFerrin and Shelby Goodson, who both ran on the 800 relay at Houseman last spring as well.

Southfield Christian’s chances begin with Amene, the best athlete in Division 4. Her parents, Chinedum and Uchenna, were born in Nigeria, and both competed in sports. Her mother was a track athlete in high school and Uchenna played soccer in college at University of Detroit Mercy. Amene’s brother, Dubem, is a sophomore and also runs track.

Physically, Chika Amene is stronger this season and competing at a higher level. If she can match what she did last season, that’s 40 points at the Finals, assuming she and three teammates can grab a first in a relay.

Amene has been a sprinter since before junior high. Early on she excelled in the 100 and 200. Gradually, the 400 became her best event. It took Amene until late in her freshman season to approach the 400 seriously, and it took an athlete on the boys team to provide that push.

Blake Washington is a junior at University of Michigan, and his best event is the 400. But it wasn’t always his favorite. Like Amene, Washington concentrated on the 100 and 200 early in his high school career.

“It was at the Regionals of his sophomore year,” Crouch said. “We had some injuries, and we told (Washington) he had to fill in. He ran so well in the (1,600) relay that I said to him, ‘You know, we’re going to have you work on that.’”

Washington set the LP Division 4 Finals record in the 400 in 2015 (49.34) that still stands.

“I was a freshman when Blake was a senior,” Amene said. “The 200, in my mind, was my best. Blake ran the 100 and 200, and transitioned to the 400. I didn’t even think about the 400. In one meet, one of my coaches said to run in the (1,600) relay and my time was really good. So I started training in the 400 as a sophomore. 

“(Washington) was like a mentor. He gave me advice on my classes, my school work and running. He taught me a lot in the 400. He told me to make sure I got out fast, to get out hard. In college he told me to have my priorities straight, and don’t get distracted.”

Amene’s time when she won the 400 last season was 58.83. Her personal best is a 57.6. She ran 57.96 to finish 17th in March at the New Balance Nationals Indoor held in New York.

“I’m slowly getting back into shape,” she said. “That indoor season takes a lot out of you.”

A goal-setter, Amene said she hopes to run a 55 flat at the MHSAA Finals.   

Amene said she’ll likely follow Washington to U-M. Amene’s grade-point average is 3.7, and she intends to major in business or economics with an eye on law school. She said she’s always been a Michigan fan, and the fact that a second cousin attended U-M doesn’t hurt – that cousin being 2012 Ann Arbor Huron grad Cindy Ofili, who won three LP Division 1 individual titles as a high school senior before becoming a Big 10 champion and Olympian representing Great Britain at the 2016 summer games.

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Chika Amene, far right, leads the pack during a sprint. (Middle) Chika, with parents Chinedum and Uchenna at last season’s MHSAA Finals. (Photos courtesy of the Amene family.)

Preview: LP Girls Finals Welcome Back Stars, Hopefuls Ready to Join Them

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

June 1, 2023

The MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Track & Field Finals have showcased plenty of stars over the years, and Saturday’s meets will celebrate more with returning competitors owning a combined 22 individual championships won over the last three seasons.

But this season’s field also sticks out because of several hopefuls who appear on the verge of greatness as well, many of whom we highlight below.  

All four LP Finals will again be contested at Grand Rapids-area schools, with pole vault and long jump beginning at 9 a.m., race semifinals and the 3,200 relay at 10 a.m. and the rest of the running finals starting at noon. Tickets cost $11 and are available digitally only via GoFan.

MHSAA.tv will live-stream all four meets beginning at 10 a.m., viewable with subscription.

Following is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions:

LP Division 1 at Rockford

Team forecast: After winning three straight LPD1 team titles, Oak Park finished second last season to Detroit Renaissance – which had finished second twice in a row before claiming its first title since 2007. Those two are the likely favorites again, and Renaissance won their Regional matchup two weeks ago 135½-108 as they combined to post the top two times in three relays from all LPD1 Regionals. Oak Park continues to surge with one of the top hurdler groups in recent memory, while Renaissance’s depth in elite sprinters has been unmatched despite graduating one of the all-time greats last spring. All of that said, keep an eye on Ann Arbor Huron too. The River Rats finished third last season, are paced by an elite sprinter and have the potential to pick up points in a variety of events.

Jayla Dace, Detroit Renaissance sophomore: After qualifying in the 200 and running on the winning 800 relay last season, Dace enters this weekend after running the fastest 100 (11.91) and fourth-fastest 200 (24.95) at LPD1 Regionals while also slated to run on two contending relays.

Arianne Olson, Holland West Ottawa senior: Last season’s 3,200 champion and 1,600 runner-up enters with the third-fastest 3,200 (10:48.40) from LPD1 Regionals and also again will run the 1,600 and on a contending relay.

Mackenzie Robinson, Ann Arbor Huron senior: She finished second in the 100 and 200 last season and ran on champion and runner-up relays, and she could be in for an even bigger finish after posting the second-fastest LPD1 Regional 100 (12.11) and 200 (24.74) and running on the third-fastest 400 relay two weeks ago.

Morgan Roundtree, Oak Park junior: Her sophomore-year Finals included a 300 hurdles title and runner-up finishes in the 100 hurdles and 800 relay. She enters this weekend with the fastest LPD1 Regional time in the 300 (41.86), third-fastest in the 100 hurdles (14.14) and running on two contending relays again.

Abigail Russell, Allen Park junior: She swept the throws as a sophomore and could be in line to do the same this weekend with the top LPD1 Regional throw in discus (148-3) by more than 12 feet and the second-farthest shot put (42-5) behind only Howell senior standout Sophie Daugard.

Kamryn Tatum, West Bloomfield freshman: She enters her first Finals having run the fastest 200 (24.70) and 400 (56.08) times in any LPD1 Regional, with those times fast enough to have finished third in those races at last year’s Finals.

Nonah Waldron, Oak Park senior: She’s finishing a career that’s included the last two 100 hurdles championships and a 300 hurdles title as a sophomore. She enters this weekend with the fastest LPD1 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (13.61), second-fastest to Roundtree in the 300 (42.70) and likely to run on the same two contending relays as that teammate.

LP Division 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern

Team forecast: The last five Finals have seen five schools win Division 2 once and three more schools finish second at least once. East Grand Rapids nearly doubled up the field last year, however, and power in distance races and relays could have the Pioneers on track again. New Boston Huron was fourth last season behind the scoring of Elizabeth Anderson and could follow her into contention, and Dearborn Divine Child has qualifiers in all but pole vault and a pair of relays expected to do exceptionally well.

Elizabeth Anderson, New Boston Huron senior: She won the 200 and 400 and was runner-up in the 100 last season to score 28 of her team’s 29 points, and she could take that over 30 this weekend entering with the fastest LPD2 Regional times in the 200 (24.93) and 400 (56.62), the second-fastest in the 100 (12.34) and as part of one of the fasted 1,600 relays.

Camryn Bodine, East Grand Rapids senior: Last season’s 800 champion ran the fastest LPD2 Regional time in that race (2:13.14) two weeks ago by nearly four seconds and will also run on two contending relays after helping hers to first, second and seventh places in 2022.

Janae Hudson, Marysville junior: She could move up substantially after placing third in discus and 10th in shot put last season, coming off the top LPD2 Regional shot put (41-4½) and second-longest discus toss (125-5).

Ella Jenkins, Warren Regina senior: The reigning champion in the 300 hurdles and runner-up in the 100 hurdles ran the fastest LPD2 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (15.14) and second-fastest in the 300 (47.55).

Drew Muller, East Grand Rapids junior: The reigning 1,600 champ and 800 fifth-place finisher – and LPD2 cross country champion in the fall – ran the fastest 1,600 LPD2 Regional time (5:03.32) and fourth-fastest 800 (2:17.88) and will also run on two contending relays after hers finished first and second last year.

Keyanna O’Tey, Sturgis sophomore: She qualified for the 100 in LPD1 as a freshman and could play a starring role Saturday entering with the fastest LPD2 Regional time in the 100 (12.10), second-fastest in the 200 (25.49) and as part of two contending sprint relays.

Natalie VanOtteren, Grand Rapids Christian junior: She finished seventh in the 3,200 and ran on a runner-up relay a year ago and enters this weekend with the fastest LPD2 Regional time in the 3,200 (11:09.76) and second-fastest in the 1,600 (5:07.06).

Jordyn Wright, Tecumseh senior: The reigning pole vault champion by a foot posted the top LPD2 Regional height (11-9) two weeks ago and is expected to run two relays as well.

LP Division 3 at Kent City

Team forecast: Hart and Pewamo-Westphalia both have won two championships over the last five seasons, and Hart was first and P-W second a year ago. Hart again has the mix of sprint, distance, field event and relay standouts to finish first, and P-W has nearly the same amount and variety. But they’ll have company. Lansing Catholic has strong contenders in five races and two relays, Olivet could score big in relays, field events and hurdles; and Onsted could jump up with a handful of potential winners as well.

Ryan Finstrom, Grayling junior: Last season’s discus champion and fourth-place shot put finisher returns this weekend looking for a discus repeat after throwing the fourth-farthest LPD3 Regional toss (119-1).

Addison Hovey, Hart sophomore: She played a big role in last year’s title run with runner-up finishes in high jump and as part of the 400 relay, and she’ll return this weekend with the top LPD3 Regional time in the 100 (12.38) and top high jump (5-3) plus as part of two relays.

Heidi Newhouse, Lawton junior: The reigning high jump champion also finished just outside scoring range in the 400 last season, and she’ll enter this weekend tied for the second-best LPD3 Regional high jump (5-1) and third-fastest 400 (59.76).

Ally Olszewski, Grand Rapids West Catholic senior: She won the pole vault last season by half a foot and her 10-3 LPD3 Regional vault two weeks ago was half a foot better than the field. She also posted the fourth-best LPD3 Regional long jump (15-9½) and will run the 200 and again on the 800 relay after helping the latter to fourth place a year ago.

Madison Osterberg, Jackson Lumen Christi junior: After finishing 800 runner-up and seventh in the 1,600 a year ago, plus running on the runner-up 800 relay, Osterberg enters with the fastest LPD3 Regional times in the 1,600 (4:59.62) and 3,200 (11:01.05), the second-fastest in the 800 (2:16.56), and she will also run on a contending 3,200 relay.

Emmry Ross, Onsted sophomore: Her Finals debut included championships in the 400 and as part of the 1,600 relay and a runner-up finish as part of the 800 relay. She returns with the top LPD3 Regional times in the 400 (57.07) and 800 (2:15.03) and as part of contenders in the 800 and 3,200 relays.  

Gloria Stepanovich, Benzie Central senior: The reigning long jump champion will return seeking a repeat after placing second at her Regional but only 1¼ inches off the lead.

LP Division 4 at Hudsonville

Team forecast: A close race came down to just a few points last season, with Muskegon Western Michigan Christian edging 2021 champion Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart by four. This could be close again – but with a different collection of contenders. Fowler, fourth last season, may be back in the mix with elite relays leading the way. Frankfort is back after finishing third and bolsters a strong field events group to go with relay strength. Hillsdale Academy could follow a strong distance group into contention, and Buckley should put up some points with a pair of stars. Portland St. Patrick is another interesting possibility with runners all over the meet and three contending relays.

Molly Brown, Addison sophomore: She had an impressive debut last season with two top-five relay finishes, a 10th in the 100 hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles. But this could be even better as she brings in the top LPD4 Regional times in the 100 hurdles (16.03) and 300 hurdles (46.82), the second-fastest in the 100 dash (12.98) and the seventh-best long jump.

Olivia Findlay, Marlette junior: Last season’s runner-up in the high jump and fifth-place finisher in the long jump is a favorite in both with the top LPD4 Regional performances in both at 5-5 and 16-11¾, respectively. She also posted the sixth-fastest 100 hurdles time (17.12) to qualify.  

Aiden Harrand, Buckley junior: She’s won the 1,600 the last two seasons, the 800 last year and finished fourth in the 3,200 as well, and was the LPD4 cross country champ in the fall. Her LPD4 Regional times in the 800 (2:19.15), 1,600 (5:06.52) and 3,200 (11:26.04) all topped those lists.

Anna Plum, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior: She’s the reigning champion in the 300 hurdles and was part of winning and runner-up relays as well as a qualifier in the 100 hurdles last season. She could put up plenty of points again entering with the fourth-fastest LPD4 Regional times in the 100 (13.06) and 200 (26.75) and the third-fastest in the 300 hurdles (48.46).

Megan Roberts, Hillsdale Academy senior: After missing last season’s Finals with an injury, Roberts will get another chance to build on a sophomore debut that included a relay championship, two relay runner-up finishes and a sixth place in the 800. She will run on two relays that posted the fastest LPD4 Regional times in their respective races and also the 400 after racing to an LPD4 Regional-best 59.85 two weeks ago.

Natalie Wandrie, Indian River Inland Lakes senior: She finished seventh in the shot put and 11th in the discus last season but could be set for a big finish with the top LPD4 Regional discus toss of 124-3½ and the third-longest shot put (37-3). She’ll also run a relay.

PHOTO Oak Park’s Nonah Waldron leaps a hurdle during last season’s LPD1 Finals. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)