Surprise! St. Johns Celebrates 1st Title

May 30, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

ZEELAND — Karrigan Smith wasn't going to put up a false front.

Neither was her coach, Neil Feldpausch.

Nobody expected St. Johns to come away with the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls track and field championship Saturday at Zeeland Stadium.

And "nobody" included St. Johns athletes and coaches.

"I think I can speak for everyone when I say this is a surprise," said Smith, a senior who had a hand in all but four of her team's points as St. Johns edged Flint Southwestern Academy 36-34.

"A small town like St. Johns winning a state title in track and field? It's an indescribable feeling right now."

Just two years ago, St. Johns wasn't even a factor in its own league, taking fifth place out of six teams. The Redwings won their conference the last two years.

"Definitely we thought (Smith) could score points, but coming in thinking we were going to win the state meet? No, it didn't even cross my mind," Feldpausch said. "These girls have surprised me."

St. Johns had never had a top-10 finish at the finals before Saturday. Smith has been a standout for four years, but got enough assistance that the Redwings were able to score in three of the four relays.

Smith repeated as the 1,600-meter champion in a rout, posting a time of 4:59.08 to win by 9.35 seconds. Smith set the LP Division 2 Final record of 4:51.53 last year when she was locked in a duel with Megan O'Neil of Remus Chippewa Hills.

"It was a little bit weird," Smith said of the one-sided 1,600 final, "but I wasn't going to count any competitors out, because when you come to the state meet a lot of people can do great things and surprise themselves. I was taking this race very seriously. I knew what I had to do. I knew what I could control. That's what I did."

By not being pushed too hard in the 1,600, Smith was fresher for her final two events. She placed third in the 800 in 2:16.94 and was on the second-place 1,600 relay team that clinched the championship. (Southwestern didn't have a team qualify for the final event.)

Smith was also on the second-place 3,200 relay squad that posted a time of 9:31.57.

"I was very excited about how the whole day went," Smith said. "It made all the hard work we put in over the season worth it."

Senior Lyndsay Pung, junior Emily Wohlfert and Belgian exchange student Pauline Carbonnelle were on the fifth-place 800 and second-place 1,600 relay teams. Junior Anna Krumm was also on the 800 relay squad.

Juniors Jen Eaton and Milah Montle and freshman Madison Maloney were on the 3,200 relay team.

"Going in, I scored it out to be Flint Southwestern 39, St. Johns 34," Feldpausch said. "Looking throughout the meet, it kept getting closer. We did some things we needed to and made it happen."

It was the first MHSAA title for St. Johns in a girls sport. The Redwings' other MHSAA crowns are in wrestling (four) and boys track and field (one).

Flint Southwestern led going into the final event on the strength of an outstanding performance by senior Miaisha Blair. Blair won a highly competitive long jump with a leap of 18 feet, 9.25 inches. The top three finishers cleared at least 18-3. Blair was also on Southwestern's second-place 800 and 400 relay teams.

A cool, rainy day — a contrast to the typical scorchers at the finals — probably helped keep Smith fresher for her four events.

It was certainly a welcome break in the weather for the other distance champion, Cedar Springs senior Kenzie Weiler. Weiler was able to challenge the LP Division 2 Final record in the 3,200, but came up short with her time of 10:41.98. Ali Wiersma of Allendale ran 10:40.22 in 2012.

Weiler stayed behind Kelli Nesky of Hudsonville Unity Christian until 500 meters remained.

"It was about 30 degrees warmer last year," Weiler said. "I broke my outdoor (personal record) by six or seven seconds. That made me pretty happy. This is perfect. I couldn't ask for a better day and better competition at the state finals."

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PHOTO: St. Johns' Karrigan Smith runs toward the finish during one of her races Saturday at Zeeland Stadium. (Click to see more from

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)