It’s been quite a spring for Almont girls athletics.
The softball team finished the Blue Water Area Conference season 10-4, its best-ever mark in the league, which features three top-10 teams and 2021 Division 3 champion Richmond.
Almont’s girls track & field team also had its best finish in the BWAC, placing third at Tuesday’s league meet.
A major reason for both? Devin Johnston.
The Almont junior is a record-setting third baseman for the softball team and a record-setting sprinter for the track team.
“Devin is such a great kid,” Almont softball coach Erik Johnson said. “She’s a hard-working athlete, and she puts so much time into both. You can see it in the way she plays the game and the way she runs her events. She doesn’t miss much practice, she juggles both and she’s a great student.”
Johnston was a first-team all-state selection in softball as a sophomore, and has followed that up with a masterful junior campaign. She was hitting .550 with a .589 on-base percentage, four home runs, 10 doubles and a school-record eight triples heading into Wednesday’s doubleheader against Yale. She’s approaching the single-season hits record (63), which she set as a sophomore. Her .930 slugging percentage is also on pace to set a school record.
On the track, she has qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in three events: 100 meters, 200 meters and the 400-meter relay. Her 200 time of 25.49 broke an 18-year-old Almont school record and is the second-fastest time in LPD3 this season. She’s ranked fifth in the 100 with her personal best of 12.63.
Being that good at two things during the same season can make for a lot of long days. But Johnston doesn’t mind.
“I enjoy doing both,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a burden. I don’t see it as a struggle. I chose to do that. At the end of the week, yes, I’m exhausted every single week. But both of my coaches are very supportive. If I need to sit out of a certain thing on a certain day, or if I need to skip out on running in softball for that day, they understand.”
This level of individual and team success does, unfortunately, leaves Johnston with a difficult choice, as Almont’s Division 3 Softball District at Richmond is June 4, the same day as the Division 3 Track & Field Finals in Kent City.
She knows what she will be doing, and while she has told those who need to know, she is not ready to divulge that publicly.
“I want to help both teams, but I have to choose one or the other,” she said. “It’s really difficult, but it’s something that, going in, I knew I would have to do eventually.”
A year ago, Johnston chose the softball District. Although, at that time, she was Almont’s lone Finals qualifier in track and did not rank as highly as she does this year. The realization it was a choice she was going to have to make also hit her later, as she wasn’t expecting to see a ton of track success in her first year as a serious competitor in the sport.
“I didn’t even expect to qualify for states; especially that year in our region, there were some pretty good girls,” she said. “When I found out, I cried over it, actually. I didn’t know if I would have the chance to go to states again. When it did hit me, it was not good. I realized how big of a decision it was.”
This year, she was more aware of the chance. A campaign to move the District softball tournament to Friday, which is allowed, didn’t come to fruition. (All schools in the bracket must approve a switch.)
Moving things around is something Johnson has become used to as Almont’s softball coach, as getting one team to agree to a change in schedule is easier than having multiple track teams adjust a quad meet.
“I worked really hard to look at schedules ahead of time and anything in my power to make adjustments that would fit and allow her to do both,” he said. “I learned a lot from last year, when we did what we could last minute. This season, I got well ahead of it. My perspective is that I want to do anything I can for my girls. When you have someone like Devin who puts an immense amount of time into both track and softball, I’m going to do what I can for her. When I share that with other coaches, they’re like, ‘Yeah, OK.’”
Johnson and track coach James Wade have worked together for a decade with Almont’s girls basketball program, as Johnson is the varsity coach and Wade has been a JV coach and varsity assistant. That, combined with Johnston’s commitment to both, makes things a bit easier.
“I think she wants to succeed in both,” Wade said. “I don’t think she wants to let either of us down. That puts us in a position where we want to do what we can to help her. She’s committed to both, and she lets us know when she can’t be there for a practice. She does what she needs to do to make it work.”
Johnston appreciates that level of support.
“Them allowing me to do this and being lenient allows me to succeed so much more because I don’t have to worry about making a coach mad,” she said. “Their support contributes to my success, and I can just play freely. It means a lot.”
All of this could lead to another decision down the road – and not just this with same possible scenario a year from now. Johnston has spent the majority of her life playing softball, and continuing that collegiately always seemed to be her most likely path. That changes a bit, though, each time she steps on the track.
“I’ve played softball my whole life, and we’ve spent so much time and money on that,” she said. “My parents (who are assistant coaches on the Almont softball team) love track now. They don’t care which one I choose. In my mind, if I put a ton of time into track, and just worked and worked at it, I feel like my times will get even better. That is an opportunity that is really intriguing. That’s a decision that I’ll have to make next year.”
The support of her softball coach parents, who have become massive track fans, takes some pressure off of Johnston.
That’s becoming a trend, as the people closest to her continue to back her as she chases all of her dreams.
“This year, I think she’s probably going to run track,” Johnson said. “And rightly so, because she has a chance to be a state champion. I’ll support her 100 percent, and the kids will, too. Hopefully we can make it through to the Regional, and she can join us the next weekend.”
Paul 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Almont’s Devin Johnston focuses on receiving a pitch during a rare appearance behind the plate this season. (Middle) Johnston, right, emerges from the blocks during a race. (Photos courtesy of the Johnston family.)
Jada Bolhuis finished up her Otsego softball career this spring all over the MHSAA record book – and despite playing only three seasons because 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
Bolhuis owns 12 entries in the MHSAA record book including for 228 career runs (16th all-time), 230 career hits and a .622 career batting (sixth all-time) over 112 games and three varsity seasons.
She also made the hitting streak list twice, with a run of 44 straight games with a hit from April of her freshman year until the end of April of her junior season, and for a 33-game hitting streak during her junior and senior springs. The 44-game streak is the second-longest in MHSAA history.
Bolhuis also is a track sprinter and is slated to run at University of Tampa.
We’re continuing to catch up on adding record book listings. See below for more of the most recent added for softball.
Richland Gull Lake’s Savanna Disbrow had a par of significant run-producing games over the course of two weeks in May 2021. She drove in seven runs against Mattawan that May 5, then eight in a win over Delton Kellogg on May 20. She played this past season at Bemidji State in Minnesota.
Gabby Schloop put up a senior season to remember for Midland in 2021, posting the fifth-most runs scored (83) and tying for the fifth-most doubles (27) in MHSAA history, while also making the single-season hits list with 70 and career doubles list with 49 over three seasons. Taylor Sanborn also made the single-season hits list in 2021 as a senior, and also with 70. Sanborn continued her career at Calvin University, and Schloop at Northwood.
Maddisyn Miller also was added for RBI in a single game, driving in seven May 12, 2021, for Ovid-Elsie against Laingsburg. She is a junior this fall.
Rochester Adams earned its first softball record book entries in 2021. Then-junior Sabrina Lee was added for getting hit by 17 pitches over 34 games. Teammate Elizabeth Blaine, a senior that season, hit home runs in consecutive at bats, both in the second inning, of a game against Auburn Hills Avondale.
Potent offense helped drive Grandville to a 31-5 finish in 2019, with a number of top hitters in the record book. As a team, the Bulldogs are listed for 399 hits, 76 doubles, 34 home runs and 292 RBI that season. Then-senior Taylor Buiter was added for 10 home runs, including a pair in consecutive at bats, and then-junior Maddi Ungrey was added for three home runs in the same game all in consecutive at bats as well. Then-senior Lexi Dukesherer became the first player listed for being hit by a pitch twice in the same inning, and she also made the single-game list in that category for three. Additionally, former Grandville standout Carrie Mesman was added for her 17 doubles in 2015. Mesman went on to play at Aquinas College, and Buiter played at Ferris State.
Bath’s Bailee Buck has become the first entry for career times hit by pitches, as she totaled 30 over 99 games from 2017-19 (with her senior season of 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). She also made the single-game list with three HBPs as a junior. Teammate Ally Estrada was added twice for hitting consecutive home runs, five days apart during the 2019 season, and also for driving in seven runs in the first of those games May 18, 2019, against Algonac. Estrada graduated this spring.
Grosse Pointe South’s Shannon Dame became the second player added to the single-season hit-by-pitch list. She was hit by 20 pitches during the 2021 season, when she was a junior.
A trio of New Lothrop hitters were added for hitting during the 2021 spring, led by then-junior Jersey Hemgesberg who was added for 73 hits, 25 doubles and 12 home runs over 38 games – with the 25 doubles tying for seventh-most in MHSAA history. Additionally, Brynne Birchmeier was added for 20 doubles and Marissa Rombach for 17. Both are juniors this fall.
Bloomfield Hills sophomore Hannah Grant made the single-game lists for home runs and RBI during a win over Berkley on April 7. She had three homers and six RBI in the 9-7 win; the three homers tied for second-most in one contest.
Buchanan sophomore Hailee Kara also joined the single-game RBI list with nine during a 19-7 win over Vicksburg on April 21. The nine RBI tied for seventh-most in one contest.
PHOTO Jada Bolhuis makes a throw to first base during Otsego’s District Final win over South Haven this spring. (Photo by Gary Shook.)