Preview: Classic Clashes and Broken Records Expected

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 5, 2021

The attention that will be paid to one of the Lower Peninsula Boys Track & Field Finals on Saturday will go past usual interest in just a local school or single division.

Many eyes will be turned to the Division 1 meet, featuring among many Ann Arbor Skyline senior Hobbs Kessler, who has made national news over the last few weeks by setting the national high school record in the 1,500 (3:34.36) and qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the event.

But he’ll be facing some familiar competition in his distance races at East Kentwood – including Hartland junior Riley Hough, who edged Kessler by two seconds in the Division 1 cross country final this past fall.

Their matchup is just one of many stories worth tuning in for this weekend. Events at all four sites begin at 10 a.m. (EDT) and tickets to attend can be purchased online only at GoFan. The meets also will be broadcast on and viewable with subscription. Click to watch each division: LPD1 | LPD2 | LPD3 | LPD4

Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions.

Division 1 at East Kentwood

Top Regional scores: Macomb Dakota 160, Traverse City West 145½, Northville 136, Novi 136.

Team forecast: East Kentwood won the last three championships before COVID, with Ann Arbor Pioneer finishing runner-up in both 2018 and 2019. Dakota is an interesting possibility this time with qualifiers throughout the meet. Fenton has top-three seeds in six events, and Zeeland West is another team with scoring opportunities in a variety of events.  

Trey Gardette, Ann Arbor Huron: The senior sprint star has taken amazing strides over the last two years and may be on the verge of an unforgettable finish to his high school career. Gardette’s top-seed 10.5 in the 100 is a blink faster than the LPD1 Finals record of 10.53, and he’s second-seeded in the 200 and also will run on the 400 relay.

Riley Hough, Hartland: The I-96 corridor has been the center of distance running this school year, and Hough hopes to follow his Division 1 cross country championship in the fall with titles in the 1,600 and 3,200. He’s seeded first in the former with a 4:13.93.

Hobbs Kessler, Ann Arbor Skyline: He’s slated to run the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and on the top-seeded 3,200 relay (7:53.30) Saturday. He won all three of those open races at his Regional, and so while he isn’t top-seeded in any that likely means little as he could drop major time.

Tamaal Myers II, Detroit Cass Tech: The Technicians standout junior has the top 110 hurdles seed time (14.06) by nearly a second and is tied for the top seed time in the 300 (39.32). He’ll also run the 400 and on the 1,600 relay.

Brandon Miller, Fenton: He finished fifth in the 200 as a sophomore in 2019, but he can take a massive leap Saturday as his top seed time in that race (21.25) is five hundredths of a second off the meet record. He’s also the second seed in the 100 with a seed time of 10.60 that is seven hundredths of a second off that meet record. And he’ll also run on contending 400 and 800 relays.

Division 2 at Zeeland

Top Regional scores: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 216½, Dearborn Divine Child 186, Frankenmuth 164.

Team forecast: Four teams have won this championship over the last four seasons. Flint Powers Catholic is a possibility to make it five as it runs for its first team title led by sprint standouts and relays. Frankenmuth with top qualifiers in the sprints, relays and field events is another to watch in what lines up to be a low-scoring team race. A total of 10 schools won championships in this division over the previous 11 seasons before 2020 was canceled.

Ryan Brenner, Frankenmuth: The senior Eagles hurdler is the top seed in the 300 with a time of 40.1 and also will run on the top-seeded 1,600 relay (3:28.44) and high jump.

Jamal Hailey, Berrien Springs: The standout junior sprinter has the top seed time in the 100 (11.04) and the third-fastest in the 200, and he’ll also run on the second-seeded 400 relay.

Austin Hamlin, Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers sophomore would play a major role in any team title pursuit, entering with the top seed in the 200 (22.5), third-fastest in the 100 and as part of the top-seeded 400 relay (43.3) and fourth-seeded 800 relay. That 400 relay time is a second off the meet record.

Alex Mansfield, Monroe Jefferson: The junior thrower is another who has made a major move over the last two years. He enters Saturday with the top seed in the shot put (56-3) by two feet and the top seed in the discus (163-11) by nearly 10.

Luke Stowasser, Edwardsburg: The junior Eddies jumper also is top-seeded in both of his events, with a 22-6½ in the long jump and 6-10 in the high jump. That high jump is six inches better than the field and two off the meet record. He was the high jump runner-up as a freshman.  

Division 3 at Jenison

Top Regional scores: Grass Lake 132, Caro 129, Pewamo-Westphalia 126 1/3.

Team forecast: Grass Lake will be pursuing its first team title since 1970 and has six top-four seeds leading the way. Figuring the next few contenders is difficult with points looking to be spread among a number of teams.

Brennan Bargesser, Grass Lake: A drive for the team championship would include significant points from Bargesser, who is seeded first in the 200 (21.98) and 400 (49.34) and second in the 100 for his final high school meet. He’ll also run on the top-seeded 400 relay (44.14) – that seed time is one second off the meet record.

Hunter Jones, Benzie Central: The sophomore standout has two Division 3 cross country championships to his credit and will make his Track Finals debut as the top seed in the 3,200 (9:37.42) and a likely contender in the 1,600 and 800 as well.

Josh Jones, Harrison: He’ll close his high school career running the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, with his 1,600 seed time (4:19.84) topping that event list.

Brenden Quackenbush, Chesaning: He’s set to establish himself in both throws at this level Saturday, with the top seed in the discus (143-0) by nearly two feet and the third seed in the shot put.

Derrick Voltz, Carrollton: A qualifier in the 100 as a freshman in 2019, he could cap his junior season as a two-event champion. He’s seeded first in the long jump (23-2) by nearly a foot with that leap only five inches off the meet record. He’s also the top seed in the 100 (11.11) just ahead of Bargesser.

Division 4 at Hudsonville

Top Regional scores: Lutheran Westland 171, Reading 170, Carson City-Crystal 147.

Team forecast: Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep was the back-to-back champion before COVID, and Saugatuck was the Division 3 runner-up in 2019 but is back in Division 4. Saugatuck won’t run a relay this weekend but has favorites in the hurdles and distance events, and Breckenridge’s strengths in the sprints and relays should make it a team title contender as well as it seeks its first championship.

Coleman Clark, Carson City-Crystal: The lone returning champion in this division won the 3,200 as a sophomore in 2019 and will run that race along with the 800 and 1,600 and as part of the top-seeded 3,200 relay (8:19.40).

Benny Diaz, Saugatuck: The junior sprint/hurdles standout could make a run at four individual titles Saturday or next season. He’s the top seed in both hurdles races this time (15.01 in the 110 and 40.59 in the 300), and the fourth seed in the 200 and seventh in the 100. He was third in Division 3 in the 300 as a freshman.

Zane Forist, Carson City-Crystal: He was the runner-up in the discus and eighth in the shot put as a freshman two years ago, and he’s aiming for much more this time. His top-seed throws of 196-8 and 64-4, respectively, would both set LPD4 championship meet records – both by roughly six feet.

Nik Pettinga, Saugatuck: A top distance runner in cross country the last few seasons, he is looking to finish as a champion in his last high school meet and enters as the top seed in the 1,600 (4:26.99) and second seed (to junior teammate Max Sharnas) in the 3,200.

Charlie Steinhaus, Breckenridge: The speedy senior would help lead any charge for a team championship, entering as the top seed in the 100 (11.01) and second in the 200. He’ll also run on the top-seeded 400 relay (44.51) and second-seeded 800 relay.

PHOTO: Carrollton’s Derrick Voltz, right, breaks across the finish line during the 100-meter preliminaries at his Division 3 Regional at Shepherd last month. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Speedy & Skilled, Krueger Again Boosting Niles' Cross Country, Tennis Teams

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

October 3, 2023

NILES – On any autumn weekday afternoon, Aiden Krueger can be found using his legs to carry him across the campus of Niles High School.

Southwest CorridorAfter cross country practice, the Vikings' senior literally runs over to the tennis courts to work out with the boys tennis team.

The fall dual-sport athlete has managed to make a significant impact on both programs during his career at Niles.

In cross country, Krueger is a two-time Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals qualifier and recently broke a long-standing school record in the 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) race.

In Saturday's Berrien County Meet held at Lake Township Park in Bridgman, Krueger's first-place time of 15:55.5 broke Jeff Ort's 33-year record of 16:05 set in 1992.

Breaking the school record was one of two main goals that Krueger, the Vikings' No. 1 runner, and his head coach Tony Todd and assistant coach Jason Todd set prior to the start of the 2023 season.

"It felt great to take down a school record that's been there for so long. On the day of the Berrien County Meet, my coaches and I talked about how I felt that day. They could tell I was feeling really good, so we went for it," Krueger said. "I felt great the entire race, and my body responded very well. My coaches were at the one and two-mile mark to let me know where I was at. I was able to squeeze out a record time, and the feeling of being able to share that moment with my family, coaches and teammates was unmatched. It's a day that I'll cherish for a very long time."

While Krueger always has shown a natural ability for running, he soon realized he needed to increase his offseason training in order to reach his career goals.

"Aiden is naturally gifted. He broke the eighth-grade two-mile record in cross country, so we knew he was going to be a special runner. What we didn't know at that time was how strong of a runner he was in terms of his mental preparedness. He was a quick study coming into the program as a freshman, but natural ability will only take you so far. There is a lot more that goes into becoming an elite distance runner," Tony Todd said.

Despite running very little over the summer prior to the start of his freshman season, Krueger still managed to post some respectable times in the 17:20s, but he narrowly missed qualifying for the Finals.

Following a couple of years of running track & field for Niles, and with running higher mileage the last three summers, Krueger feels he has prepared himself well enough to attain his ultimate goal of earning all-state (Top 30) at this year's Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Michigan International Speedway.

"Aiden isn't afraid of hard work. He ran 55 miles per week this summer, and up to this point we haven't backed him off from that number very much," said Niles' head coach. "We've been concentrating on consistency, and once the state meet is about a month away we'll start him on more speedwork."

Krueger, a three-time all-Wolverine Conference and all-Regional runner as well, has the opportunity to graduate as one of Niles' most decorated athletes ever with 14 varsity letters.

Well-respected by his teammates, Krueger was selected as one of the Vikings' team captains this fall.

"Aiden is a very positive person and is always encouraging his teammates," said Niles' head coach.

Entering Tuesday's Wolverine Conference tri-meet in Sturgis with the host Trojans and Otsego, Krueger hadn't lost a league race yet and finished first individually in five of Niles' first eight meets. He ran 16:40 or better in five of those meets as well.

As the season progresses and Krueger prepares for this weekend's prestigious Portage Invitational, he knows what he has to do to reach those goals.

"Right now it's real important for me to get out fast and get into a good position so I can figure out when exactly I need to sit back and when I need to move up," Krueger said.

"As we reach the bigger meets like conference and Regionals, there are a lot of good runners. My coaches help me familiarize myself with who is at those races and who I need to go out and run with. I thank God who gave me the ability to run, along with the support of my coaches and family."

Krueger plans to end his competitive running career once he has finished high school. His parents, Robert and Korrie Krueger, own Milano's Pizza in Niles, and his future plans are to help out with the family business or attend trade school.

Krueger didn't play tennis as a freshman, but made an immediate impact as a doubles player the last two years on the varsity. Since cross country is Krueger's priority sport, Niles head boys tennis coach Jill Weber felt it would be more beneficial for the team if he played singles this fall.

Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season."Aiden was real receptive to the change. As coaches, we just thought it would be easier to replace him in singles rather than have a doubles partner be forced to play with someone they weren't familiar with," said Weber, who has coached the Niles boys team the last 18 seasons and the girls squad for 20 years.

Krueger was sporting a record of 13-2 and was undefeated in the Wolverine at No. 2 singles at the end of last week. His only losses came in nonleague matches to Coldwater and Kalamazoo Christian.

"Aiden has an extraordinary work ethic. He works really hard, but at the same time he enjoys it and has fun. He usually only needs two or three games to figure out what he needs to do to win a match," Weber said. "I have so much confidence in him to get the job done."

Weber is amazed at how Krueger juggles his time off the court with school and cross country.

She used Saturday, Sept. 9, as an example of his commitment to both sports.

Krueger started that day competing with the cross country team at the Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix Mini-Meet, a race he won in a then personal-best time of 16:31.4. He then jumped in the car with his parents, who drove him to Mattawan where the Vikings' tennis team was competing in a tournament.

"Mattawan was gracious enough to put Aiden on one of the later courts so he could play all three of his matches once he was finished with his cross country meet," Weber explained.

Krueger won all three of his tennis matches.

"That was a pretty exciting day for Aiden. He just takes it all in stride and isn't a showboat on the court. When he's on the court he has a way of making friends with his opponents and makes good calls and shows good sportsmanship. A lot of people have nothing but good things to say about him," Weber said.

"As far as his ability on the court, Aiden is a very tricky player to figure out and has a lot of weapons. He has a good dropshot, can lob the ball, hit an angle shot or hit an approach shot and draw you out of position."

Krueger is well-respected by his tennis teammates as well.

"Everyone loves Aiden. He likes to joke around, but he truly enjoys every one of his teammates and respects them all equally. He's a good student and had the team over to his house for a team dinner recently," Weber said.

Knowing how important Krueger's senior season of running was to him, Weber spoke with Tony Todd before the year began about his role with the tennis and cross country teams.

"I understood how important running is to Aiden this year. The last thing I want to do is stress a kid out. He's done a nice job for us in tennis, but we're not expecting a great deal out of him. I want him to be able to concentrate on his cross country goals," Weber said.

Krueger's older brother Andrew Krueger played tennis for Niles a few years ago, and that sparked Aiden's interest in the game.

"I participated in some summer tennis camps back when I was in seventh grade. I liked my experience playing doubles the last couple years, but singles is a challenge because you have only yourself to rely on and the court is smaller," Krueger said.

Krueger describes himself as confident on the court, and he considers himself more of baseline player.

"I'm really comfortable on the baseline, and my tennis goals are to just try and finish the year with the best record I can in the conference and help my team do as well as we possibly can," Krueger said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Niles’ Aiden Krueger crosses the finish line after winning his race during a home meet this season against Edwardsburg. (Middle) Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season. (Top photo by Kelley Sweeney/Leader Publications. Middle photo by Scott Novak/Leader Publications.)