The Buccaneer girls have four individual event qualifiers and two relay teams in the mix, with personal best times, school records and All-State finishes all within reach.
Sophomore Gabby Hentemann headlines the group as a qualifier in the 1,600-meter run (5:05.41) and the 800 run (2:17.54), while junior Jenny Ryan is in the 400 dash (1:00.63).
Making their first trips to the state meet will be sophomore Ella Beringer in the high jump (5-02) and freshman Cam Constant is in the 300 hurdles (46.64).
Grand Haven also qualified two relay teams with the 3,200-meter team (9:39.75) of sophomore Abby Buitenhuis, senior Andrea Strainer, senior Haylee Ray and Hentemann seeded 16th; and the 1,600-meter team (4:05.59) of Hentemann, Ryan, Constant and junior McKenna Keefe seeded seventh.
“We’re excited. I think the All-Star meet was a real confidence booster for us,” said Ryan. “We improved on most of our times and really pushed ourselves at that meet. That was great preparation for Saturday’s meet and what kind of speed we’ll likely see there.”
On the biggest stage, it’s easy to get distracted and Ryan thought that was the case for herself and the Grand Haven girls squad as a whole last spring.
“Last year at the state meet, I think I got psyched out a little bit about the event,” she admitted. “So, it’s nice to have some experience this time around and just focus on doing my best in my events and not let the atmosphere get to me.
“I also think we were just happy to be there last year. This year, we’re going there to compete and run the best time we possibly can as individuals and as relay teams. Our 4x400 relay team really wants to break four (minutes). We’re really close to a school record in that event, and we really want to get there. I think the speed of the field we’ll be running against will help push us to break it.”
For Hentemann, the chance to finish her sophomore season on a more positive note than her freshman year ended has been a motivating factor all season.
“That put some fire in our bellies for this upcoming season, which was good,” she said of last year’s finish. “You always want to be motivated, and we’ve been motivated by that finish to our season last year. We want to make sure we finish stronger this time around.”
Hentemann has found unique ways to push herself this spring, including running unofficially in the boys heat of an O-K Red Conference meet in the middle of the season.
“That was a big breakthrough for me, because I was able to run a sub five minute time in the 1,600, and it was just good to go up against quality competition like that. Other than that race, it had been a pretty slow season for me, and I wasn’t really getting pushed. But that race and the All-Star meet, really helped me get ready for the level of competition I’ll see on Saturday.”
Grand Haven girls track coach John Tarr isn’t surprised to see his team peaking at the end of the season.
“The great thing about this team is that they have gotten better every single meet. The regional was tough because of the weather, but they all ran solid times there, and then followed that up with a great performance at the All-Star meet last week,” he said. “A lot of the time, you have teams that have ebbs and flows throughout the season, but this team has been different in that area.
“I haven’t really had to worry about them at all. Sometimes I get anxious about whether a team is going to reach its potential or not, but I feel pretty confident with this group. Most of them have some experience at the state meet already, and they’re motivated by how last year ended.”
Tarr isn’t as concerned about scoring points as a team as much as he is about a collective effort to hit individual goals.
“I want to score there as a team, but I’m more focused on whether they PR or not. We have a chance to set several school records on Saturday, and I think they are all capable of accomplishing those goals if they come into the event with a the right mindset.”
That mindset is difficult to call up with the circus-like surroundings that the track state finals can often employ.
“It can be distracting. It’s almost like a carnival atmosphere at the state meet with all the different colored tents and people running all over the place and spectators walking around,” Tarr added. “We just have to stay focused and take care of business.”
The expectations have always been to qualify for the state meet, but some journeys to Saturday’s grand finale have been more surprising than others.
“Abby has been a nice surprise. I saw her during the cross country season, and I knew she would be good, but I wasn’t expecting her to be so good, so quickly,” Tarr continued. “Jenny Ryan has been fabulous. She’s gotten better and better every meet. She’s really improved to the point, now, where she’s one of the fastest girls we’ve ever had in our program.
“Cam has changed the entire complexion of this team. With her, we are so much more versatile out there. She can run hurdles, she can run the distance relays, and she can run the sprint relays. I’m sure she can run a good 800 time, too. We can do a lot of different things, and she’s made the whole team better.”
On the boys side, junior Jack Nicholson is seeded sixth in the 3,200 meter run (9:28.26), while fellow junior Charlie Young is in the second heat of the 400 dash (50.48) which features 18 athletes with qualifying times under 51 seconds.
“I think the All-Star meet was big, because I finally got that time that I’ve been aiming for all season,” Young said of his 49.79 time at last week’s meet. “That gave me a lot of confidence in myself and motivates me to keep working on bringing my time down and keeping making progress.
“I ran a high 50-second time midway through the season, and then I was consistently hitting the 50 mark toward the end of the season. Then at the All-Star meet, I hit 49 seconds. It’s relieving to get to the state finals after all the time and training I’ve put into this season. It feels like all of my hard work is starting to pay off. I’m just excited to get a chance to experience the state finals in my junior year, so it can help me prepare for my senior year.”
For Nicholson, the competition within the O-K Red Conference, which features top-ranked East Kentwood, has helped him prepare for what he’ll see on Saturday.
“I think going up against East Kentwood and Rockford and teams of that quality really helps us prepare for the state meet and what we’re going to go up against,” he added. “We’re all competitive around here, and knowing that we are going to go up against top competition during the season helps push us to work harder.
“The All-Star meet was great, because we knew we were racing our hardest and putting up good times, but we still had a lot left in us for the state meet, too. I think cross country helped a lot to prepare for the track season. By the middle of the season, you could tell the work was paying off, and I still feel like I have another level I can reach because I’ve trained since the fall for this.
“My goal for Saturday is to PR and finish in the top eight so I can medal and be All-State. Those would be things I’ll be shooting for.”
Grand Haven boys track coach Joe Nelson is thrilled to see Young back in the mix after an injury cut his sophomore season short.
“He got injured at the conference meet last year, so he never got to finish his season out after a really strong start,” Nelson said. “He did everything he needed to do to rehab the injury and get ready for football in the fall and then in the winter, he did a really nice job of working on his conditioning, stretching and taking care of his body to get ready for the spring.
“He did all the little things he needed to do in order to be successful, and he was reaping the rewards of that hard work right away. I think a lot of the kids on the team saw that, and decided to push themselves even harder.”
As far as expectations for his two athletes, Nelson just wants both to cap off the season on a high note.
“I think both of those guys have a chance at the school record in their events,” he said. “I think if we aim for those things, I’d be surprised if they both don’t medal. Charlie is in a loaded 400 field, but if the conditions are friendly, I think the overall speed of those heats will push him toward that mark.”
The Fruitport boys track team had a strong finish to their season last spring, winning the 3,200-meter relay state title and medaling in several others to finish ninth as a team at the event.
The only returners from that squad that will be at Saturday’s Division 2 track and field state finals at Zeeland High School will be junior Cameron Oleen and senior Wyatt Kendra.
Oleen is seeded fifth in the 400-meter dash (50.01), while Kendra is seeded seventh in the 300 hurdles (40.61). Junior Ryan Bytwerk also qualified in the long jump (20-10.5) and is seeded 16th.
Oleen will also anchor the defending state champion 3,200 relay squad, but with three different teammates this time around. Seniors Aaron Simot and Mitchell Johnson, as well as sophomore Brendan Deneen are seeded eighth (8:07.35) heading into the event, but an 8:01.64 finish at last week’s All-Star meet leaves reason to believe this team might have another PR left in its tank.
“This team has amazed me all year with what they have been able to accomplish,” said Fruitport boys track coach Chad Brandow. “These six young men are a big reason for our success this year. I believe we have a good chance to have multiple All-Staters with any luck.”
On the girls’ side, junior Kallie Fehler is the lone individual event qualifier in the 300 hurdles (47.18). She is seeded sixth heading into the meet, and already holds the school record in the event (46.4), which she set at last week’s All-Star meet.
The Fruitport girls squad also has two relay teams seeded in the top 10 of their respective fields with the 800 relay team (1:47.65) of seniors Katana Daniely, Olivia Netzler, sophomore Taylor Burke and Fehler seeded fourth and the same foursome in the 1,600 relay seeded ninth with a qualifying time of 4:11.72.
“We hope to earn All-State honors in both of those relay events,” said Fruitport girls track coach Randy Johnson. “The 4x200 school record is 38-years-old, and we hope to break that Saturday, as well. If all goes well, we should have a great day.”
WARRIORS HIT WARP SPEED
The Western Michigan Christian boys and girls track teams will send 17 athletes to Saturday’s Division 4 track and field state finals at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids.
On the girls’ side, sophomore Josie Aardema is in the 3,200 run (12:10.67), sophomore Anika Eenigenburg is in the 100 hurdles (18.58), junior Kylie Luhring is in the discus (97-11), senior Chanaiya Richards is in the 100 hurdles (18.37) and 300 hurdles (52.58), sophomore Sarah Vanderkooi is in the 1,600 run (5:42.33) and 800 run (2:31.22), junior Shantele Wilkinson is in the high jump (4-04) and senior Logan Williams is in the 1,600 run (5:27.39) and 800 run (2:29.19).
The Warrior girls will send all four of its relay teams to the state meet.
The 3,200 relay team (10:33.06) of Williams, junior Ellie DeKam, sophomore Josie Aardema and Vanderkooi, the 1,600 relay team (4:25.00) of Williams, Wilkinson, sophomore Ema Davis and DeKam, the 800 relay team (1:58.01) of sophomore Kaitlyn Summerfield, freshman Peyton Allen, Richards and Davis, as well as, the 400 relay team (55.46) of Summerfield, Davis, Richards and DeKam.
On the boys’ side, sophomore Tyler Somers will be in the pole vault (9-0), the 110 hurdles (16.79) and the 300 hurdles (42.57).
The Warrior boys will also bring their 400 relay team (46.59) of freshman Solomon Waller, senior Ben DeKryger, junior Johnscott Finley and junior Evan Fles and the 1,600 relay team (3:42.23) of senior Dan Ray, Somers, Waller and Finley.