O-K Red Conference rival East Kentwood hosted the Division 1 track and field state championships Saturday, bringing the state’s premier athletes to West Michigan for a high-octane season finale.
Grand Haven put their best foot forward, finishing the day with five All-State awards across both track and field disciplines, along with a few stellar finishes just off the podium.
“I’m proud of the kids,” said boys head coach Joe Nelson. “We showed up and performed well. You can get caught up in the moment or you can perform and we did well.”
“There wasn’t any drama today,” said girls head coach John Tarr. “We didn’t have to fix attitudes, they came out prepped and ready to run. We didn’t have to deal with any problems like ‘I don’t want to run’, or ‘I’m hurt’. Everyone just came out here and ran wild.”
Senior Kassidy Burnside led the way, finishing in the top eight in two of her four events. Her loaded day of competition began with an eighth-place effort in the long jump, leaping 17.5 feet. She followed up the stellar field performance with the lead leg of the Bucs' sixth-place 4x200-meter relay, joined in the effort by McKenna Keefe, Kate Criswell-North and Jenny Ryan, clocking in at 1 minute, 44.11 seconds.
Burnside then took on the 300 hurdles, finishing 15th overall in 46.43. Finally, she joined forces with Abby Buitenhuis, Ryan and Keefe for a 12th-place effort in the final event of the day, the 4x400 relay, in 4:02.59.
“Kassidy was fantastic today, what a worker she was with all those events,” Tarr said.
“It was pretty unexpected,” Burnside said of her multiple podium finishes. “I wasn’t expecting to be up there in the long jump at all. I still wish I had jumped farther, because I didn’t PR.
“It was definitely a lot harder of a day than I was ready for. I was pretty out of breath by the end of the 400. But, it feels pretty good. It was a great season to end on. I wasn’t too thrilled with my last two seasons, so I wanted to make sure I finished on a good one.”
Ella Beringer picked up the other All-State finish for the girls, taking sixth in the high jump, equaling her personal record of 5-4. Her second trip to the state meet proved more successful than her first experience.
“Last year this meet was super intimidating. This year, I was a little more used to it, having been here and with how competitive our conference is,” she said. “It is such a cool experience seeing the best of the best. I really just wanted to jump high. My approach has been kind of sketchy all season. I nailed it down today, so that felt great.
“It was so cool to stand up on the podium with the best of the best. I can’t wait to come back."
Senior Charlie Young earned the only All-State finish for the boys, as he took eighth place in the 400, clocking in at 49.46. Running the inside lane made for a tough race, contributing to the slower than expected lap time.
“I was in a tough lane in Lane 1, so I was kind of playing catch up the whole race,” Young said. “We had to kind of take a new strategy and it didn’t work as well as we hoped. I felt good through the race, felt strong, I just tightened up a little bit at the end.
“It is a little frustrating, but I’m glad I got All-State. That was one of my goals, so it feels good to come out here and get that done. I wish I could have placed a little bit higher, but I have had a great year and am pretty happy looking back on it.”
Young finished his day with a leg in the 4x400, bringing home the team of Timmy Kleyla, Seth Taylor and Kyle Eveland for a 15th-place finish in 3:25.07. Taylor served as a surprise addition to the final event of the day, filling in as an alternate.
“We had some hamstring injuries for the 4x400, so our depth really showed in that event with Taylor stepping in and running great,” Nelson said. “He had a great first leg and kept them in that race and we ended up running our best time of the year.”
Mason Mahacek led the Bucs in the field, finishing just off the podium in 10th place of the pole vault (14 feet), and in 19th of the high jump (6 feet).
Eli Nelson proved his worth in the pole vault, finishing 12th (13-6), as the only freshman in the field.
“The pole vaulters did great,” coach Nelson said. “I am so proud of Eli. He hit a personal record in the biggest meet of his life, he just did awesome. Mason did a great job, too. He finished just short of medals. He was looking for more, but just came up a bit short.”
“I was very nervous at first,” Eli Nelson said. “Being the only freshman was intimidating. But, once I started jumping I felt good and I saw everyone was with me. It was cool. I’m pretty pumped with my finish. I went high and can’t wait to be back.”
On top of their successful legs of the 4x200 relay, Keefe and Buitenhuis performed well in their individual bouts. Keefe took 13th overall in the pole vault, clearing a height of 10-3. While Buitenhuis finished 21st in the 800, clocking in at 2:19.30 in the crowded half-mile race.
The stellar finish at the state meet brings perspective at the tail end of a bizarre track and field season that pitted Grand Haven against their typical juggernaut conference competition along with hampering weather and injury bugs.
“We knew we would have a pretty good track team this year, and finishing third in the league was a goal,” Nelson said. “Sitting here now with East Kentwood No. 1 and Rockford in the top five, that third place feels even better. We have the privilege of competing against the best teams in the state, that helps and motivates our kids.
“I’m very happy with the work ethic and what we have accomplished. They learned and took away some valuable lessons this season, and that’s why we do this.”
For the girls, the final leg of the 4x400 relay marks the end for a stellar class of seniors, who made four appearances at the state meet.
“We’re losing kids like McKenna, Kassidy and Jenny, and that is tough,” Tarr said. “They have been great athletes for four years and have come here to state four years in a row. That is phenomenal.
“The first year we brought that class to state, we laid a big goose egg. Then the second year again, we didn’t do as well as we should. To see them finish off strong is great.
“We have some young kids who will be back next year who are going to continue to have great careers. I told the girls when we lost Gabby Hentemann to injury, ‘We are still a great team,’ and we proved that today.
"We have a great program here.”