Spring Lake's varsity girls track and field squad has to be brimming with confidence this spring, considering what the Lakers will feature.
The defending unbeaten champions in the Lakes Eight Conference will have three returning athletes who earned all-state honors at last season's Division 2 state finals, where they placed ninth in the team standings.
On top of that, Spring Lake will be boosted by several outstanding runners from its cross country squad, which earned runner-up honors in Division 2 in the fall.
"The strengths of this team is the hard work put forth by all the runners," said Aaron Andres, an assistant to head coach Gera Peel. "They continue to make themselves better as individuals and more importantly, as a team. At 50-plus girls on the team, there are high expectations that the Lakers will push towards their goal of a third-straight Lakes Eight championship and go for another spot at top two in our region.
“This team wants to get back to top 10 in Division 2, but will not overlook each meet they participate in."
Andres said the Lakers will be led by seniors Brittany Beeler and Sydney Chaney. Beeler will look to cap an already stellar career by continuing to dominate in distance events. She set a school record in the 3,200-meter run last season and was a member of the 3,200 relay that was the fastest in program history. Chaney is a key runner on the Lakers' 1,600 relay.
Sophomore Carlyn Arteaga was the fastest cross country runner at the state finals, but is versatile on the track, having set a school record in the 400 dash last season.
"As a freshmen, Arteaga led the Lakers in points and her versatility as a runner is amazing to see," Andres said.
The Lakers have several quality athletes in field events, led by junior Allie LeRoux, who established a school record of 11 feet, 3 inches last spring.
"Allie had a spectacular winter indoor season in pole vault and looks to be one of the leaders in the state," Andres said.
In high jump, junior Lydia Suchecki earned a seventh-place finish at the state finals a year ago and should only get better, while Grace Peterson is also talented in the event.
Ashley Warner will add to the Lakers' strength in the 1,600 and 3,200 runs, while Katie Wells and Emma Mitchell should thrive in middle distances and relays.
Andres said the Lakers' top newcomers are freshman Erin O'Keefe, who should excel in the 800 and 1,600; and Abby Moe, a standout hurdler.
Joe Nelson has assisted with track teams since he was a college student in 1993. He’s helped out Grand Haven’s program recently in throws, jumps sprints and relays, but now, he’s overseeing every event as the Bucs’ head coach.
Nelson replaces Andy Mousseau, who stepped down after a long tenure at the head of the program. Nelson takes over a team that lost a pair of school record holders in 800 standout Schalk Vanniekerk and hurdler James DeWitt, but he insists there’s plenty of talent returning. The Bucs were 4-3 in dual meets last year and placed fourth at the O-K Red Conference meet.
“We expect to have a team that will compete in every event, every day,” Nelson said. “We are young, so a goal of 50 percent of our kids having personal bests during any competition is realistic and something we plan to celebrate.”
Nelson likes the talent in distance events, led by senior Justin Pippel, a state qualifier in the 3,200 run. Turner Sale and Will Swain add to the excellence in distance.
“Our distance crew can compete with anyone on our schedule,” Nelson said.
Other key returning athletes are sophomore Ben Comai, the team’s top sprinter, who was also a member of the state qualifying 1,600 relay last spring; Cory VanderLaan, who pole vaulted 13 feet last year; and Brandt Grizinga, a versatile performer who will be used in sprints, long jump and pole vault. Nelson said he cleared 20 feet, 4 inches in the long jump at the Grand Valley State indoor meet in March.
Adding depth to the Bucs’ sprints are Mike Schroeder and Jack Clark.
A new face that could thrive this season is Austin Schield, who was hampered by a broken thumb last year. Nelson expects him to score in pole vault and sprints. Sophomores Jamaal Yarborough and Aaron Cummings are also expected to be key contributors in longer sprints.
Grand Haven girls’ coach John Tarr said his team may struggle in early-season meets, but once a talented group of underclassmen find their way, watch out.
“We have an especially strong group of freshmen athletes with (Malea) Teerman, (Claire) VanWieren, (Maisy) Hoffman and (Lexi) Carter leading that group, who are all going to be quite good at the end of the season,” Tarr said.
Senior Grace Kendra may be the Bucs’ most consistent scorer, however, as she placed sixth in the long jump and was top 10 in pole vault at the Division 1 state finals. She could contend for league titles in both events this spring.
“Grace is exceptionally talented and works hard and she’s a lot of fun to work with,” Tarr said. “By the end of the year, we expect that she will be even better than she was last year.”
Other key leaders for the Bucs will be senior Sam VanHoef in the shot put, discus and sprints; senior Andrea Smith in relays and sprints; junior Maddie Sanchez, potentially the Bucs’ top sprinter; sophomore sprinter Ozette Ostrowski; and sophomore Amber Keefe in the pole vault and sprints.
Tarr lists senior Kira Glass as one of the Bucs’ top newcomers, showcasing good strength and agility in discus and shot put.
Trojans’ boys coach Chad Brandow believes his squad could end Orchard View’s three-year reign atop the Lakes Eight Conference.
Brandow has 58 athletes on his roster, sparked by good classes of juniors and seniors and solid throwers.
The Trojans’ strength in shot put and discus will be provided by Alan Jones and RJ Morse. Brandow also likes a cast of versatile athletes such as Zach Gilson (long jump, sprints), Cody Pekel (400 dash, relays), Nick Heil (long jump), and Shawn Knox (sprints, relays).
Freshman Aaron King excelled in the cross country season and should boost the Trojans in distance events this spring, as will Noah Hendricks.
“He’s a mile runner and we expect him to be in the low 2 (minute range) by the end of the year,” Brandow said.
Randy Johnson’s girls squad at Fruitport may have enough firepower to give Spring Lake a battle for the Lakes Eight title. Johnson admits the Trojans lost several key performers from a year ago, but he’s confident in talented newcomers filling in nicely.
Johnson is also thrilled to have a standout returning runner in senior Brianna Pekel, a two-time all-state sprinter in the 400.
“She will be leading this team in everything from the 100 to 800,” Johnson said.
Junior Heidi Klinger qualified for the state finals in the 100 and 200 sprints last year. She’ll be joined in sprints by her older sister, Hannah Klinger, as well as emerging sophomore Kendra Johnson.
Junior Janelle Vest is the Trojans’ top returning distance runner, while sophomores Emily Dupont and Jenna Vanderstelt add depth to sprints and field events.
Debbie Pekel waited until her senior season to compete in track and Johnson said she’s been a welcome addition with her blazing speed. She could be the team’s leading hurdler, as well.
Freshmen Brooke Rollston has been training with Brianna Pekel and is expected to thrive in distance events, while fellow freshman Skye Houtman will lead the way in throws.
“She almost broke the middle school shot put record last season and is eying the high school record in her future,” Johnson said.
Freshmen Aleighsha Pryslek will also look to continue the strong high jump tradition at Fruitport and fill the talented shoes of departed senior Toni Parker.
The Warriors are coming off a surprising runner-up finish at last season’s Division 4 state finals.
Head coach Josh Scholma’s squad will welcome a pair of top sprinters back in Robert Wilkinson and Justin Kollar, who each received all-state recognition in two events last year.
Other key returnees include throwers Alex Rop and Bernard Smith, 1,600 runner David Gilson, and 800 runner Elijah VanderVelde.
WMC’s girls track team is looking to improve on a successful third-place finish at the regional meet, while sending seven athletes to the state finals.
The Warriors are led by seniors Rachel Bruinsma, who was a state qualifier in the high jump last spring and Jasmine Jackson, a transfer from Muskegon Heights who qualified for the state finals in the 400 last season. Other key returnees include another state qualifier junior Adrienne Aardema (3200), and fellow juniors Elizabeth Boeve (400, 800) and Olivia Varnado (shot put, discus).