There was a glimmer of hope that a Spring Lake athlete may have had the chance to claim coveted state championship glory on Saturday at the Division 2 track and field state finals held at Forest Hills Eastern High School.
While the Lakers were shut out at standing the highest on the awards podium, several athletes still experienced a grand finale to their season.
"Our times, heights and distances didn't always represent our peak performances, but they still were terrific," said Spring Lake girls' coach Gera Peel. "It was an eye opener for them and although nerves haven't been a big part of our season, I'm pretty sure they crept in a tiny bit at this meet."
The Lakers earned all-state honors by placing in the top eight in three events. Leading the charge was junior pole vaulter Allie LeRoux, who cleared 11 feet, 5 inches — an inch short of her outdoor career best — to take third-place honors.
She achieved the same height as Grand Rapids South Christian's Alex Whitford, but it took Whitford fewer attempts to achieve that height, elevating her up to runner-up.
The champion was Grand Rapids Christian's Janina Pollatz, who barely inched her body over the bar at 11-8 on her second attempt to capture the title.
LeRoux said her best chance to clear 11-8 came on her second attempt, but she grazed the bar ever-so-slightly and knocked it loose.
"The second jump I was able to put everything together and it felt good," she said. "The last one, it was just jumping (out of desperation) trying to get it."
With a spring season featuring miserable weather and several adjustments made to her routine, LeRoux said it was a struggle to get back to top form, but was glad she went out with a bang.
"I was happy I was able to come out of it at the end, although it was a little late," she said. "It helps build my self-confidence for next year and the indoor season."
LeRoux participates on a club pole vaulting team called Landon Athletics, which allows her to compete in meets all over the state. That extra exposure to the sport could make her a title favorite to win a state title next season.
"I have thought about it," she said. "This will give me more of a drive for next year."
Sophomore Carlyn Arteaga may have a little extra motivation next season as well, as she failed to back up her No. 1 seeding in the 800-meter run, but still placed a respectable sixth in a time of 2 minutes, 17.72 seconds. The amount of time separating Arteaga and second place was about a second.
Arteaga was fifth at the halfway point of the race, but she failed to find the avenue to bust free from the large pack of runners, which is exactly what Chippewa Hills' Megan O'Neal accomplished. O'Neal distanced herself with about 100 meters to go and won the event in 2:14.88.
Arteaga added a second all-state run to her resume later in the day, as she helped the Lakers’ 1,600 relay team place eighth. The relay, which also featured Katie Wells, Sydney Chaney and Emma Mitchell, set a new school record with a time of 4:07.29.
"I was extremely happy for them," Peel said. "They have been so close to the record for the last four meets and just couldn't get over the fence until their last opportunity."
Grace Peterson was close to adding a fourth all-state recipient to Spring Lake, but she placed ninth in the high jump at 5-2. There were four other competitors who also finished at 5-2, but they cleared that height in fewer attempts.
Fellow Laker Lydia Suchecki was 25th in the event with a jump of 4-9.
Peel said the 3,200 relay team was credited with a 'NF' by the MHSAA scorers, but Lakers' coaches had them at 9:48, which would have placed the relay at ninth. That relay featured Arteaga, Brittany Beeler, Erin O'Keefe and Ashley Warner.
Beeler, in her final state meet, ran to 13th in the 3,200 run (11:36.07), while O'Keefe, a freshman, was 25th (11:56.30).
For Fruitport, senior Brianna Pekel capped her outstanding four-year track career with another all-state performance in the 400 dash. She placed fifth overall in 58.28.
All of the hours Spring Lake senior Austin Elliot spent working himself into top-notch shape for track season was rewarded nicely on Saturday.
Elliot, who didn't participate in track during his sophomore and junior seasons — and admittedly fell out of shape — ran what he called the "best race of my life" in the 1,600, taking third overall in a time of 4:21.32.
"It means everything," Elliot said of running a career best time on the biggest stage. "It's been my goal to be at the state meet and place. It feels great."
Elliot said he tried to chase down Cedar Springs' Connor Mora early on, but Mora was in a higher gear, eventually winning by a comfortable 10 seconds.
The closing stretch was frantic, as Chelsea's Austin Horn's final kick pushed him up to second and for a few yards, Elliot to fourth. But Elliot had a final burst of his own to help him pass Byron Center's John Sattler and beat him by about a second.
Elliot later placed 11th in the 800 meter run, with a Lakes Eight Conference rival, Ludington's Luke Johnson, winning in 1:53.53.
Fruitport's lone athlete to place was senior Zack Gilson, who took 15th in the long jump (20-4 3/4).
Several Grand Haven athletes made their way to the Division 1 state meet at East Kentwood, but none was able to finish in the top eight in their event.
The Bucs’ top finisher was Justin Pippel, who ran a season-best time of 9:34.93 in the 3,200 run, six seconds shy of the school record. That put him in 17th place in the race.