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Tribune Top Five Male Athletes: No.1 Cam Oleen

Duncan MacLean • Aug 2, 2018 at 2:00 AM

The Grand Haven Tribune is counting down our top 5 male and female athletes, as well as teams, for the 2017-18 athletic season. Our No. 1 male athlete of the year is Cam Oleen, capturing the honor in back-to-back years after a breakout cross country season, brutal basketball campaign and stellar performance on the track.

Accolades, records and championships help qualify an athlete for newspaper countdowns and Hall of Fame inductions. Leadership, heart and perseverance help build a legacy.

Cameron Oleen capped a stellar athletic career at Fruitport this year with legacy-cementing leadership. In his second season as a cross country runner, Oleen doubled down his commitment to distance training, yielding an All-State finish at the Division 2 state meet.

After slogging through a winless basketball season in 2016-17, Oleen returned to the court this past winter with renewed, not diminished, vigor to lead the team as a do-it-all point guard. The Trojans mustered just two wins, but Oleen's effort cannot be discounted.

Enduring distance training through the fall and the grind of the basketball season brought Oleen back into his element — the fast lane. With two state titles and school records under his belt, Oleen committed to expanding his repertoire.

He went on to capture O-K Black Conference and Division 2 regional titles in the 400-meter dash, along with an O-K Black title and Division 2 runner-up finish in the 800, securing himself two lanes at the state meet. At the big dance, Oleen took fourth in the 400 and 23rd in the half-mile, while leading Fruitport's 3,200 relay to seventh place and their 1,600 relay to 14th.

Committing to cross

Oleen's 2016 cross country season was his first ever taking on the 5,000-meter slog. The distance was an issue for the accomplished sprinter, who saw injuries derail his in-season training. Despite limited practice, he still managed to rise into Fruitport's No. 3 spot, eventually turning in an impressive time in the 15:30s.

Determined to unlock the potential of a supremely talented athlete, cross country coach Randall Johnson and track coach Chad Brandow encouraged Oleen to take his summer training seriously ahead of his second crack at cross country.

"His junior year, he was injured and only running two or three times a week, and he still managed to run a 15:30," Johnson said. "When you have a kid with that kind of talent and speed, he is just built to run. We just had to develop his base.

"He had to understand that cross country is won and lost in the summer. Coach Brandow and I got him to run in the summer and developed him from there. That summer running definitely kept him off the injured reserve once the season got going."

The effect of summer training was enlightening for Oleen. Once he got going, he didn't stop. He finished first overall in seven of 11 meets this past fall, including the O-K Black Conference meet and the Division 2 regional championship meet. At the state finals, he picked up All-State honors with a 13th-place finish.

Naturally, his secret was speed. With a distance tolerance now established, Oleen ran the 5,000-meter race exactly like he runs his sprint events — find the leader and burn him on the final straight.

"It got to the point where we knew if the leader didn't break him, he was going to win," Johnson said. "He is really competitive but didn't have a lot of cross experience so he couldn't just take a lead and run with it.

"He would just take off with whoever the leader was in a race and sit on him, then outkick him at the end. For him, adapting to the distance races wasn't much of a challenge, it was just about doing the work."

Big baller, bigger heart

After his stellar performance on the cross country track, Oleen came face to face with another daunting Trojan basketball season. After a winless 2016-17 season, Fruitport returned to the hardwood under the fresh leadership of first-year head coach Steve Erny.

Oleen's renewed dedication to cross country carried over to the basketball court, where he led the Trojans in scoring night in and night out, putting his speed, athleticism and positivity on display with each possession. While his hooping was impressive, as he led the team in points and steals, it amounted to just two wins on the season. In the winter, it was Oleen's positive attitude that went the distance.

"He is a very inspirational kid," Johnson said of Oleen's spirit. "He is very positive, easy going and fun to have around. When you have someone who does that, kids see what they are able to do and are inclined to follow."

"I told him at the end of the year I really wished we could spend more time together," Erny said. "He was our captain and a leader on the team. The other kids looked to him when it came to playing the game and working hard.

"He wasn't always the most vocal, but he spoke up when he needed to and certainly led by example on the basketball and work ethic side.

"He has been through a few rough years of competition playing basketball in his three years on varsity. For a senior to still have the will to play and to enjoy playing basketball is awesome.

"He is blessed and gifted with athleticism and is able to put that to good use to be the best all-around athlete he can be. He went against some of the best teams in the area and was right there with them able to go toe to toe in skill and athletically."

Topping it off

In his final year on the high school track, Oleen put his work ethic and versatility to the test, competing in four events at the Division 2 state meet, finishing with an All-state fourth-place finish in the 400, an All-State, seventh-place finish in the 3,200 relay, a 14th-place finish in the 1,600 relay and a 23rd-place finish in the 800. Despite the stellar numbers, it was a disappointing finish for the former state champion.

"He had to run super hard to get the relay to All-State, so he was pretty spent. He had four different races at the state meet, that is quite the accomplishment," Brandow said. "When you're running against the best of the best and they are all waiting around for their one race and you've got four to help out your team, eventually you run out of gas."

Heading into the state meet, it was an All-Star season for Oleen as he picked up multiple conference and regional championships across his lineup of events.

Despite the less than perfect finish, Oleen made huge strides in his final season on the track, particularly in the leadership department.

"He was more of a leader this year," Brandow said. "We put him in some different positions. He ran 1,600 relay all year to work on his speed and helped them be one of the top relays in the area.

"His willingness to do whatever I asked him to do and do it with a smile on his face was awesome.

"He worked very hard to get to where he was. He did it all. Spring track training down in Myrtle Beach, he did track training and meets over the winter while he was playing basketball. That rubbed off on my younger kids. We had a lot of freshman and sophomores who improved and saw what it takes to be an elite runner."

All of Oleen's hard work, the smiles he brought to his teammates and his God-given talent added up to one dream athlete for all three of his coaches to mentor and a mountain of accolades, to boot.

"He is a great young man. I expect him to do great things," Brandow said. "His ability to do whatever a coach asks and just his natural talent — I've never seen a kid just step onto a track and succeed like that. He doesn't know what he is doing yet, but if he continues at this trajectory, you are looking at a future Olympian. He is just that talented. He is one of the best athletes I have ever coached."

 

TRIBUNE TOP MALE ATHLETES

1. Cam Oleen

2. Mason Fritz 

3. Charlie Young

4. Cam Peel

5. Jack Nicholson 

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