After finishing second to Allendale in the regular season standings, the Lakers were eager to even the score with a meet title. In their dual meet, Spring Lake fell by a sizable, ____ margin. Saturday, they topped the title bout with 139 points, besting Allendale at 111.5. Grand Rapids West Catholic took third (80), Grand Rapids Catholic Central fourth (73), Coopersville fifth (67), Sparta sixth (52) and Comstock Park (4.5).
“They wanted the outright title, and we wanted a piece,” said Spring Lake girls head coach Mary Amy Bajt. “We wanted it, but they got us in the regular season, so you never know what could happen. We love this meet. We rise to it and always get amped, but the girls really showed up today.”
It was across-the-board achievement that paved the way to victory as nearly every Spring Lake girl posted a personal record. After solid performances in the a.m. field events and running prelims, quick runs gave way to faster times as Laker enthusiasm built with every turn.
“Getting the girls to believe in themselves is the tough part,” coach Bajt. “You can do all the physical prep, telling them how to eat and train, but it comes down to them getting to the line and being willing to go after it. When everyone is setting personal records and you hear and see that, you get inspired and start to feed off of it.”
“Going into the meet, we were just thinking, ‘Let’s make it close and stick with Allendale as long as we can,’” said senior Julia Bajt. “Then, we were having such a good meet, everyone was getting PRs, and that gets you so pumped up. It feels great.”
The hype climaxed in the final event, as the Lakers’ 1,600-meter relay team sprinted to a first-place finish in 4 minutes, 10.57 seconds. Freshman Avery Hoekstra led off the effort, followed by Lizzy Koratich, Isabella Padula and Julia Bajt, who turned a neck-and-neck turn four into a one-second victory with a determined final straightaway.
“It is kind of scary,” Bajt said of the close race. “Especially in the relay. I didn’t want to be the reason we lost the relay, so I just had to go for it. We knew we were winning the meet going into it, so I was thinking, ‘Let’s finish this off.’ That made it so much better, just a great feeling.”
Bajt passed her mettle test with flying colors Saturday, finishing off two races with a final-straight dusting. Her individual conference title in the 800 came with a race to the finish as she out-willed her Catholic Central challenger down the stretch for a three-second win at 2:20.86.
“I really wanted to win an open event in conference this year,” Bajt said. “So I wasn’t going to let that get away from me. I just kind of went for it and hoped I could hold her off once I passed her. When it comes down to me and another girl, I just get determined to not lose.”
Bajt’s worst finish of the day came with a measly bronze medal, as the junior standout finished third in the 100 at 12.89.
None of the Lakers’ six event titles excited the team more than the 1,600, as Maggie Cooper posted a 6-second drop from her last mile run on May 2 for a winning, personal best time of 5:25.13.
“Maggie Cooper killed it today,” coach Bajt said. “That mile was outstanding.”
“I was warming up for my 800 and looked over and saw Maggie Cooper fly by to win the 1,600,” Bajt said. “It just gets you so pumped up to see that from a teammate.”
Jessica Judge made the most of her first O-K Blue Conference finals, winning the 300 hurdles with a personal best time of 49.27 and taking sixth in the 100 hurdles at 20.07 to round out the Lakers’ individual podium-topping performances.
The relays were major point boosts Saturday, as Spring Lake took three of four possible gold medals. Taylor Rebone, Judge, Sophia Tilton and Hoekstra took the mad-dash 400 relay in 53.07, while Tilton, Koratich, Padula and Bajt took the 800 in 1:50.44. Maggie Cooper, Allie Baker, Anna Fedewa and Elizabeth Penrice finished second in the 3,200 at 10:38.53.
Spring Lake was far from gold or bust, as a number of runners picked up big points with top-three finishes.
Hoekstra ruled the sprints with runner-up finishes in the 100 at 12.69, and the 200 at 26.79. Both times clocked in as personal records.
Penrice and Fedewa provided compelling theater during the grueling 2 mile, as the pair sold out to break the 12-minute barrier, running shoulder-to-shoulder through 3,000 of the 3,200 meters only to turn on each other for the final straight.
Both girls broke the barrier, finishing with personal best times. Penrice took the silver medal in 11:58.81, while Fedewa took third in 11:59.32.
One Laker joined Judge in each of the hurdle finals, as Taylor Rebone took fifth in the 100 in a PR time of 17.44 and Koratich took third in the 300 in a PR time of 50.94.
Rebone grabbed Spring Lake’s lone top-three finish in the field, leaping 14-8.5 in the long jump for third place overall.
Conference championships don’t come from strictly all-stars, it took every runner’s best effort to top Allendale on Saturday.
Also picking up valuable points for the Lakers were Sophia Tilton in sixth of the 100 (13.88) and fifth of the 200 (28.26, PR); Padula in fourth of the 400 (1:02.52, PR); Cooper in fifth of the 800 (2:33.01); Eva Tilton in sixth of the 800 (2:35.11); Kayla Purvis in seventh of the 800 (2:40.05, PR); Fedewa in fourth of the 1,600 (5:31.23, PR); Penrice in sixth of the 1600 (5:35.18, PR); Kayla Purvis in eighth of the 1,600 (5:51.76); Allie Baker in sixth of the 3,200 (13:01.09), Rebone in eighth of the 300 hurdles (53.59); Koratich in fourth of the high jump (4-10) and Sadie Williams in eighth of the high jump (4-8).
“It was a point here and a point there that made the difference,” coach Bajt said. “We had a lot of girls step up in events that they normally don’t do. The girls responded today and it feels great.”
Now, with their piece of the conference crown locked away, Spring Lake will return to training to prepare for the regional championship meet May 18. There, a top-two team finish earns the Lakers a trip to the state finals.
Boys take third
The Spring Lake boys track and field team went into Saturday’s meet looking to move up after a fifth-place finish in the regular season standings. Their third place finish with 79 points was just what the doctor ordered.
“We came in sitting fifth in the standings, so the goal was to get third today,” said Spring Lake boys coach Todd Mitchell. “We thought that was achievable with a great day and we had a great day.”
Allendale took top honors with 131.5 points, ahead of Sparta (127.5), Spring Lake (79), West Catholic (72), Catholic Central (64), Coopersville (47) and Comstock Park (6).
“We wanted to place well in the relays, and we knew our distance events would get us some points,” Mitchell said. “We talked about everyone trying to beat where they are seeded, especially for the guys seeded in the 7-10 range, their job was to score and get those little points that make a huge difference.”
Senior Jonah Schmuker took the Lakers’ lone title for the day, winning the long jump by a sizable margin with a leap of 19-1.5.
The Hylen brothers led Spring Lake on the track with Ben taking fifth in the 800 at 2:07.63 and third in the 1,600 at 4:33.32.
Andrew Hylen, returning from injury for just his second meet of the season, edged his brother in the 1,600 for second place at 4:32.89 and took second in the 3,200 at 9:52.42.
“Andrew coming back helps a lot,” Mitchell said. “He would like to win but for him being two weeks back into training its great to see him where he wants to be going into regionals.”
A trio of Lakers took high finishes in the 400, as David Reynhout (54.44), Carter Phillips (54.56) and Hunter Vetula (55.33) took 3-5, all in personal best times.
Spring Lake’s 800 relay cracked the podium, finishing second in a time of 1:36.21 with the team of Reynhout, Jadon Barnes, Steve Ready and Schmuker.
Callen Carrier, Matt Vanderwall, Andrew Hylen and Ben Hylen took third in the 3,200 relay in 8:28.89; the 1,600 team of Reynhout, Phillips, Vetula and Ben Hylen took third in 3:41.11; and the 400 team of Ready, Schmuker, Barnes and Gabe Tardani took third in 45.93.