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Michigan Running – Week Nine (March 2nd, 2022)

MITS State Meet

There were plenty of results, stories, and successes from the past weekend.

To me, the biggest success was the LAB itself. In the week before, it appeared the meet would be a repeat of the Midwest Invite experience two weeks prior. Multiple event order changes within a day, entries open to the public, registration opened last minute. When the day came, the meet was efficient, events hummed one after another, and the performances flowed, matching the ease with which the meet ran.

I could write for days and there’s video of all the races, so I’ll speak off the cuff about efforts that I thought were meaningful.

The Track Life University and Motor City Track Club crews are mainstays. They’re always going to put up performances, and with the middle school portion included, you saw a bit of their development program. Hall, Jiles, Johnson, Lynch, they take these kids from their first 400m crying down the homestretch to high school, breaking 4:00 in the 4×4 and 1:40 in the 4×2, going to New York and Eugene and Texas to win countless national titles, then sending those kids off to the college and pro level.

But beyond those main two, other clubs shined. Blazers, Michigan Mustangs, Elite Performance, Michigan Accelerators. Detroit might be the capital of the Michigan sprint world, but there are other pockets of the state producing high-level runners.

One of those was Evan Knox. In his outdoor career, Evan has performed well, but is essentially an unknown. He did finish 2nd in the 100m at the Oakland County Championships, but was unable to crack the final at D1 State in that event. He didn’t even qualify for State in the 200m. This weekend, he won 4 of his 5 individual heats, claiming a 100m victory in the process.

Cementing her place as the 800 Queen of Michigan, Lani Bloom took home yet another title. She’s really rounded out her resume in the final seasons of her career. She captured her first outdoor titles in 2021’s D3 800 and 1600, broke 17:00 in a trip out to Oregon, doubled down on that 5k success in November, then moved back to the half in a victory here.

Second in that race was a girl I was elated to see finally win one. Early in both her junior cross and track seasons, it appeared Julia Flynn was on track to win a title. Sub-17 at Shepherd, 10:06 in the Elite 3200m? Those were some damn good times, but it didn’t pay off. It’s not my place to speculate why, but one must feel for the girl. Things have been looking up on the championship front for Julia. A 6th place finish at Kenosha led to a trip to EastBay Finals. Sunday, she took control of the race from the jump, coming through 800 in 2:18, opening up a considerable lead that was never closed to relinquished. A little jump for joy after crossing the line signified her excitement and relief.

And anyone that knows me, knows that I’m a sucker for improvement. As of this time last year, Shawn Juliette owned PB’s of 2:24/5:08. Through the middle of the outdoor season, he wasn’t even the best 800m runner in Livonia. At Larry Steeb, he had a breakthrough, breaking 2:00 for the first time. A base built through his first fall XC campaign paved the way for another breakthrough, this time during indoor. He was paced to a 1:56 a few weeks back with help from some friends from Johannesburg-Lewiston. Sunday, he took it from the jump, leading wire to wire enroute to another 1:56. As I said on Twitter, it’s The Skroll Effect. I’m not joking with the hashtags though, when you have a coach with championship experience of her own, there’s no way it won’t pay off to her athletes.

All of these were great individual efforts. The dominant club on the distance side was the Up North Elite Track Club. The results speak for themselves. Victories in both DMRs, the Boys 4×800. A sub-9 from Hunter Jones in the 3200m. A medal in the 1600m from Allison Chmielewski (who also had the kick of the weekend in the DMR).

I’m just a city boy. I can walk to the bank, post office, party store, coney island. Conveniences are just a step away, so were running partners. Meet up for a run? Yeah, I’ll just run to Dave’s house and we’ll go from there. I couldn’t imagine living in Roscommon, Buckley, or Manton. Weight room? Yeah, we had that in the school. Treadmills? Community center is four blocks away. Can’t find a clear path? Lower Huron, Stony, Kensington are all paved, plowed, and salted. Need to run inside? Ultimate Soccer can be rented out.

For us suburbanites, reality is set up well for distance running. In the upper reaches of the state, the reality is much different. Another runner of your stature might be an hour away. Your only stretch of clean pavement might be a busy highway. The resources might not be there, but the toughness is so very apparent. That toughness has showed in the past through legends of our sport, Ryan Shay, Jeff Drenth, Paul McMullen. It shows today through future legends. It shows in the coaches creating communities, Brendan Marcum, Asa Kelly, Doug Drenth, Lisa Taylor, Pete Moss, Matt Peterson.

Trevor Thiebaut and I have found a little friendship throughout the past few years. It started a bit rough; I probably ranked Cadillac too low in that 2020 season. The passion is apparent in everything he does. Whether that’s teaching, coaching, building a cross country course, geocaching in the woods, or managing a meet, the guy brings it every time. It’s no shocker that he is a driving force behind this Northern Michigan renaissance. Given the coming out party this weekend, it’s only natural that I lobbed a few questions his way:

Tell us about the formation of the Up North Elite Track Club. When did this become an idea and who were the brainchildren?

The Up North Elite track club started when Asa Kelly and I wanted to give kids a couple familiar faces when they go to indoor meets. The idea actually started two years ago, but it didn’t get off the ground much due to COVID and some other different factors. However, this year, we went full force with the club.

The kids had more than just a familiar face going to these indoor meets, they built great friendships and had training partners throughout the winter. The kids would meet all over northern Michigan to train together. They would meet in Cadillac, Beulah, Manton, Buckley, Roscommon, and all over just to run and train with each other. Often times on a weekly basis, we would carpool to Grand Valley and CMU to use their indoor track for workouts, each 3-4 hour roundtrips.

Being small school, northern Michigan kids, we don’t have a lot of the resources that these large schools down state have. The majority of these kids train by themselves on a yearly basis. We have to drive well over an hour for the nearest indoor track. None of our schools have pools or fitness rooms with 10 treadmills in them. We have to make it work.

This track club gave these kids, that are usually doing everything solo, a group to work with and enjoy. They would train, have breakfast after runs at the Kelly’s house, get Chinese buffet after workouts, and simply just hangout. It truly was life changing for a lot of these kids.

Paul McMullen was a major mentor to you during your formative years. How has his message influenced your coaching?

Paul meant the world to me and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. He influenced my life a ton in countless different ways.

It’s hard to pick which message has influenced me the most because he had so many, but there is one that sticks out the most. Paul always said, “Today I gave all I had, what I kept is lost forever.” That quote goes very hand in hand with being an athlete. Giving all you had in races, giving all you had in training, and things along those lines. However, I also think it can apply to coaching. Asking specific questions like, “Did I give all I had to make sure my kid had the best race plan possible?” “Did I give all I had to make sure their training fit them the best on an individual basis?” “Did I give all I had to make sure everything was right for them on race day?” “Did I make sure the kids had fun today at practice?”

I often find myself making sure every single box is checked 10 times over for every individual kid on my teams; it gets extremely time consuming and stressful, but I want them to have the best experience possible. Paul always said that the training plans and workouts are nothing if the kid doesn’t trust you and think you care about them. The kids will run through a wall for you and go to war for you if you show them you care. That’s why I always come back to the question that links to Paul’s message: “Did I give everything I had today?”

What are your plans for the club in the future?

Coach Kelly and I are definitely going to keep it rolling! Future plans for the squad are to continue it for years to come and hopefully expand it. Not just in indoor season, but summer training as well. Give these kids a group of like-minded individuals so they can continue to push each other beyond their limits and build friendships.

Moving forward this season, we have a good chunk of kids going to NYC to compete at New Balance Nationals or Nike Nationals in a couple weeks.

Watch out for the kids come outdoor season, they’re hungry and are bound to run fast.

In the midst of your coaching and teaching, you also have some personal goals in the sport. What’s on the schedule in the near future and in years to come?

After Paul passed, I made a goal to get back into competitive running shape to race in his honor.

The next race is on March 20th in Bay City for their St Patrick’s 8k. I’ll have a couple outdoor track races at GVSU and MSU, I’ll do the Bayshore Half Marathon Memorial Day weekend, some road races over the summer like the Crim, then Detroit Marathon in October. Should be fun!

College Conference Championships

In last week’s writing, I looked to a few matchups and athletes to watch from each conference. Let’s see how they performed:

Miles Brown won his initial heat in the 600m prelims, then in the final, came back and laid down a nearly impossible mark to beat, a 1:15.87. Nearly impossible left room for a Hawkeye to sneak through, Jenoah McKiver besting Brown by 0.2 seconds. I believe Brown is training more with the 800m group at Michigan and this isn’t an exact comparison, but McKiver has run 45.4 indoors. I wish this was a single section final so we could have seen the two go head to head.

The Michigan mid-distance contingent as a whole performed well in their battle against Iowa. Dubem Amene set a Michigan record in the 400m prelims (46.34), then doubled down on that record in the final, scorching a 46.04 and 2nd place. Cole Johnson finished 3rd in the 800m, and while not a PB, it was his highest place in a Big Ten Championship. But the Iowa depth was too much, as the Hawkeyes captured their third straight indoor crown.

Jenna Magness did go head-to-head against Bethany Hasz. In Friday evening’s 3k, Hasz and Magness battled down the stretch, with Hasz leaning to an ever so slight victory, a victory nonetheless. Magness left no doubt in Saturday’s matchup, winning by 13 seconds.

Dennis Mbuta was able to join Jonathon Groendyk as a qualifier for D2 Nationals. They’ll need points here to complement the strength of Harding, Chada, and Futter. The GLIAC 800m race was a two team showdown between the Lakers and Northwood, with representatives from each school grabbing the first six spots.

Makayla Sumrall and Alona Olshevska sadly missed each other in competition, but that just left more titles for each. Olshevska took home the 200m and 400m titles, Sumrall the 60m.

With over 80% of the GLIAC schools based in Michigan, we’re a sure bet to take home many of their honors, but that doesn’t make the honors any less notable. Klaudia O’Malley and Isaac Harding were named Athletes of the Year. Reagan Justice and Brandon Miller were named Freshman Athletes of the Meet.

Spurred by their highest finish since 1985, the coaches over at Northwood was named GLIAC Staff of the Year. David Hodge, Collin Nurenburg, Heather Johnson, Marcus Myers, and Jeremy Wilk all combined for the honors and I’m glad it’s the staff being honored rather than one coach. As we know, running a track program is a master course in logistics and communication.

Baldvin Magnusson came away victorious in the 1500, 3k, and 5k. Quite a letdown that he only finished 3rd in the 800. Even with that tremendous letdown, the Eagles rode his contributions on way to a team title.

Central Michigan was able to pick up a victory, with Hayley Manners taking home the long jump with a leap of 20’5”, ranking her in the top-40 in all of Division 1.

Placing 3rd in the mile with a 4:46, Anna Petr helped the Colorado State girls bring home a Mountain West title.

Gabby Hentemann (Grand Haven) nabbed two podium finishes at the Big Twelve Championships, placing 2nd in the 5k and 3rd in the 3k.

Commitment Watch 2022

Justin Miller (Fenton > GVSU)
Jessica Jarski (Warren Regina > Cornerstone)
Donavan Mattson (Caledonia > Michigan Tech)
Evan Knox (Bloomfield Hills > Delaware State)
Sophie Bonnema (Holland West Ottawa > MSU
Ty Nagy (White Lake Lakeland > Wayne State)
Eliot Ross (Belding > Trine)
Easton Williams (Milford > GVSU)
Noah Reuter-Gushow (Midland Dow > GVSU)
Tristin Canales (Otsego > Colorado Mesa), joining his Otsego teammate, Chase Brown.
Jack Brass (Romeo > Lawrence Tech)
Will Houvener (Lake Orion > Adrian)
Brian Langlois (Ionia > Aquinas)
Nick Knust (Croswell-Lexington > SC4)

In the Media

Port Huron area athletes were featured in a Blue Water Healthy Living article about the MITS State Meet. I adored Reese Powers and Hannah Fisher’s attitude toward competing on a relay team at the state level. The two have been at the forefront for Marysville throughout the past four years, but haven’t necessarily been afforded the opportunity to compete against some of the bigger, more established schools. Each week, the girls have been making the hour+ trek to practice with the Breen squad, and this weekend, were both integral parts of teams that medaled.

BVM Sports talked with Comari Hawkins in a lengthy piece about her commitment to Houston, her father’s influence, and the help of the Track Life crew. I had no clue her father played in the NFL and I think that’s a positive in her development. Rather than push her into sports, buoyed by the thought of carrying on his legacy, she exerts positive pressure on herself.

Being a huge basketball fan myself, it’s a pleasure seeing some of our cross country stars take to the hardwood. MLive wrote about Whitney Farrell, an All-State runner for Freeland, but also the PG of a team that’s had success year after year. It’s no surprise that her endurance earned on the course has translated to the court, as she’s turned into a tireless leader for the Falcons.

The Purple Track Club/Ann Arbor Pioneer girls were interviewed by Dyestat’s Doug Binder. I enjoyed hearing more about Emily Cooper’s backstory, the influence of Zofia Dudek, and how the disappointment of missing 2020’s track season led to their emergence of the past few years. Maybe I shouldn’t be impressed by this anymore, but I’m in awe of the outgoingness of these girls. Here’s the video, it appears that it’ll need a RunnerSpace+ subscription in order to view.

Other Happenin’s

Donavan Brazier had a tumultuous weekend that thankfully, ended well. A DQ in his 400m prelim was reversed, allowing him to finish 2nd in the 400m (45.75) and earn a spot heading to Belgrade.

The USATF 50k Championships were held this past weekend on Long Island. Two Michiganders placed high: Sam Skeels (Siena Heights soccer & track) was the top master and finished 6th overall, Rich Power won his 55-59 age group and finished 16th.

NAIA Nationals are being held this weekend in Brookings, South Dakota (South Dakota State’s massive indoor track). You can find the men’s qualifiers here and women’s here. Conveniently broken down by school, too!

The Hansons crew is headed in two different directions this weekend. A majority of the team is headed to race in Sound Running’s The Ten, hoping to get a US 10k qualifier in anticipation of that race in May. Zach Panning and Wilkerson Given are racing in Jacksonville at the Gate River Run, the USATF 15k Championship. The Gate River field is loaded, some names you may recognize include Hillary Bor, Morgan Pearson, Jake Riley, and Galen Rupp.

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