By Jason Wesseldyk
Coach: Mike Chalupa (21st year)
Returning letter winners: Sabrina Mills (sprints), sr.; Josie Navarro (distance), sr.; Maddie Antkoviak (throws, high jump), soph.; Dawn DeGood (throws), soph.
Season outlook: As a junior last season, sprinter Sabrina Mills was the lone member of the Allegan track team to qualify for the Division 2 state finals.
As she enters her senior campaign, Mills is hoping for a return trip to the finals.
“Sabrina is looking for a strong finish to her career,” longtime Allegan coach Mike Chalupa said.
Mills joins classmate Josie Navarro as a captain for the Tigers. The pair will be asked to set an example for the younger members of the team.
“Sabrina and Josie provide a great foundation for all the newcomers this year,” Chalupa said. “We have great numbers this year, which exciting to see. We’re hoping for a competitive season with lots of growth.”
A pair of returning sophomores—Maddie Antkoviak (throws, high jump) and Dawn DeGood (throws) are among those who will be relied on to score points for Allegan, which is making the move from the Wolverine Conference to the SAC.
“We’re entering the season as the new kid on the block, so there is a mixture of excitement and apprehension,” Chalupa said. “We’ll see what happens.”
In addition to being new to the SAC, several athletes on the Allegan roster will be new to the high school level of competition after competing at the middle school level last year.
“We’re really excited about a big group of incoming ninth graders to bring some youth and new blood to the program,” Chalupa said. “We have nine freshmen joining the program this year, so all the new faces are great to see.”
In terms of specific events, Chalupa expects the throws and sprints/hurdles to be strong points for his squad.
“Our biggest concern right now is the unknown,” he said. “We’re in a new conference and with so many newcomers, we will be left with a bit of a learning curve.”
Coach: Erica Ruffner
Returning letter winners: Nadia Martinez (distance), jr.; Elia Ruiz-Izquierdo (sprints, hurdles, jumps), jr.; Lila Rosema (mid-distance, jumps), soph.; Ava Ellis (mid-distance, pole vault), soph.; Kalee Kramer (throws), soph.
Season outlook: Whatever the team needs.
According to Fennville coach Erica Ruffner, that’s the attitude that’s been on full display from the members of her team during the early part of the season.
“This group of girls is tight-knit, positive and willing to try new things,” Ruffner said. “I really appreciate the will these girls have to get into new events and learn new skills moving through the season.
“This general attitude will lend itself to a successful season.”
Two areas in which that attitude will almost certainly paid dividends is pole vaulting and hurdles.
“It will be our first year in quite some time with pole vaulters and hurdlers, so we should be more competitive coming into meets,” Ruffner said.
Returning sophomore Ava Ellis will compete in the pole vault for Fennville, while returning junior Elia Ruiz-Izquierdo is those slated to participate in hurdles. Sophomore newcomers Felicitas Gellert and Chelsea Stevens will add depth in the hurdles.
Gellert and Stevens are part of a group of newcomers that also includes freshman Samantha Giles; sophomore Josylin Andrade and Elia Marti; junior Jennifer Banda; and senior Wendy Gonzalez.
“With a large number of newcomers, I am excited to see lots of growth for our Blackhawk track and field athletes,” Ruffner said. “We are hoping to get a solid base of athletes competing across events.”
Ruffner also has high hopes for some of her athletes when it comes to the receiving conference accolades, led by returning juniors Nidia Martinez (distance) and Ruiz-Izquierdo and Giles.
“I expect that group to be competitive at the SAC meet,” Ruffner said.
Coach: Travis Pertner (24rd season)
Returning letter winners (partial list): Stella Kotowski (sprints), sr.; Jeralyn Hoppes (sprints, long jump), sr.; Trina Farris (distance), sr.; Elyse Genzink (mid-distance), sr.; Ella Schwartz (hurdles, mid-distance), sr.; Aliyah Springer (throws), jr.; Emma Heyerman (distance), sr.; Jennifer Lambers (high jump), jr.
Season outlook: The year may change, but the goal he has for his team remains the same for Hamilton coach Travis Pertner.
“We are always looking to build a strong program with a lot of depth,” he said.
The “depth” portion of that goal could be a bit more difficult this season, at least when it comes to the running events.
“We are somewhat challenged this year with only 14 runners,” said Pertner, who guided the Hawkeyes to a third-place finish in the OK Blue Conference last season and a sixth-place showing at regionals.
Even with those low numbers, Pertner expects sprints and hurdles to be among his team strengths, along with throws.
Junior Aliyah Springer leads the throwing contingent, after having placed ninth at the Division 2 state finals a year ago. A trio of newcomers—freshman Sarah Kelley, sophomore Lauren VanOmmen and senior Norah Soerens—are also scheduled for the throws.
Returning seniors Stella Kotowski and Jeralyn Hoppes are among the top sprinters, with returning classmate Ella Schwartz among the hurdlers.
All in all, Hamilton’s roster is one that Pertner believes will be competitive with most teams in the league.
“Allendale will be the team to beat again this year in the OK Blue,” he said. “Our dual meets with many teams will be very competitive. We are likely to finish in the middle of the eight-team league.”
Coach: James Kiss (15th year with the program)
Returning letter winners: Neveah Helderop (distance), sr.; Vanessa Barry (long jump), jr.; Sierra Emaus (sprints, jumps), jr.; Jaeden Harshberger (mid-distance, high jump), jr.; Helena Kerber (distance), jr.; Navaya Ingle (sprints), soph.; Kambria Moored (hurdles), soph.; Leah Schumacher (throws), soph.
Season outlook: Hopkins coach James Kiss isn’t one to make excuses.
That’s why, even though the Vikings are a bit down this season in terms of participation numbers, Kiss maintains a high level of expectation.
“It’s true that we don’t have a very large team when it comes to numbers, which means we’re not necessarily deep,” Kiss said. “But we still expect to compete at a high level each week with the athletes we do have.”
The goals for the season include being in the hunt for an OK Silver championship.
“Belding and Sparta will be the top contenders (in the league),” Kiss said. “But I think our team will be right there in the mix.”
The Vikings, who finished third in the Silver a season ago with a 5-2 dual-meet record, return a pair of athletes who garnered All-Conference accolades in 2022.
That includes sophomore Kambria Moored, who claimed the league championship in both the 100-meter hurdles and the 300 hurdles.
Senior distance runner Nevaeh Helderop also earned All-Conference.
“Depth in sprints will be a strength, while a lack of experience in pole vault is a concern, along
with a lack of numbers in our distance events,” Kiss said.
Kiss, who has traditionally been listed as the head coach for the Hopkins boys team, is joined by three new coaches this season: Phil Moerdyke (sprints), Trent Feven (distance) and Mike Maule (throws).
Coach: Damon Blackburn (fifth year) and Caryn Blackburn (third year)
Retuning letter winners: Annika Dillenbeck (throws), sr.; Kylee Gonser (relays and sprints), sr.; Lynsey Jager (relays, throws), sr.; Samantha Stone (hurdles, sprints), sr.; Elizabeth Reinke (pole vault, sprints), jr.; Lily Stocking (mid-distance, relays), jr.; Kyia Bozzo (hurdles, sprints); Makala Goddard (throws, hurdles, sprints), jr.; Autumn Hayes (long jump), jr.; Ellyse Blackburn (high jump, mid-distance, relays), soph.; Alenah Griffin (sprints), soph.; Avery Jager (jumps), jr.; Emily King (mid-distance, relays), soph.
Season outlook: A trio of state qualifiers lead the charge for Martin as the Clippers hope to build on a successful 2022 campaign.
Junior Elizabeth Reinke actually competed in two events at the finals, as she qualified in pole vault and was part of the 4×200 relay team. Senior Kylee Gonser was also on that relay team, while Kyia Bozzo represented Martin in the 300 hurdles.
Ten other athletes also return for Martin to go with a handful of talented newcomers, providing the husband-wife coaching duo of Damon and Caryn Blackburn plenty of options when it comes to filling events.
“We have high hopes going into this season,” Caryn Blackburn said. “Although we lost several key graduates, we have a few newcomers and some returners we expect to step up and perform well.”
As has been the case for the past several years, the Blackburns are treating the girls and boys teams as one cohesive unit.
“We coach the two teams together as one family,” Caryn Blackburn said.
Coach: Justin Scott (11th)
Returning letter winners: Logan Brazee (distance), jr.; Eleanor Bush (distance), sr.; Brooklyn Carroll (hurdles), jr.; Olivia Dennis (sprints, pole vault), jr.; Megan Germain (distance), jr.; Haley Guerrant (throws), jr.; Molly Jackson (hurdles), jr.; Taylor Klimp (distance), soph.; Taylor Mitchell (distance), soph.; Nyla Reed (sprints, long jump), jr.; Kendall Rockenstein (sprints, jumps), jr.; Chloe Sunnerville (throws), sr.; Addyson Thomas (sprints/high jump), sr.; Carys Trudelle (sprints), soph.
Season outlook: Otsego enters the season as winners of the past six Wolverine Conference championships and three straight regional titles.
Keeping those streaks alive is a top priority for the Bulldogs.
“The goal for our team is to defend the conference and regional championships,” Otsego coach Justin Scott said. “We believe as a team that we have reached a point where those things should be within reach every season.
“Sometimes what other teams bring to the table is a large part of deciding the outcome, but we should always be fully prepared to be at our best at the big meets at the end of the season.”
The distance events have long been a strength for Otsego. And given the fact that the cross country team won a state title last November, there’s no reason to expect anything different this year.
“Within our distance crew we have a great mix of returning girls who scored a lot of points, girls who were on the verge of breaking through a year ago and new members who have the talent to contribute,” Scott said.
Juniors Logan Brazee and Megan Germain lead the way for that distance crew, which also includes senior Eleanor Bush, sophomores Taylor Mitchell and Taylor Klimp, and freshmen Emma Hoffman and Rebecca Stachura.
Aside from the distance events, Otsego returns a conference champion thrower in senior Haley Guerrant and a league champ pole vautler in junior Olivia Dennis.
“Haley and Olivia will continue to be a force for us in terms of scoring, but both of them also have great qualities as leaders for our team,” Scott said. “They bring a positive energy and are always willing to help and offer support to their teammates.”
A key for the Bulldogs’ success this season will be the ability to keep athletes healthy and able to compete.
“One of our biggest assets over the last decade or so has been depth,” Scott said. “With lots of athletes to choose from, we have been relatively insulated from injuries and things that can come up during the season.
“We are about 10 girls below our usual number this season, so maybe we won’t have the luxury of being able to have a lot of interchangeable parts. The areas where we will be most affected by our lack of depth are also the areas where I have the biggest question marks coming into the season: sprints and relays.”
Graduation took a big toll on both of those areas.
“We will be looking for girls to put in the work required to drop their times and get into scoring positions,” Scott said. “If we are going to be successful at the end of the season, I think we will need to find a way to answer the following questions: Can we find a way to get second and third place points in the throws? Can we perform consistently in the high jump? Can we find some girls who are tough enough to score points for us in the 400? Will we be able to field competitive teams in the sprint relays?
“If we can get a yes to some of those questions, we will be a very competitive team.”
Coach: Matt Evers
Returning letter winners: Natalie Anson, Zoey Bennett, Ally Bruce, Ava Collier, Jadyn Erdody, Aila Jammal, Shelby Jenkins, Emma Jepsen, Audrey MacQueen, Raya Mergen-Henry, Grace Pettit, Alexis Pel, Carmon Roth, Lynsey Smith, Natalie Somers, Emma Taggett, Audrey Todd, Alison VanDyke, Claire Vos
Season outlook: It’s always nice to have options.
And Plainwell coach Matt Evers should have plenty of options when it comes to filling out his lineup during the season.
In addition to 19 returning letter winners, the Trojans have 24 newcomers on the roster for a total of 43 athletes.
“I expect that we will have another tough team this season,” said Evers, whose team placed runner-up in the Wolverine Conference last season. “With so many new runners, we will be looking for them to step up to fill the shoes of some excellent athletes that have graduated.”
One of Plainwell’s goals this season is to move up one spot to the top of the league standings and ending archrival Otsego’s run of six straight titles.
“I think that we should stack up well in the conference,” Evers said. “Our season will be decided by how well these new recruits fit into our gaps from graduation. Just how and where (the newcomers) will fit in and contribute we do not know yet, but I am sure they will be a big help to the team in many areas.”
In addition to his team and Otsego, Evers expects Vicksburg to be another title contender.
“We should be solid in most of our running events,” Evers said. “The fields will be a bit of an unknown until we get a bit into the season.”
Coach: Ray Antel
Returning letter winners: Elliot Antel (mid-distance, relays), jr.; Emma Byers (hurdles, high jump), sr.; Karley Davis (throws), sr.; Breanna Hyde (hurdles, long jump, relays), sr.; Faith Rollandini (sprints, relays), sr.; Taylor Wolf (sprints, relays), jr.; Olivia Barabas (mid-distance, relays), sr.; Ava Makowski (mid-distance, distance, relays), jr.; Noelle House (distance), sr.; Kennedy Jasinski (pole vault, sprints, relays), soph.
Season outlook: Some teams struggle to find one solid pole vaulter.
Wayland has three.
In addition returning sophomore Kennedy Jasinski—who set the school record at 10-6 last year—the Wildcats welcome freshmen Megan Stack and Evie Mathis to the fold. Stack has a personal-best of 8-0, while Mathis has cleared 12-0.
“Pole vault should be very good for us,” Wayland coach Ray Antel said. “Those three should have some fun this year. Kennedy broke the school record last year, and Evie is currently the to-ranked freshman in the nation.”
In addition to the vaulting crew, the Wildcats should be strong in the long jump with returning state qualifier Breanna Hyde back for her senior year.
“Overall, this appears to be a fun team that is already getting after it,” Antel said. “We have many new faces across the board with hidden talents too soon to reveal. Our numbers are up a little bit, too, which is always good.
“The Michigan weather is making it difficult to get in some solid workouts back-to-back, but we’ll get through it.”
After placing eighth in the OK Gold and seventh at regionals last season, Antel is optimistic his team can move up the standings this year.
“The OK Gold is a pretty tough conference,” he said. “I look for us to finish in the top half this year.”
“I’m truly excited about this team. Look for surprises. We’re just getting started.”