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Record run in 1,600 relay propels Oak Park girls to sixth D1 state title in seven years, while East Kentwood boys win third straight crown

By: Dan Stickradt, June 1, 2019, 9:15 pm

EAST KENTWOOD — Sydney Nesbitt said she felt the pain with about 250 meters to go. 

Like all quality distance runners, she dug deep into her gut to maintain her lead and finish with a strong kick. 

The result was a victory in the 3,200-meter relay for Bay City Western, which clocked 9:11.33 in the event. It was the first time the school won the relay, and that kickstarted Saturday’s Division 1 state finals at East Kentwood.

Nesbitt got the baton in the lead and held on for the win as the top seed.

“I just had to keep pushing because I could hear them yell that other runners were coming at me,” said Nesbitt. “I felt it during (the final lap), but kept pushing. It feels so great to win it. We’ve worked for that all season.”

While Bay City Western earned the winners circle in the 3,200 relay, Oak Park is no stranger to individual and team state titles, as the Knights battled with Detroit Renaissance and Rockford the whole day. 

Oak Park’s 1,600 relay quartet captured the final running event of the day — the girls discus did not complete until after 7 p.m. — with a state meet record time of 3:45.13. Renaissance took second in the event (3:48.35) after leading through three legs.

Oak Park freshman anchor Chloe Vines took the lead seconds after receiving the baton and held on to clinch the school’s sixth team state title in seven years.

“We’ve all worked so hard for this, and we knew we had to win this race to do it,” said Vines. “It feels great because this is my first state meet and we wanted to win this really bad.”

Leading by one point before the 1,600 relay, Oak Park collected 74 points with Detroit Renaissance finishing second with 71 points. 

Rockford was third with 69 points, while East Kentwood (32), Ann Arbor Pioneer (30), Lake Orion (27), Grand Blanc (25), Troy (22), Walled Lake Western (21) and Grand Haven (18) rounded out the top 10.

“We knew it would be close, but we also left a couple of points out there that I thought we would get,” offered Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles. “But we also had some kids step up and have great days. Our shot putter finished fourth and that saved us. We weren’t really expecting that.” 

East Kentwood captured its eighth state crown in 11 years along with three state runner-up finishes in that stretch to continue its dynasty status in boys track and field. The Falcons scored 63.5 points to easily outdistance themselves from runner-up Pioneer (43 points) for a third straight state crown.

Alpena came in a distant third with 31 points, followed by Rockford (30), Lansing Waverly (30), Milford (24), Plymouth (23), Renaissance (22), Fenton (20) and Westland John Glenn (19) in the top 10. 

East Kentwood coach Dave Emeott challenged his seniors before the season and this year’s group more than carried the torch.

“Every year I ask the seniors what they wanted to accomplish and they talked about having that perfect season (without losing a single meet),” said Emeott. “These guys stepped up and accomplished that. Even two years ago we had a dual meet loss. This season these guys stepped up and were able to accomplish a perfect season.” 

East Kentwood won three events on the day and scored in 10 of 17 events to earn the title.

Pioneer’s Nick Foster tracked down leader Parker Raymond of Rochester Adams during the final 10 meters to help the Pioneers defend their title in the 3,200 relay (7:47.92). Adams was second in 7:48.96.

Foster, headed for the University of Michigan, came back to win both the 1,600 (4:12.32) and 3,200 (9:08.55).

 

“I knew I just had to go for it, being my last (meet) for Pioneer,” said Foster. “I kept in there (in the 3,200) and then made my move with a couple of laps to go. I knew there was some competition behind me, so I just kept pushing myself.”

Lansing Waverly’s Keshaun Harris blazed past a strong field and joined some elite company by break the 14-second barrier in the 110 hurdles. He captured the state crown in 13.98.

Harris came back to nip Lake Orion’s Thomas Moreman in the 300 hurdles (37.75 to 37.86). 

“I really wanted to break 14 seconds (in the 110s). That’s been my goal all season and I was finally able to do it here. And that’s what it took to win today because there are some very good hurdlers in this state,” smiled Harris, who will announce his college decision this week.

Rockford’s Noah Stallworth earned the title of Division 1’s fastest man by winning the 100 meters by two hundredths of a second over Westland John Glenn’s James Flournoy (10.757 to 10.759).

Flournoy came back to win the 400 (48.32) by surging in the last 20 meters

Stallworth had a blistering anchor of the 400 relay (42.10) to edge East Kentwood (42.15) at the finish line. Stallworth also won the 200 (21.64).

“I knew it would be close. It’s all about getting out of the blocks and I haven’t always done that this season,” admitted Stallsworth. “It wasn’t my best, but it was good enough.”

East Kentwood’s Stephan Bracey won the long jump on his final attempt of the day, turning in a 24-feet-1.25 effort to win by less than two inches over Grand Rapids Northview’s Jenkota Tierney (23-11.75). 

“It was special because I had to do it on my final jump. I got better with each jump,” said Bracey, whose older sister won nine individual state titles earlier this decade for East Kentwood. 

East Kentwood also won the 1,600 relay (3:18.54) and 800 relay (1:27.37).

Novi sophomore Miles Brown won a loaded 800 meters in a field where the top six all broke 1:54. Brown clocked 1:51.83, leading three sophomores that grabbed the first three slots. 

“There’s going to be some great races in the 800 coming up with three sophomores taking the top places today,” said Brown, whose 3,200 relay was tripped up but still finished fourth with his 1:52.1 anchor.

Grand Blanc’s Ethan Vargo won the high jump (6-6), Woodhaven’s Clarence Corbett the shot put (56-3), and

Alpena’s duo of Gabs Bulls won the pole vault (15-3) and teammate Eli Winter the discus (180-1).

The girls meet had numerous eye-catching performances.

Renaissance won the 400 relay with a blistering 46.58 effort, third-fastest time in state history, and also captured the 800 relay crown (1:37.20).

Renaissance freshman Leeah Burr, who ran on both winning sprint relays, out-dueled fellow Oak Park freshman Chloe Vines to win the open 400 (54.17 to 54.22).

White Lake Lakeland’s Grace Stark, already the state’s all-time record holder who is headed to Florida, overcame an injury-plagued season to defend her state title in the 100 hurdles (13.43).

“I had the injury over the winter, so this was my only event this year,” said Stark. “I was freaking out because this was it. I’m so glad I was able to run and defend my title. I already had the record, but I wanted to go out with a win." 

Okemos’ Jasmine Clerkley heaved the shot put an impressive 44-0.25 to win by nearly two feet. 

With perhaps its deepest field of competitors that have cleared 45 seconds this season, Troy’s Lauren Fulcher broke the tape in the 300 hurdles with a 42.75 clocking — the sixth-fastest time in state history. 

“I knew there were so many great runners in this event, so to win with the time I had is amazing,” said Fulcher, who is part of U-M’s stellar incoming class of track athletes in September. “What a way to finish.”

East Kentwood’s Belle Okoroafo won the discus (140-10) and Dexter’s Nicole Bow the pole vault (11-9), where some efforts were off due to the rainy conditions. 

The girls high jump was finished after a two-hour rain delay with Muskegon Mona Shores’ Elizabeth Knoll earning the crown at 5-6. Walled Lake Western’s Kennedy Jackson, who finished second in the high jump, came back to win the long jump (18-10.5).

East Kentwood’s Qe’Neisha Young won the 100 (11.89), one of four runners to blaze 12.00 or faster. Renaissance’s Kaila Jackson captured the 200 (24.04). 

Rockford’s Ericka VanderLende attempted the grueling triple in the distance races, winning both the 1,600 (4:41.00) and 3,200 (10:24.57) while finishing second in the 800 (2:11.32) to Grand Haven’s Gabby Hentemann (2:08.70), who clocked the 10th-fastest time in state history.

VanderLende already set the state record in the 3,200 earlier this season, while her 1,600 effort ranks fifth all time in Michigan.

“I was hoping to break 4:40 in the mile, but in the other events I was just running for points. My team needed the points, so I wasn’t focused on time so much there,” said VanderLende. “I was still happy with my performances.”