BY DAN STICKRADT
EAST KENTWOOD — Over the years, Lake Orion has consistently fielded highly-competitive track and cross country teams. But none has been able to reach the podium on the grand stage until now.
The Dragons captured their first-ever Lower Peninsula Division 1 state championship, compiling 50 points to top the star-studded field at East Kentwood High School.
The Dragons’ previous best was seventh back in 2002.
“I am dumbfounded, almost speechless,” said longtime Lake Orion track coach Stan Ford, who has served as an assistant or head coach for more than 30 years. “You don’t coach to win state titles. You coach because you love to work with kids. But every now and then you get the right group of athletes and everything falls in place.”
The Dragons’ foursome of David Diaz, Zach Arnold, Corey Ester and Nick Balavich ended the meet with a win in the 1,600 relay (3:21.42), which proved to be the difference.
“Track is such a different sport,” said Ford. “It’s about scoring high in a lot of events at the state meet. Grand Blanc beat us at the regional because they had all of that depth. That isn’t what wins a state meet. We lost our depth, too, but we had some great performances and we ended up placing in three relays. When I scored it out, we had around 30 points. We ended up scoring 50, and there was a bunch of teams in the 40s. It was that close.”
Grand Blanc, which defeated the Dragons two weeks ago at the Ortonville Brandon regional — Lake Orion’s only loss of the season — finished second with 44 points. Saline was third (42), Milford fourth (41) and Birmingham Groves fifth (32), as Oakland County schools took four of the top five places in the team standings.
Bay City Western was sixth (26), followed by West Bloomfield (25), defending champion East Kentwood (24), Ypsilanti (24), and Battle Creek Lakeview (20) in the top 10.
Lake Orion’s 3,200 relay of Arenz, Diaz, TJ Carey and George Modrak set the school record by placing second (7:51.84). Carey came back and was fifth in the 3,200 meters (9:23.7) and Diaz placed fourth in the 1,600 (4:23.68) coming out of the slow heat.
“That wasn’t expected, David scoring in the 1,600 out of the slow heat. In the fast heat, they were all jockeying for position and the pace wasn’t that fast,” said Ford. “He had more room to run in the slow heat.
“We also picked up a lot of points from the three relays,” added Ford.”
Balavich, Joe Deneau, Ester and Arnold finished second in the 800 relay (1:28.44). Alex Roberts was fourth in both the 110 hurdles (14.96) and 300 hurdles (39.51) and Ester finished fourth in the 100 (11.15).
“We’ve had some good teams in the past but nothing quite like this,” said Ford. “Everything came together. I am proud of this group because one of their goals was to be in the top five (at the state meet) and they worked hard and did everything as a team in order to be able to do this.”
Elsewhere, NorthOaklandSports-area teams scored up points in a variety of events. Rochester Adams tied for 31st (6), Holly was 35th (5), 46th Pontiac (3) and Rochester 56th (1).
Rochester’s Blake Pozolo was eighth in the 3,200 (9:29.7), Adams’ Jordan Shive placed third in the 300 hurdles (39.29) and Holly’s Luke Schwerin crossed fourth in the 800 (1:55.94).
Pontiac was sixth in the 400 relay (43.11).
GRAND RAPIDS — At the conclusion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, there is the one shining moment — a brief recap of the three weeks of madness. For Auburn Hills Avondale, its one shining moment finally came Saturday afternoon on the grand oval.
Or more appropriately — one crowning moment.
The Yellowjackets, after two top-five finishes at the Division 2 boys track and field state finals, were crowned a state champion. Avondale, third at the state meet last year and fifth in 2010, rose to the top of the charts Saturday at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids.
Avondale rolled up 47 points to win the title. Lansing Sexton was second (40), followed by Chelsea (38), Alma (36), Grand Rapids Christian (28), Zeeland West (21), Cedar Springs (20), Linden (19), Zeeland East (18) and Williamston (18) in the top 10.
“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” said first-year Avondale coach Wes Harden. “We had some great performances today. I took the seeds and scored it out the other day and I had Lansing Sexton winning with 39 points. We had 34 points after the 400 and I figured that we would still score in the 800 and 4×400. We were in good position at that point to contend.”
Avondale won three events on the day and placed in six total events en route to the team title.
Kyle Redwine won the 100 meters in a blistering 10.53 seconds and joined Henry Paul, Myles Wright and Jeff Douglas on the winning 400 relay (42.83).
Nate Chapman broke the tape in the 400 (48.71) and came back as part of the grueling middle distance dual to place fifth in the 800 (1:58.07). The foursome of Chapman, Douglas, Wright and Redwine also finished fourth in the 800 relay (1:29.69).
Redwine was disqualified in the 200 meters at the regional two weeks earlier. That mishap turned out to be a blessing.
“It actually helped us having Kyle not run the 200,” offered Harden. “I originally thought that we’d miss those points if he won, but it gave him more of a break without all of the extra prelims and semifinals. We were able to put him in the (1,600 relay) and we ended up winning the race.”
Avondale’s foursome of Geoffery Williston, J.T. Ozerities, Chapman and
Redwine placed second in the 1,600 relay (3:24.16), good for eight more points to clinch the meet title — the school’s second state title this school year. Avondale also won the D-2 boys soccer state title in November, a team led by Chapman.
“We have some very talented seniors,” said Harden, who had four of his team’s seven seniors competing at the meet. “I think we were better this year than last year. Picking up Redwine and a few others this year made a big difference. We know we lost 3-4 really good athletes, but we picked up some new kids and we were able to finally win the title.”
Avondale won all but two of its events this season, earning second at the Oxford Invitational and third at the Oakland County meet. They were 4-0-1 in duals and won league and regional titles.
“We were up there at every meet this season,” said Harden. “This is a great way to end a great season.”
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep was the only other area school to score at the meet. The Fighting Irish claimed two points off Jacob Romeo’s seventh-place finish in the 100 (11.06).
GRAND RAPIDS — Auburn Hills Avondale scored two points on the day thanks to Drew Perrin’s seventh-place finish in the long jump (20-10.75).
Albion won the team title with 49 points with Muskegon Western Michigan Christian earning second (36). Big Rapids Crossroads Academy was third (35), followed by Climax-Scotts (28), Hesperia (24), Reading (24), Litchfield (23), Addison (21.5), Sand Creek (21) and Lutheran Westland (19) in the top 10.
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