Portagers sending 15 to state finals

The greater the tradition, the higher the expectations.

Onekama has had a habit of sending athletes to the state finals annually, so the Portagers are hoping to bring back more than just memories from this Saturday’s Division 4 meet in Hudsonville.

“We may not be bringing the numbers we have in past years, but I think the talent and potential for success is even better than it has been,” said Onekama boys coach Tony Shrum. “The good thing is everybody going down there has a shot to bring a medal home.”

Onekama’s Reilly Merrill is seeded fifth in the 200-meter dash for Saturday’s Division 4 state finals. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate file photo)

Onekama’s Reilly Merrill is seeded fifth in the 200-meter dash for Saturday’s Division 4 state finals. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate file photo)

The Onekama boys won their regional as a team in Mancelona earlier this month, and in the process qualified seven athletes over seven events for the finals. Senior John Girven led the pack by winning regional titles in the 3,200 individually and as part of the 3,200 relay with teammates Jordan Anderson, Shane Peterson and Josh Davis. Girven, who also qualified in the 1,600, was the lone Portager to medal in last year’s finals by placing eighth in the two mile.

“John was an All-Stater in the two mile, which is something he would love to do again,” Shrum said, “and I think he’s got a good shot to do that with a good race.

“The majority of the guys competing on Saturday are seniors, so you’ve got a lot of guys that have been there before, so I think that experience is going to help them.”

The 3,200 team holds Onekama’s highest seed with a four, while Reilly Merrill is seeded fifth in the 200-meter dash. Michael Belinksy won a regional crown in the 300-meter hurdles and helped teammates Merrill, Paul Hayes and Peterson win the title in the 1,600 relay, both of which hold 10-seeds for the Portagers. Rounding out Onekama’s representation Saturday will be Peterson in the 800 and Anderson in the 3,200.

“The guys are really focused and have been practicing hard,” Shrum said. “It’s always an interesting couple weeks leading up to it, but these last few days the team starts to thin out and you’ve just got the qualifiers working specifically on their events.

“We’re focused, looking forward to it, and looking to do really well.”

The Brethren boys will be represented by a pair of high jumpers in James Connolly and Victor Acosta.

Connolly will be appearing for the second straight time in the finals after leaping to All-State status last year with a fifth-place finish in the event. The junior easily won the regional title this month with just one jump of 5-foot-7, which makes Connolly’s seed height misleading.

“I think his expectations are pretty high,” said Bobcats boys coach Travis Walker. “We know that he’s capable of performing well, but there’s going to be some good competition. It’s going to be up to James on that day.

“He very well could be a repeat All-State performer,” he added. “He’s got the ability and opportunity to perform very well.”

For Acosta, a second-place tie in Mancelona earned him a berth in his first finals. The senior looks to set a personal best at the meet, according to his coach.

“It’ll be a good experience for him to go and compete at the level, which is an opportunity he hasn’t had yet in high school,” Walker said. “The thing about Victor is he jumps about as well as James, but James has a few of the techniques down a bit better.

“He can get up to the level where I think he can be clearing six feet, but there’s a few things in his takeoff we’re trying to adjust to get him there. We’ll see if we can put it all together for this weekend.”

Manistee Catholic Central also had a state qualifier in Jason Kaminski, who was the regional runner-up in shot put. The senior, however, also plays baseball for the Sabers, who have a district tournament in Frankfort on Saturday. Kaminski had to choose between the two and decided to be on the diamond this weekend.

“He’d be the first to admit that it was a real tough decision,” said MCC track and field coach Kevin Skipski. “But, we’re behind him, and are really proud of what he did (at the regional).

“There was no doubt from the beginning that he’d be really strong in that event — his form was impeccable — and we figured he’d go far.”

Manistee County’s representation in the girls finals will all be in Onekama blue and gold on Saturday. The Portagers qualified eight athletes over seven events at the regional, paced by Meredith Hengy, who won a title in the 100-meter hurdles and was part of the winning 800-meter relay team with Alyson Fink, Grace Hughes and Alycia Peterson.

Onekama is seeded in medal contention (top eight) for five events. Peterson holds the team’s highest seed with fifth in the 200-meter dash, while Hengy is sixth in hurdles. The 800 relay team, the 1,600 relay team (Faith Moerdyk, Keena Gilbert, McKaya Groenwald and Kelly Babcock) and Grace Hughes in the 100 hurdles are all eighth.

The Portagers will also be represented by Fink in the 100-meter dash, Babcock in the 1,600 and Gilbert in the 3,200.

“We tell the kids that this is good competition, but this is their time to shine and do what we’ve been working hard all year for,” said Onekama girls coach Nathan Bradford. “As long as the kids go and give it everything they have. Sometimes you have success, sometimes there’s disappointment, but it’s already a privilege to go and compete (at the finals), so you hope to capitalize on the opportunity and bring home some medals.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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