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The State Finals from Behind the Mic

by Jeff Hollobaugh

The 2015 MITS State Finals—a meet so good that I am compelled to write about it. However, as a reporter, I was a bit handicapped by also being the man behind the microphone. It was impossible for me to interview athletes, beyond asking some how to pronounce their names. It was also virtually impossible for me to check in on the field events, since the action on the track never took a break. Seriously, some of the biggest challenges of the day were finding a moment to hit the bathroom or get to the drinking fountain. And when I got home, I was truly wiped out, and couldn’t begin to sit down and write and try to make sense of all the great performances.

For the rest of the track world, the writing is already done and the story is already told. Yet I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t think there was a lot of the story that hasn’t been told. (By the way, accept the splits here as gospel, and accept no substitutes. I had a video camera set up for the sole purpose of getting accurate splits, and I have been analyzing the videos very carefully today.)

Race of the Day: Easy, Grant Fisher’s 4:04.46 in the 1600m. The fastest indoor 1600/mile in state history. As he himself mentioned later, he ran three-quarters of a great race by his own very demanding standards. If you look at the halves, he ran 2:02.2/2:02.3. Seems fairly even. The 400 splits tell a different story: 60.1-62.1-65.1-57.2. If you take his six fastest laps and put them together, they add up to 2:59.4!

Fisher’s 4:04.46 broke the state record of 4:07.3 that Logan Wetzel set in Boston three weeks ago. Sadly, their match-up didn’t come off here, because Wetzel was under the weather and confined his efforts to the DMR. One can only speculate what the race would have looked like with a healthy Wetzel competing, and one can only hope we’ll see the match-up in two weeks in New York.

On the way, Fisher also clocked 3:50.9 at 1500m, breaking the record of 3:54.0 shared by Dathan Ritzenhein and Wetzel. That mark makes him =12 in U.S. history. And yes, split times are acceptable as records. Seven of the people ahead of Fisher on the 1500m list recorded their times as splits, topped by the national record of 3:43.27 that Alan Webb hit on the way to his 3:59.86 mile record.

Fisher finishing only 9.34m short!
(photo courtesy of Maggie Pawelczyk)

Amazingly, because Fisher finished so fast, his 1600 ranks as the No. 6 mile/1600 in national history (a lot better than his =12 in the 1500). Basically, in his last 100, he outkicked the ghosts of many of America’s finest runners ever. By the way, Steve Underwood also noted that Fisher’s time is the fastest 1600/mile ever run on a flat track, and it’s also the fastest pure 1600m ever, once you throw out the times for the full mile.

And that’s why I’m kicking myself today. We should have arranged for a second finish line 9.34m past the first, so that we could have gotten a real mile time for Fisher, instead of a mathematical conversion to 4:05.88+. Yes, it’s statistically valid, and there is precedent for it in our state. When Dathan Ritzenhein ran his then-state record 4:09.0 for 1600m in 2001, we had timers at the mile mark. Problem is, Dathan forgot about the arrangement, nearly stopped after the 1600 finish, and when he heard people yelling, he started up again. He clocked 4:12.8 for the mile, which was another state record at the time, though it would have been a second faster had he been on the ball. And at the Oakland County Championships in 2010, Megan Goethals wanted to be the first Michigander to break the 10-minute two mile. We set up a line 18.68m past the FAT timer, and Megan didn’t forget. She didn’t hit her goal, but after a state record 10:01.15 at 3200m, she kept sprinting to a 10:03.2 for the full distance. We should have done the same for Fisher, and I take all the blame. I was thinking so much about announcing that this didn’t cross my mind until about 10 seconds after he finished. Doh!

Unannounced Surprise of the Day: It’s hard for me to get information on the field events while I’m announcing non-stop track races. So, yes, I was shocked when at the end of the meet, someone brought me the shot put officials sheet and asked me if I believed it. It showed Kayli Johnson, a junior who attends Grosse Pointe South and had a 41-9 PR, throwing a monstrous state record 47-9 on her first throw, and then not coming within five feet of that on her later throws. First reaction, I believed we had a measurement or recording error. I mean, if you’ve been around the sport long enough, you’ve seen this movie before. However, after I announced on the Michtrack Facebook page that I wouldn’t be counting it as a state record until I saw either proof or some pretty darn good back-up marks, I heard from several of the state’s finest throws coaches. Some of them had watched the competition. They had seen her throw monster fouls. Their verdict: she’s real, she’s real inconsistent, and she’s possibly one of the most exciting young throwers in America today. I’m really hoping she makes the trip to New York for Nationals. Talent this good should not remain hidden.

Pacing Mistake of the Day: Confession: I’ve been a big Ersula Farrow fan since I saw her whupping high school runners in cross country races back when she was 10 or 11. She is one of the finest runners our state has ever had, and she has the potential to go all the way. Yesterday, she really, really wanted that 800m state record of 2:08.77 set by Geena Gall back in 2005. (Conincidentally, Gall—now with the married name of Lara—ran 2:42.66 in the 1000m heats at the USA Nationals yesterday, breaking the all-time Michigander record.)

Ersula wanted the record so badly she pretty much jogged the winning 4 x 800 anchor with a 2:22.1. But when the gun went off for the open 800, she went a little nuts: 28.8, 32.1 for a first half of 60.9. That maxed out her energy credit card. She struggled through the next two laps of 34.5 and 35.9, and it looked like it hurt. She did get the win at 2:11.29. And she might get another chance in two weeks, knock on wood. Behind her, freshman teammate Dorriann Coleman clocked 2:13.90, the fastest ninth grade time in the country, and tying the state 9th grade record first set by Ramzee Fondren 10 years ago. (By the way, Coleman also had the fastest leg in the 4x8 at 2:13.8.)

Pacing Hero of the Day: Donovan Brazier ran nearly perfect even splits last year when he won outdoor D1 and then the national title with a state record 1:48.61. He did the same thing on the Bowen Fieldhouse track, with 400s of 56.3 and 56.2. Check out his 200s: 26.9, 29.4—then he moved into the lead and ran 28.9 and 27.3. I can’t wait to see him race in New York. Nick Kaiser’s state record of 1:51.34 is in trouble.

Youth Power Moments: Did anyone else notice there seemed to be a lot of good little kids racing well? Seventh grader Anna Jensen from Midland ran the fastest opening leg on the 4x8 with her 2:18.0. Then she came back in the 1600, breaking her own 7th grade state records at 1500m (4:44.5) and 1600m (5:02.98). In the previous heat of the 1600, Ann Arbor sixth grader Sydney Anderson broke that grade record by about six seconds with a 5:11.86, winning the second heat convincingly.

Pole Vault Upsets: When someone came to me to tell me that three girls were vaulting at a record height, I thought my pre-meet predictions were coming true. Mackenzie Shell has been hammering the state record all year, with a best of 13-6, and Stephanie Lambeth has been at her heels, No. 2 all-time at 13-1. So imagine my surprise when I saw the final results. Madison Pierce added 6-inches to her best to grab the win at 12-6. Lambeth cleared the same height in second, and Shell ended up with a no-height. The guys vault also featured a surprise, as sophomore Keegan Carney, tied for No. 8 (13-9) on the Michtrack lists coming in, improved to 14-6 and upended a bunch of older vaulters who have gone a lot higher.

The All-Star Sprinters: Jaron Flournoy has been tearing up the record books this winter, and his training partner Skylar Bowden is not far behind. Flournoy has clocked 6.78, a state record 21.66, and oversized marks of 21.16 and 47.35. Bowden has produced oversized marks of 21.63 and 47.66. They split the long sprints, Flournoy clocking a meet record 21.77 and Bowden getting his own record 48.48. Sadly, we probably won’t see Flournoy attack the state 400 record of 47.87, since he’s probably running 200 at Nationals. Both of these guys could make a real impact at that level, and it’s been too many years since we have done so in the boys sprints.

The Triple Threat: Not on the MHSAA event list outdoors, the triple jump saw a great competition between Andrew Duddles (43-8) and Austin Hawkins (43-0.5). Both scored huge PRs and made the all-time top 10 list for the state. However, the state’s coaches continue to vote against adding the event to the outdoor schedule, limiting opportunities for our state’s athletes all in the name of self-interest.

Sekayi’s Rocking. East Kentwood junior Sekayi Bracey rocketed to her fastest 60 ever, 7.58 (No. 9 all-time). In doing so, she won her third straight state title. Let’s hope the Milesplit folks got her name right on their webcast. Last year she was “Brown.”

Most Competitive Distance Race: The girls 3200, easily. Looked like Sarah Kettel was hoping for a repeat of her victory over Audrey Belf in the Gazelle Elite 3200 a few weeks ago when Belf was reportedly a little under the weather. The pacing even played out similarly. They passed the mile in 5:28.8, and Kettel put the pressure on, steadily increasing the speed of each lap: 39.6, 39.7, 39.5, 38.3, 38.0, 37.5, 37.3. Kettel never opened up any daylight on Belf, who was running as if she had seen this movie before and had a solid plan to rewrite the ending. Halfway through the last lap, Belf exploded. Her last lap was 33.9 to Kettel’s 34.6. Their last mile? How about 5:04.1. Point to remember: Belf has speed. Last year she clocked 2:11.4 and 4:45.37 for the mile. When healthy, she can kick.
Belf (in purple) and Kettel (in the green behind her) just before the race started heating up.
(photo courtesy of Maggie Pawelczyk)

The Motor City Relays: With three relay wins on the girls side and two on the guys, the athletes from Oak Park are a wonder to behold. They have done an incredible job of representing Michigan on the national scene. If not for them and just a few other bright spots, our state would be known in track circles only for its distance runners.