Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
BERRIEN SPRINGS — Not even an hour into Friday’s Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Division 2 team state finals at Sylvester Stadium, Whitehall’s boys squad was hit with adversity.
“A dagger,” dejected Vikings junior standout Trannon Aylor described it after the meet.
Speedy and athletic senior standout Nate Bolley injured his hamstring during a routine warm-up run for the long jump. He was out for the meet. Whitehall was without a potential winner in the long jump and key member of high-performing 4×100, 4×200 and 4×400 relay teams.
Veteran Whitehall coach Kirk Mikkelson rallied the troops and moved pieces around in his lineup. Guys stepped up and a special Whitehall team on a state-title mission did all it could. But, ultimately, the Vikings couldn’t quite get over the hump and had to settle for runner-up behind powerhouse Frankenmuth for the third straight season.
The Whitehall team, which was No. 1 for most of the season in the MITCA Division 2 power rankings, finished with 1443.5 points. Frankenmuth captured the title with 1509 points. Hamilton was third (1370.5), Berrien Springs fourth (1192) and Freeland fifth (1177) in the 15-team boys meet.
“We’ve said all year, if we stay healthy and eligible, we’ve got a shot at this. And then, boom, right off the bat … first time this year (the Vikings suffer a significant injury). Just a freak, freak type of situation,” Mikkelson said.
“We kind of gathered the kids and started making replacements in the relays and the kids responded great. The ones that were going into the relays for Nate’s spot were like, ‘I’ve got this. … I’ve got us covered.'”
Aylor and senior David Conrad took first place in the 400-meter dash (50.19 seconds) and pole vault (14 feet, 9 inches), respectively, for Whitehall.
Vikings senior Wesley Russell was runner-up in shot put (53-4) and sophomore Camden Thompson second in high jump (6-3).
CLICK HERE for complete results on each event.
In a MITCA team state finals meet, points are scored for every individual participant, placing the emphasis on depth. In a large Michigan High School Athletic Association event, such as the MHSAA state finals, only the top eight places are scored.
Whitehall missed out on a potential 40-plus points in long jump without Bolley. Frankenmuth’s Andrew Braman won long jump with an effort of 20-7. Two days earlier in the West Michigan All-Star Invitational at Reeths-Puffer, Bolley went 21-8 in winning the event. Braman was ranked second in long jump and Bolley third entering the MITCA meet.
Whitehall came into Friday’s MITCA meet ranked No. 1 in the 4×200 and No. 2 in the 4×400, but after having to juggle lineups because of Bolley’s injury, the Vikings placed fourth and eighth in those events, respectively.
“I definitely feel like it was just, like, kind of a mood killer from the start because we were coming in really just feeling ourselves, pumped up, and that was kind of like a dagger to us,” Aylor said about Bolley’s absence. “I don’t know, there’s not much you can do. We had people step up. We still had some good races. I mean, it was the best we could do, so it’s all we can ask for.”
Bolley and Aylor are among several Whitehall track and field athletes who were also key members of the Vikings’ football team that came oh, so close to making a run at a state championship last fall.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but life lessons were learned.
“It’s always overcoming adversity and setting a good example for the next class that’s up,” Bolley said. “At the end of the day, we’re here, we made it, we did what we could do and what’s best for us, so now we’ve got to kind of set that bar for the (underclassmen) as usual and they’ve just got to take off with it.”
Said Aylor: “I mean, it’s tough. Obviously, it’s not the outcome we wanted. It kind of feels a lot like football, which, that really hits home, but honestly it happens. It’s going to make us better, going to make you work harder. That’s all I can really take away from it.”
Now Whitehall’s boys track and field team set its sights on the MHSAA state finals next weekend, as several Vikings have qualified for the meet.
Individual medals and team trophies for first- and second-place squads will be on the line next Saturday (June 3) at Forest Hills Eastern.
“If we didn’t get one, we were going to try to get the other, so that’s just the goal in mind,” Bolley said. “Everybody get back, get healthy and (go for) that individual (state finals) trophy.”
Whitehall’s squad has already claimed a lot of hardware this season. The Vikings cruised to team victories at the Fruitport Trojan Invitational, Greater Muskegon Athletic Association meet, West Michigan Conference Lakes Division championships and MHSAA Division 2 regional.
Tough as it is to fall short of the championship goal at the MITCA team state finals, it’s about the journey and not the destination.
“That’s something you can’t take away from people — when they’ve worked hard and put themselves in position to win, they’ll always have that,” Mikkelson said. “We can score the meet out. We already talked the points we lost by not having Nate; makes a difference in the meet.
“Moral victories are moral victories — you’d prefer the actual victory — but it’s better than nothing. Three years in a row runner-up in the state … you know, the Buffalo Bills did it and so did we,” he quipped. “Second place in the state is not a horrible place to be. You’d like to be the top spot, but why not be second if you can’t be first.”
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