By Ben Murphy
Last year was business as usual for the Clare boy’s varsity track team, as the Pioneers won their 10th straight Jack Pine Conference championship, took third in regionals and had a slew of post-season awards. There’s no reason to think this year will be any different.
“We are fairly balanced in all events,” 11th year head coach Adam Burhans said. “(We have a) solid, young, hardworking team that understands tradition.”
Returning from last year’s Jack Pine Conference team are seniors Hunter Nivison (all-conference, all-region, all-state in middle distance and distance) and Brock Demo (all-conference, all-region middle distance), juniors Kevin Spicer-Torres (all-conference, all-region middle distance, distance), Kyler Phillips (all-conference, all-region distance), Devi Ayers (all-conference, all-region hurdles), Tyler Gillespie (all-conference throws), sophomores Zach Merchant (all-conference jumps), Alex Haupt (all-region sprints) and Ryan Whiteman (all-conference middle distance).
New to the team are Levi Boynton (throws), Ben Haupt (distance), Brandon Zinser (sprints), Colton Petree (multiple events), John Splitter (multiple events), Hunter Schaaf (jumps), Kyle Sweet (multiple events), Jay Poet (jumps), Collin Beavan (multiple events), Chase Field (multiple events), Chrisitian Kuhns (multiple events), Trevor Petree (hurdles) and Jacob Karl (multiple events).
“All can have breakout seasons,” Burhans said of the newcomers.
Burhans is keeping things simple, a formula that’s clearly worked well for the team in the past.
“The team we compete against on that day,” he said of who they need to beat in the JPC. “(Our goals are) to compete against anyone with dignity and with an ultimate drive of reaching attainable goals.”
The Clare girls went 6-1 in the JPC last year, narrowly missing out on a league title. Third year head coach Kyle McKown is greeted by several returning seniors, including Victoria Harper who was the JPC MVP and took sixth place in the state meet the 3200 last year.
“We have doubled the size of last year’s team and have a very athletic and fun mix of girls on the team,” he said. “This team is a mix of young and veteran athletes that works hard and has big goals for the upcoming season.”
Returning from last year’s team are seniors Harper (distance, middle distance), Krysten Kruskamp (sprints, hurdles, jumps), Kodi Humphrey (sprints), Robyn Stanley (distance, mid-distance), Amanda Yats (sprints), junior Olivia Cooper (sprints), sophomores Madison McPhee (sprints, mid-distance), Mallory McDowell (sprints), Hannah Hofweber (pole vault, high jump) and Kaitlyn Vansteenburgh (shot put and discus).
Top newcomers according to McKown are seniors Lindsay Winter (distance, mid-distance), Cassidy Campbell (throws), Tealen Brown (throws), sophomore Paige Gould (sprints, hurdles), freshmen Jasmine Harper (distance, mid-distance), Holly Pummell (mid-distance, distance), Makenzie Harmon (mid-distance, distance), Jordyn Bradley (mid-distance, distance), Ashley Rawson (mid-distance, distance), Kaylee Williams (sprints, hurdles), Madi Warner (sprints, hurdles, high jump), Paige Keeley (high jump), Lexy Harton (sprints), Lexy Lowe (sprints) and Breona Meyer (sprints).
The coach feels that the 3200 meter relay, hurdle events, sprint relays and the long jump will be the team strengths, though he’d also like to add depth in the throwing events and the long jump.
“We are excited about the potential that this team has to perform at a high level throughout the season,” McKown said. “Our experienced senior leaders are helping to set the tone for our large group of young athletes to follow. Our main goal is to work hard and to improve throughout the entire season.”
Though the Pioneers had quite the respective second place finish in the league last year, McKown is hoping to move up that one last spot this year.
“(We want to) improve team finish in the JPC and regionals and to qualify as many athletes as possible for the state finals,” he said. “Gladwin and Roscommon (are tough league teams). Emerging young teams include Harrison and Houghton Lake. Our goal is to improve our team performance in the JPC from last season.”
The Pioneers have already competed in two indoor meets and are scheduled for their first outdoor meet April 9 at Fulton.