By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Coach Steve Zaranek started a Grosse Pointe South girls track and field program in 1980 that became both sizable and successful over its first three decades.
The near-simultaneous high school arrivals of some of the school’s top athletes of all-time then paved a track last season to the Blue Devils' first MHSAA championship.
But that title might've been just the start for this week’s Second Half High 5 team honoree.
The impressive performances of last spring – including all-MHSAA Finals records in the 1,600 and 800-meter runs by now-junior Hannah Meier – have been built upon during the first month of this season.
The finish that’s made the biggest headlines was a time of 8:59.69 in the 3,200 relay two weeks ago at Michigan State’s Spartan Invitational. That time would top the all-Finals record for that race by more than five seconds, and is just the latest from the elite Blue Devils talent tearing up the track.
“Every year we average well over 100 girls on the team – this year we have 125 girls – and we’ve always been a team that had tremendous depth,” Zaranek said. “We’ve won 18 of the last 20 Regionals on depth. But at the state meet, you must have elite runners. That’s been such a fortunate thing for us.”
The line-up starts with the Meier sisters. Grosse Pointe South edged runners-up Detroit Cass Tech and Ann Arbor Huron by four points each last season thanks in large part by Hannah’s records of 4:42.60 in the 1,600 and 2:07.37 in 800. She’s considered one of the top middle distance runners in the nation – with the Universities of Oregon, Notre Dame, Stanford, Washington, Michigan and Villanova University among those paying attention. Sister Haley Meier, also a junior this season, finished second in the 1,600 and third in the 800 at the 2011 Final, and her 1,600 time of 4:45.80 was the third-fastest in Finals history.
The Blue Devils graduated hurdler Veronica Schacht, who placed in both hurdles Finals, now runs at the University of Pittsburgh and according to Zaranek was the best hurdler in program history. But also back this season is senior Caitlin Moore – the program’s top sprinter ever who also will run on a 1,600 relay that has broken four minutes without her and went 3:53.78 to take fourth in Division 1 in 2011.
And then there are the newcomers. Sophomore Kelsie Schwartz and freshman Ersula Farrow joined the Meier sisters with top-15 individual finishes as the Blue Devils won the MHSAA Division 1 Cross Country Final in the fall, and make up the other half of the time-slashing 3,200 relay. Schwartz came from Warren Regina this school year after her family moved from St. Clair Shores to Grosse Pointe. Farrow is the latest in a speedy family line – her mother Tina (Jordan) won the mile run for Detroit Mumford at the 1980 Class A Final and then ran at Western Kentucky University. Father Erskine ran at the University of Tennessee, and older sister Christina Farrow was a senior this spring at Central Michigan University.
Without Schwartz and Ersula Farrow, the Blue Devils’ 3,200 relay still finished MHSAA runner-up last season with a time of 9:11.98.
“Kelsey got a really great start at Regina. Ersula has just gone beyond what we expected her to be,” Zaranek said. “We have run the last couple of years at the state meet really quality times, 9:09, 9:10. I knew we had the potential to shoot for that 9-minute mark, but what I really thought was that would happen at the end of the season.
“To get there when we got there at MSU was pretty special. There’s definitely the potential to run (faster) and even approach that 8:50 mark.”
Zaranek also has high postseason hopes for junior Aubryn Samaroo, whose high jump of 5-foot-6 this spring would’ve tied for third at the 2011 Final, and the Moore-anchored 400 and 800 relays among possible breakout contributors.
Grosse Pointe South will host its Division 1 Regional on May 18. All MHSAA Finals are June 2, with Division 1 at East Kentwood.
PHOTO: Grosse Pointe South's Hannah (front) and Haley Meier both finished among the top three in both the 1,600 and 800 at last season's MHSAA Division 1 Final.