Surprise! St. Johns Celebrates 1st Title
By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
ZEELAND — Karrigan Smith wasn't going to put up a false front.
Neither was her coach, Neil Feldpausch.
Nobody expected St. Johns to come away with the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls track and field championship Saturday at Zeeland Stadium.
And "nobody" included St. Johns athletes and coaches.
"I think I can speak for everyone when I say this is a surprise," said Smith, a senior who had a hand in all but four of her team's points as St. Johns edged Flint Southwestern Academy 36-34.
"A small town like St. Johns winning a state title in track and field? It's an indescribable feeling right now."
Just two years ago, St. Johns wasn't even a factor in its own league, taking fifth place out of six teams. The Redwings won their conference the last two years.
"Definitely we thought (Smith) could score points, but coming in thinking we were going to win the state meet? No, it didn't even cross my mind," Feldpausch said. "These girls have surprised me."
St. Johns had never had a top-10 finish at the finals before Saturday. Smith has been a standout for four years, but got enough assistance that the Redwings were able to score in three of the four relays.
Smith repeated as the 1,600-meter champion in a rout, posting a time of 4:59.08 to win by 9.35 seconds. Smith set the LP Division 2 Final record of 4:51.53 last year when she was locked in a duel with Megan O'Neil of Remus Chippewa Hills.
"It was a little bit weird," Smith said of the one-sided 1,600 final, "but I wasn't going to count any competitors out, because when you come to the state meet a lot of people can do great things and surprise themselves. I was taking this race very seriously. I knew what I had to do. I knew what I could control. That's what I did."
By not being pushed too hard in the 1,600, Smith was fresher for her final two events. She placed third in the 800 in 2:16.94 and was on the second-place 1,600 relay team that clinched the championship. (Southwestern didn't have a team qualify for the final event.)
Smith was also on the second-place 3,200 relay squad that posted a time of 9:31.57.
"I was very excited about how the whole day went," Smith said. "It made all the hard work we put in over the season worth it."
Senior Lyndsay Pung, junior Emily Wohlfert and Belgian exchange student Pauline Carbonnelle were on the fifth-place 800 and second-place 1,600 relay teams. Junior Anna Krumm was also on the 800 relay squad.
Juniors Jen Eaton and Milah Montle and freshman Madison Maloney were on the 3,200 relay team.
"Going in, I scored it out to be Flint Southwestern 39, St. Johns 34," Feldpausch said. "Looking throughout the meet, it kept getting closer. We did some things we needed to and made it happen."
It was the first MHSAA title for St. Johns in a girls sport. The Redwings' other MHSAA crowns are in wrestling (four) and boys track and field (one).
Flint Southwestern led going into the final event on the strength of an outstanding performance by senior Miaisha Blair. Blair won a highly competitive long jump with a leap of 18 feet, 9.25 inches. The top three finishers cleared at least 18-3. Blair was also on Southwestern's second-place 800 and 400 relay teams.
A cool, rainy day — a contrast to the typical scorchers at the finals — probably helped keep Smith fresher for her four events.
It was certainly a welcome break in the weather for the other distance champion, Cedar Springs senior Kenzie Weiler. Weiler was able to challenge the LP Division 2 Final record in the 3,200, but came up short with her time of 10:41.98. Ali Wiersma of Allendale ran 10:40.22 in 2012.
Weiler stayed behind Kelli Nesky of Hudsonville Unity Christian until 500 meters remained.
"It was about 30 degrees warmer last year," Weiler said. "I broke my outdoor (personal record) by six or seven seconds. That made me pretty happy. This is perfect. I couldn't ask for a better day and better competition at the state finals."
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PHOTO: St. Johns' Karrigan Smith runs toward the finish during one of her races Saturday at Zeeland Stadium. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)