By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
ZEELAND – Noah Jacobs of Corunna is another in a long line of tremendous distance runners to come out of this state.
Among the names he’s chased include Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford and Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc.
Jacobs, a senior headed for University of Wisconsin, was the two-time defending Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals champion in the 3,200-meter run and last year he added the New Balance two-mile national championship.
This past fall Jacobs won the Division 2 cross country championship with a time of 15:28.00.
Unbeknownst to him, this year would be different. Challenges always present themselves, but Jacobs was shaken by what he had to face as he began to prepare for the 2017 track & field season.
In February, Jacobs was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left tibia. A stress fracture is more severe. Fortunately for Jacobs, the injury stopped just short of a fracture.
Still, for five weeks he had to shelve his training and deal with the mental anguish of knowing it would be a long, painstaking road back to the MHSAA Finals, if indeed he could return.
A few weeks ago, Jacobs noticed his times were getting back to where they were a year ago. On Saturday, he fought off fierce competition and defended his LP Division 2 Finals titles in the 3,200 (9:11.63) and added a first-place finish in the 1,600 run with a time of 4:14.03 at Zeeland East to complete was has been a courageous comeback.
“Last season I was blessed with great health,” Jacobs said. “This year I was battling. I was losing races, to some good runners. I didn’t have that same kick. I had to break that mental barrier.
“(In February) I was a mental wreck. My teammates and my family kept me going.
“It was around Regional time, in early May, I was running in two or three quality meets. I kind of got my routine back. I got to use the race situations I used to use. The last two weeks have really been good. (My leg) is not perfect. People asked me how it is, and I have one word for them – ready. I’m ready.”
Jacobs had to fend off a couple runners coming into the second-to-last turn to win the 1,600.
“I took the lead with about 250 meters left,” he said. “I knew they wanted it. It could have been a tenth of a second, it could have been five seconds. I don’t know.”
His win in the 3,200 held more drama. He led with 600 meters to go before Shuaib Aljabaly of Coldwater put forth a burst of speed to pass Jacobs by two meters.
“I knew that I had to draft (early in the race),” Jacobs said. “I’ve raced (Aljabaly) before. I didn’t worry about him running. I just had to attack the last half. I had to push and push and push.
“I had a couple of coaches with 100 meters to go screaming at me. When he took the lead, I had to fight, fight. It’s happened before.”
Jacobs overtook Aljabaly with 50 meters left and won by 21 hundredths of a second.
One thing that can top winning an MHSAA Finals title is winning one at home.
Zeeland East won its first boys track & field team title with a score of 71 points. Coldwater placed second with 42.
East had clinched its 1,600 relay team took first as well.
Coach Ralph Neal, in his seventh season, said everything went right for his team.
“It was an amazing day,” he said. “I can look back at two years ago and what we were trying to build. I saw enough talent. I saw the field events. I saw the relays. We had all these pieces that came together. Nothing went wrong today. It’s what a coach dreams about.
“It is special winning it at home. (Athletic director) Tim Ritsema pulls his hair out to get this (event) going.”
Junior Brenden Knoll placed second in both the discus (176 feet, 7 inches) and shot put (55 feet) to earn his team 16 points. He said the formula to winning was basic.
“We put in the work, every day,” he said. “I just had my mind right. I put everything else aside. It feels real good. These are the reasons you work so hard.”
Getting serious pays off
John Adams III of Ferndale never qualified for the MHSAA Finals until this year. Last year he started running track for the first time, to stay in shape for football. That reasoning paid off as Adams, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound slot back and defensive back, will attend Olivet College in the fall with every intention of competing for a starting spot on the football team.
Fearless, Adams competed in the 100 dash, and he certainly wasn’t one of the favorites. That didn’t bother him. With a time of 10.94, Adams placed first in the 100.
“I won because I worked the hardest,” he said. “I didn’t take track seriously until this year. When I got beat in the (Oakland Activities Association) meet (May 11), that’s when it hit me. I finished third. It was hand-held time, and it was really close. I’m not sure anyone knew who won. I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Sunday is Noah Caudry’s 18th birthday. It’s likely he’ll remember the day before his 18th birthday better in the years to come.
Caudry of Lake Odessa Lakewood won the 110 and 300 hurdles, and helped his team place fifth in the 400 relay even though it didn’t compete in the fast heat.
His time in the 110 (14.05) was a personal best. He’s a three-time champion in that event.
“This is my specialty,” he said of the 110. “I was hoping for (the three consecutive titles). I was hoping to get in the 13s, but I’ll take a PR.”
Caudry is a remarkable person. He graduated with a 3.94 grade-point average and plans on entering optometry school after earning a degree in biology.
New event, new success
Junior Cameron Oleen was a half-miler since he began running track at Fruitport two years ago.
This season, it was suggested Oleen run the 400 dash. He’d never run it before but thought he’d give it a shot.
“I really like it,” he said. “It’s the most difficult race. I can pace myself in the 800. In the 400 you have to run as fast as you can all the way through it. You could pace yourself in the first 300 meters and then die in the last 100. You might as well run as fast as you can the first 300.”
It would be difficult to argue that point with Oleen. He won the 400 with a time of 49.21 seconds.
“It’s conditioning,” he said. “The 800 helps me train for the 400.”
Oleen also competes in cross country and basketball. He added that running cross country helps him maintain the proper conditioning for the other two sports.
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PHOTO: Corunna's Noah Jacobs, far right, stays a step ahead of Coldwater's Shuaib Aljabaly during Saturday's 3,200 at Zeeland. (Photo by Janina Pollatz/RunMichigan.com.)