By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
ADDISON – Aaron Wesche didn’t waste any time in setting some goals for the Addison boys track & field team.
“I told them at signups that we were going to compete for the Regional title, and our goal was to compete for the top three at the state meet,” Wesche said. “I wanted to put that out there.”
If the last few weeks of the track season end up anything like the first few, the Panthers are right on target. Wesche began building this year’s team in the middle of last season, preparing for what he and his assistants figured was going to be a strong year. Addison is ranked on top of the recent Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Division 4 team power rankings with individuals up and down the rankings list.
“We’re set up pretty good for MITCA,” he said. “I’m blessed to have a great group of juniors and seniors. We’ve turned into a well-rounded team.”
Addison scored 13 points at the 2017 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship meet, good for 26th place. This year’s team is eyeing a big jump from that spot.
“We’ve looked at the Regional and, with some luck, we could possibly see ourselves scoring points in every event,” Wesche said. “Now, things would have to go our way, but it’s possible.”
Addison has talent throughout its lineup.
The 400 and 800-meter relay teams of Josh Brown, Dakota Knieper, Caleb Gramm and Dominic Young are steady and fast. Noah Hermansen has emerged in the 110 hurdles, and Gavin McAndrews has been a pleasant surprise in the pole vault.
Freshman Marquis Bills has been a big addition to the lineup in the high jump, where he competes with teammate Matt Sylvester. Brown and Knieper are joined in the 1,600 lineup by Jesse Mullin and Zac Steiner. Zach Morse is a strong distance runner. Knieper was all-state last year in the 400, and Young ranks among the top 10 in the division in the 100, according to the MITCA rankings.
In the field events, standout athlete Donovan Underwood is expected to push for a high finish in both the shot put and discus.
Underwood is trying to earn all-state notice in his third sport in this, his senior campaign. He was honorable mention again in football after compiling 91 tackles and 16 for loss as the Panthers tied for the Cascades Conference championship and made the playoffs. In wrestling he finished in the top eight in his weight class, and now he has a shot to improve on last year’s fourth-place showing at the MHSAA Finals in the shot put.
“Our goals are pretty high,” he said. “We can achieve them if we just stay focused on what is ahead of us.”
Underwood is one of four seniors on the 29-member track team, up six from last year’s 23 athletes. He said the group of seniors have been playing sports together since a young age and has always felt by the time they became seniors, the Panthers would be putting out some good sports teams. They haven’t disappointed.
“Ever since we were young, we played football together and have always wanted to make everything we do, including track, as fun as we can,” Underwood said.
In track, he credits Wesche with teaching him the right technique for the throws. Wesche was a throws coach at Siena Heights University in Adrian from 2008-2012.
“Coach Wesche is an amazing coach,” Underwood said. “He helps us a lot.”
Wesche is in his 18th year teaching at Addison and has coached track for a good chunk of those, other than his years at Siena Heights.
“In high school, I did track, but I wasn’t a star or anything,” he said. “I was more of a technique guy. I worked at having the best technique and how to refine that technique.”
At Addison, he’s also been a master at getting kids out for track and putting them in the right spots in the lineup. He introduces freshmen at Addison to track while they are in his classroom and displays some trophies and other track memorabilia in his room to help get the buzz going about the sport.
“The team we have this year, we started to put in place last year,” he said. “We started moving kids around then, finding hurdlers and working on the relays. Some of it was kind of luck. Things have worked out pretty well.”
At one point, he lined up the entire team to find someone to run the hurdles. Hermansen emerged and is now a threat to score points at the Finals.
“This is the most complete team we’ve ever had,” he said.
The Panthers are scheduled to compete at the Hillsdale Invitational this weekend and have an important Cascades Conference dual meet with Hanover- Horton on Tuesday.
“They have won the last several conference championships,” Wesche said. “As coaches, we still have to sit down and figure out where we are going to score points against them. That’s going to be a dog fight.”
After that, Addison has the Regional and the Cascades Conference championship meet and, hopefully for Panthers fans, the MITCA and MHSAA meets left to go.
“The most important four weeks are coming up right now,” he said. We’ve got to start shining. I want us to be known as a blue-collar team. We aren’t a team with a superstar. We come to work every single day and grind it out.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Addison thrower Donovan Underwood unloads a discus toss during a meet this season. (Middle) Dakota Knieper charges down the straightaway during one of his races. (Photos courtesy of the Addison boys track & field program.)