KENTWOOD – The particulars didn't necessarily matter to Rockford coach Andrew Martin. The only thing which truly mattered was the stunning finish to Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 1 boys track & field championships at East Kentwood.
Seemingly out of the running for the team title, the Rams' 1,600 relay – a foursome not even running in the event's fast heat – managed a third place in the final event to earn Rockford a tie with Fenton for first place in a wild meet.
Both teams finished with 34 points. Instead of finishing as low as third place in a meet where the top eight were separated by just 12 points, Rockford earned its first Finals crown in 12 years under Martin.
"It doesn't matter how we got there," Martin said of tying for the title. "We were seeded 10th, but these kids are all about doing your own thing."
The Rams relay was comprised of three seniors in Daniel Leja, Gage Martin and Jacob Peck and junior Jacob Bissell. While they finished with a time of 3:23.84, Fenton was slowed by not having a team qualify for the final relay. It was a turn of events which left Fenton coach Anthony McMillan pacing nervously as the final race played out.
"To still do what we did was great," he said. "These kids left a legacy, a path. To bring a state title home is a very special moment. To be one of the (two) teams means a lot to us."
Rockford and Fenton were far from the only teams with a breath of life until the final event. Zeeland West finished third with 30 points, Ann Arbor Skyline had 28, Pinckney and Novi 25 and Dexter and Macomb Dakota 24.
While the team title was captivating to the very end, Skyline's Hobbs Kessler virtually stole the individual part of the Finals. Kessler, who became the first Michigan high schooler to qualify for the Olympic trials in 80 years, won the 1,600 (4:16.68) and the 800 (1:54.13). While those finishes weren't necessarily surprises, Kessler's ability to live up to high expectations – including amazing kicks in both events – was even more impressive.
"It's the way I like to win," he said of running his last lap of the 1,600 in 55.1 seconds while also coming from behind to win the 800. "I want to give myself the best shot to win. The wind hit, and I snuck in.
"I know if I work out well and run my best, good things will happen. I know who I have to listen to, and the others aren't as important. I have a good support system, so I can just go out and win."
Kessler qualified for the Olympic trials last Saturday. He said he'll think more about the future now that the high school season is completed. But he wouldn't rule out competing in this summer's Japan Olympics.
"There's no reason to think I can't," he said.
Among the other double winners at East Kentwood were Tamaal Myers II of Detroit Cass Tech, who claimed the 110 hurdles (14.26) and 300 hurdles (37.87), and Udodi Onwuzurike of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, who won the 100 (10.55) and 200 (21.23).
Myers said an extremely strong headwind didn't do runners any favors. But he was able to overcome the obstacle because of physical toughness, he said.
"It was a strong wind, but I just pushed through it to finish where I did," he said. "Mentally, you just keep going forward. It's all about technique; it's the arms, legs, everything."
Among other runners winning events were Terrence Muex of Flint Carman-Ainsworth in the 400 (46.52) and Hartland's Riley Hough, who won the 3,200 (9:07.91).
Zeeland West won the 800 (1:28.12) and the 1,600 (3:21.82) relays. St. Joseph won the 400 (42.65) and Novi the 3,200 (7:48.53).
Dexter's Cole Sheldon won the pole vault (15-3) to complete an inspiring climb that included failing to qualify as a freshmen, to finishing 26th in 2019 to winning Saturday.
"It was just hard work," said Sheldon, who was seeded fourth. "It's nice being the underdog. I didn't have that great of a Regional, and I told my coach I was saving it for the Finals."
Sheldon also credited teammate Noah Schultz, who finished second with a vault of 14-9.
"That was probably the best thing that could have happened to me," Sheldon said. "He's the reason I did so well. If he goes high, I want to go higher."
Among other field event winners was Zachary Webb of Macomb Dakota, who won the high jump in 6-6. While some competitors are actually surprised by winning a state title, Webb doesn't count himself among them.
"I knew when I came in here I couldn't miss," he said. "I wanted to put the pressure on others, and I think I did that. I practice so much, I knew I could do this. I break down a lot of video. If I'm going bad, I look at the video and fix what I need to fix."
The other field event winners were Drake Willenborg of South Lyon in the discus (183-3), Levi Honderd of Holland in the long jump (22-6) and Ben Haas of Clarkston in the shot put (57-8).
PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Skyline’s Hobbs Kessler celebrates his victory in the 800 on Saturday. (Middle) Detroit Cass Tech’s Tamaal Myers II sets the pace during his hurdles sweep. (Below) Fenton, top, and Rockford celebrate their team championships.(Action photos by Ike Lea; team photos by John Brabbs/RunMichigan.com.)