By Ron Rop
In the end, Saugatuck and Concord shared the title with 40 points while the Warriors came up a point short at 39.
It came down to the final stride in the final race – the 1600-meter relay – before a winner was finally decided. The Warriors, who came into the race as the No. 1 seed, finished second behind Saugatuck by .07 of a second, and that was the difference between winning it all and finishing third. Concord finished sixth in that race to reach 40 points.
Had the Warriors won that final race, they would have finished with 41 points and walked off the rain-soaked track at Hudsonville High School with a state championship.
In the final leg of the race, WMC’s Eli VanderVelde made up several strides on Saugatuck’s Blake Dunn, but when the race ended, Dunn still had a one-step lead. And that resulted in a co-championship for Saugatuck, which also edged WMC in the regionals, and Concord, the defending state champion.
“I thought I could catch him,” VanderVelde said. “That last 100 he just kept ahead of me. It was do or die.”
“It was a great race and (Saugatuck’s) Blake Dunn is an athlete,” WMC coach Josh Scholma said. “Their best against our best. They got us today.”
The Warriors started the day the same way they did a year ago … by winning the state title in the 3200 relay. David Gilson, Jacob Ray, Seth VanderKooi and Braxton Snuffer turned in a time of 8:07.82 to capture the title.
WMC added a fourth-place finish in the 800 relay with Tully Groenendyk, Max Purvis, Ray and VanderVelde running a 1:33.54.
Snuffer added a fifth-place finish in the 1600 with a time of 4:23.45 and a sixth place in the 800 with a time of 2:02.29. VanderVelde finished third in the 400 in 50.60 and sixth in the 200 with a time of 23.06.
Originally, VanderVelde was scheduled to run on the 3200 relay team, but Scholma figured his team could win by subbing out VanderVelde for freshman VanderKooi and entering VanderVelde in the 200. That move earned the Warriors three points they did not plan on earning in the 200.
“I thought the 3200 had a good chance of winning and any points Eli could pick up in the 200 would be extra,” said Scholma, who figured it would take 40 points to win the title.
Other area runners to score points included Brendan Hamilton from Fruitport Calvary Christian and Tommy Scott from Muskegon Catholic Central.
Hamilton finished third in the 800 with a time of 2:00.64 and came back with a seventh in the 1600 with a time of 4:30.94.
Scott earned the Crusaders’ two points on the day with a seventh place in the 200 (23.31).
In the Division 4 girls meet, Western Michigan Christian and North Muskegon each earned eight points and finished tied for 25th in the standings.
Avery Lowe, from North Muskegon, finished second in the 3200-meter run in 11:44.90 and earned eight points.
WMC received five points from its 1600 relay team of Gracie Snuffer, Ellie DeKam, Kayla Kilgore and Kaitlyn Kilgore. They ran a 4:18.49. The Warriors’ other three points came in the shot put with Lindsey Johnson’s sixth-place finish (33-7¼).