Western Michigan Christian boys track team may have the depth to challenge for a state title

By Nate Thompson
LocalSportsJournal.com

NORTON SHORES – They say success breeds success, but that only happens if younger athletes are willing to buy into a winning formula and replicate it.LSJ Logo incert

The 12 freshmen on the 2012  Western Michigan Christian boys track team, which finished second in the state in Division 4, have definitely followed the formula.Mercy Health spring feature art

Now most of those same athletes are seniors and have their team ready to make another run for a state title, beginning this weekend in Division 4 regional competition in Saugatuck.

The Warriors return all six athletes who scored points for the team at the 2014 state finals, when they finished sixth overall.

“What stands out for me is that group (of freshmen in 2012) really picked up on the hard work ethic of those upperclassmen,” said WMC track coach Josh Scholma, now in his 14th season coaching at the school. “They were able to witness first hand that hard work equals success, and they’ve kept after it.

Western Michigan Christian track standouts Braxton Snuffer, left, and Eli Vandervelde. Photo/Jason Goorman

Western Michigan Christian track standouts Braxton Snuffer, left, and Eli VanderVelde. Photo/Jason Goorman

“Now, they’re seeing the fruits of their labor.”

The Warriors had a good warm-up for postseason competition by winning three events – the 1,600 meter run, the 400-meter relay and the 400-meter dash –  at the recent Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet.

They also had a second place in the 200-meter dash and a third place in the 800-meter run in the city meet, which includes a lot of schools much bigger than WMC.

“Seeing how we fared, especially against the bigger schools, that makes me pretty excited,” Scholma said. “I’d say we’re definitely ahead of where they were last year.”

Even rival coach Steve Czerwon of Muskegon Catholic believes in the Warriors’ potential, saying they “are loaded.”

“They might be a favorite to win it all in Division 4,” Czerwon said.

Hearing that prediction adds a bolt of excitement for WMC senior Elijah VanderVelde, whom Scholma calls the “team’s workhorse,” because of his ability to shine in a variety of events.

VanderVelde said he gained invaluable experience running with the seniors on the 2012 squad, but believes the current group of Warriors can take it a notch higher.

“You look at the stats, and we’re in the top 10 (in the state) in a lot of events,” said VanderVelde, who won the 400-meter dash and was on the champion 400-meter relay team at the city meet.

“I feel we have a better team now than we did when we were freshmen. We’ve got a lot of talent but we work really hard every single day. We’ve got a relaxed coach, but we really respect him.”

VanderVelde could make his mark at the state finals in four or five events. He placed third in the 400 a year ago, anchored the 1,600-meter relay team that finished third, and was a member of the 3,200-meter relay team that took home first-place honors.

He’s also a tremendous long jumper, with a best this season of 20 feet, 9 inches.

The state champion 3,200-meterrelay team also featured Max Purvis, David Gilson and Braxton Snuffer. Scholma said Purvis may be more of a 200-meter runner this year, but freshman Seth Vanderkooi has already shown he can fit on the relay squad without the team missing a beat.

Scholma is also excited about what’s in store for Snuffer, who won the mile at the city meet and was a member of the champion 400-meter relay team.

And the 1,600 relay team – VanderVelde, Gilson, Jacob Ray and Tully Groenendyk – has already set the school record in the event at 3 minutes, 30.3 seconds.

With seemingly so many pieces in place for a title shot, Scholma is cautiously optimistic.

“If everyone is running their best in the events that we’re capable of winning, I feel there are very few teams that can beat us,” he said. “But the weird thing about track is, it’s impossible to play defense and control what teams do against us. I guess I try not to think about it too much, and try not to count my chickens before they hatch.”

One team that Scholma has in mind is Saugatuck, the host of this year’s regional meet. The Indians have an outstanding tradition of distance runners and were state runners-up last year, following a state title in 2013.

“They’re really good,” VanderVelde said. “I think they practice year-round. But I think we got ’em this year.”

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