By Jacob Arvidson

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – The Reeths-Puffer boys’ track squad has high expectations for its relay teams, as the postseason unfolds over the next few weeks.

The Rockets have three members back from last year’s outstanding 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams – Nate McCrary, Parker Aerts and Armund Gordon.

Reeths-Puffer standout runner Jalen Ware, who never ran track before this season. Photo/Leo Valdez

And both of those teams picked up a very valuable fourth member this spring – junior Jalen Ware – who had never run track before this season.

Ware attended a school in Kansas during his freshman year, then transferred to Reeths-Puffer as a sophomore, but a broken foot kept him out of athletics until this season.

“We stumbled upon Jalen Ware,” said Reeths-Puffer track coach Don Ketner. “He was faster than almost all of them in the 4×100 and was comparable to Nate (McCrary) in the 4×200. He raised our expectations a lot.”

With Ware on board, the Rockets’ 4×200 relay team has posted the second-best time in the state so far this season.

On April 14, at the Rocket Invitational, the unit crossed the finish line in 1:28.22 to set a new school record. At the conference meet, their time of 1:29.31 set a new O-K Black record.

McCrary, Gordon, Aerts and Ware also comprise Reeths-Puffer’s 4×100 meter relay team, which has the fourth best time in the state this season. The squad broke school and conference records at the O-K Black Conference meet by posting a time of 42.74 seconds.

McCrary and Gordon, along with senior Mike Weissert and junior David McHugh, comprise the Rockets’ 4×400 relay team, which has the eighth best time in the state this spring. That team broke a Reeths-Puffer school record during the O-K Black Conference meet with a time of 3:25.96.

All in all, Reeths-Puffer appears to be well positioned to win high honors in the boys’ relay events at Friday’s Division 1 regional track meet in Kalamazoo, and presumably at the state finals the following weekend.

Boys and girls track teams from schools throughout the area will be competing in Division 1, 2, 3 or 4 regionals this weekend.

Reeths-Puffer runner Nate McCrary competes at the recent city meet. Photo/Leo Valdez

Ware has made a big difference this year, and has fit in with the relay group very well, according to McCrary.

“He had never run track before in his life, but the speed he has with finishing the race, and even his quickness out of the blocks, has really helped us a lot with our relays, because we needed more speed,” McCrary said.

“We’re all just on one level, to be honest,” he added. “We all push each other and we’ll even pray before we compete. We just consider each other brothers, and the amount of trust we have in one another is huge.”

Ketner says expectations are high for all three relay teams over the next few weeks, but added that the pressure doesn’t affect the runners’ mindsets.

“I don’t think there’s really any pressure,” the coach said. “I like to preach to the guys that even though there are other people on the track, we’re running against the clock and we’re running against ourselves.

“We know we don’t have to do anything crazy. We just have to do our normal.”

The speed on each of the three teams makes them dangerous, but the combination of relaxed confidence, and the challenge of running against stronger competition at regionals and state, should produce faster times, according to McCrary.

“What we need to do is keep our heads,” McCrary said. “Whether we’re in first place or fifth place, we just need to keep our heads and stay focused. We  have to make sure we have good handoffs, that we’re running smooth and not tensing up, and encouraging each other to finish the race, no matter what.”