Records broken at D1 finals as Pioneer wins girls title, Kentwood takes the boys title
Kentwood - Cameron Cooper remembers the skepticism of his pee wee football coach after being ordered to run laps prior to practice.
At the spunky age of 6, Cooper did as he was instructed, but considering the surprisingly short time it took to complete his task, Cooper said his coach nearly made him run again.
That's about the time it dawned on Cooper that running could become his specialty.
"He wouldn't believe I did it," said Cooper, an Oak Park senior who turned in one of the fastest times in the United States in winning Saturday's 800-meter run in a time of 1:51.22 at the Division 1 track and field championships at East Kentwood. "The coach didn't think I was done."
It's been all downhill ever since for Cooper, who set a new Michigan all-division state record in the 800 while running a 1:48.66 spit as Oak Park won the 1,600 relay. The fastest previous time for Cooper in the 800 had been a 1:49.4 at the state indoor finals. His best 800 time outside was 1:50.80.
Cooper, who signed with Louisiana State and whose ultimate goal is to compete in the 2020 Japan Olympics, admits he's the kind of athlete who needs to be challenged. If he isn't, Cooper said he runs the danger of failing to meet his own high expectations.
"You need talent and hard work," he said. "I don't mean to sound cocky, but I can get kind of lazy. But I like the team aspect of track because it makes me work together with others and that's what I really like."
Cooper is unbeaten in the 800 this season after winning a 2016 state title in the 800 in 1:51.68. He said there was definite pressure to repeat.
"A lot but I'm kind of used to it," he said. "If you're getting beat at state, then I look at it as what can you be doing nationally? I love running, the team aspect of it and everything. But I always want to do well wherever I run."
PIONEER'S BOWEN USES MENTAL STRENGTH TO HER ADVANTAGE
Some athletes use pure athleticism or a natural ability to their advantage, but Ann Arbor Pioneer's Britten Bowen said there's something else that has left her as one of the best hurdlers in the country. Bowen said the strength is all in her mind.
"Mental toughness," said Bowen after setting a new all-class, all-division record of 13.40 in winning the 100 hurdles. "I just tell myself how important mental toughness is. I tell myself that this is my time, my race and that I'm going to win.
"The mental part is so important. You need to figure out what you need to do and then do it. I have a lot of pride in being prepared. Mentally, you need to be there."
Bowen not only set a new record, the time ranks second in the country. Bowen, who finished sixth in the 100 meter dash, had previously run a 13.81 in the 100 hurdles. Bowen said she expected a strong state meet, but wasn't thinking about posting a time that would rival any in the country.
"I talked to my coach and figured out what I needed to do," she said. "I've been waiting for this moment, but honestly I had no idea I was going to do this. My coach said go for it, just run your race."
SWITCHING SPORTS DOES WONDERS FOR KHANCE MEYERS
There was a time when East Kentwood's Khance Meyers could see himself knocking down 3-pointers or maybe even taking down opponents on a wrestling mat.
"I loved basketball," said the Falcon senior. "But then I started to think what sport I could go the farthest in. It was a tough choice, but I liked running."
The decision has been like gold for Meyers, who repeated as a Division 1 state champ in winning the 100 dash with a state-record time of 10.53. He also won the 200 (21.27) and was part of the winning 4x200 relay. It furthers an outstanding track career which has included being part of four school records while also winning last's state meet in the 100 and 200.
While he rarely considers the 'what if" of a basketball career, Meyers said his accomplishments in track are records he cherishes.
"They mean a lot, but records are meant to be broken," he said. "Someone will break, but to do what I've done especially as a senior is great. It's important to work hard and improve."
Meyers, who will run at Hines Community College in Missouri next season, broke the state's 6-year-old record in the 100 by .02. Meyers said the finish closes the book on a season that included high expectations.
"There was a lot of new competition this season," he said. "Everyone expects you to get the top spot, but it doesn't always happen. There was a lot of pressure."
INJURY FAILS TO SLOW GREENVILLE'S KEMP
The pain had gotten so bad that Greenville senior Landon Kemp thought about surrendering a chance to defend her state title in the pole vault. A foot injury had left her in constant pain, with doctors telling her the only way to dodge that pain was to rest. That meant giving up the last two weeks of her track season.
"I told the doctors I just didn't have the time for rest," Kemp said.
Still, Kemp said the constant pain was nearly enough to prematurely end her final season. After winning a Division 1 title in the pole vault with a leap of 13-feet, 4 inches, Kemp was in line to accomplish that as well as making a run at a first place in the long jump. She rested the entire week prior to the regional except for ice and stretching exercises, but the pain was still bothersome.
So when Saturday's state meet rolled around, Kemp wasn't expecting anything sensational. Instead, she wound up winning the pole vault in 13-3 while taking second in the long jump with a jump of 19-feet, 3 inches. She long jump result was especially surprising because her foot injury caused Kemp, who was runner-up at state in 2016, to switch from jumping off her left leg from her right. That switch is almost unheard of this late in the season.
In accomplishing both, Kemp said she not only became a state champ, she also learned a life lesson.
"I learned there are things that you just have to suffer through," she said. "My foot hurts but I'm going to face adversity again. Sometimes you realize you aren't going to have the advantage, but you just have to go ahead."
While she's content with the final results considering what she had to overcome, Kemp said she won't let herself dwell on what could have happened if she had been healthy.
"You can always say 'what if' but I believe this has also prepared me better for the future," she said. "I'm only in high school so I know there are always going to be new challenges. Now I know I can get through some of them. You just have to trust the process."
Pioneer won the girls title with 69 points. Oak Park, the 2015-17 champions, was second with 65 and East Kentwood was third with 57.
For the boys East Kentwood won its sixth title since 2008 with 78.5 points. Rockford was second with 62 and Oak Park, last year’s champions, was third with 44.