by RANDY GREGORY
After running the table (7-0) in the dual meet portion of the regular season, the girls track team from Rockford knew things could get a little dicier at the OK Red conference meet at West Ottawa on Friday, May 11. That was precisely what happened as the Rams managed to overcome a disappointing effort in the field events to top the field with 162 points. East Kentwood, as they had done during the regular season, finished second with 148 points.
“We put ourselves behind the eight ball in the field events,” said Rockford Coach Randy VanderVeen. “We were probably about forty points in the hole early on. It took everybody chipping in and digging deep to get us out of that early hole. You could take an All Star team from this conference and go to the state meet and the rest of the state couldn’t touch them. There were events where six or seven girls ran state-qualifying times. To come back against this level of competition is outstanding and speaks to the effort and determination of our athletes.”
The unquestioned star of the night for Rockford was senior distance runner Taylor Manett. Of the 162 points accumulated by the Rams, Manett had a hand in 38 of them. She won the 1,600 meters in a meet record time of 5:01.01, the 800 meters in 2:14.90 and the 3,200 meters in 11:00.25. She also ran a leg on the second-place finishing 3,200-meter team.
“We knew we needed Taylor to come through for us and boy did she ever,” said VanderVeen. “Taylor is kind of a throwback runner to the early 2000s for Rockford in distance running. At that time we had a lot of depth and a lot of girls with great versatility from 800 to 3,200 meters. She is the first distance runner I can remember in a while who helped account for so many team points.”
Keeping with the theme of last week, another school record fell for the Rams on Friday. This time it was the 800-meter relay quartet of Elise Schierbeek, Sammy Cuneo, Courtney Klaweiter and Katie DeHaan, who ran a blistering 1:42.07 to break a two-year-old mark of 1:42.16. That previous mark was a state championship winning time for the Rams.
DeHaan also set a new personal record in the pole vault at 11 feet to take fourth, while also running a 58.45 in the 400-meter race and anchoring a come-from-behind effort in the 1,600-meter relay race that saw the Rams top the field. Allison Kelley, Olivia Gilbert and Klaweiter were the other three members of that group.
Freshman speedster Cuneo also claimed a first-place finish in the 200 meters with a sterling time of 25.75 seconds.
Next on the docket for the Rams is the Division I regional meet at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids on Saturday, May 19. The Rams will be the overwhelming favorite from a team perspective, but the real point of this meet will be qualifying as many individuals as possible for the state finals two weeks later at East Kentwood.
“We always kind of refer to the regional meet as setting the table for dinner,” said VanderVeen. “It really lets you know how much you are going to enjoy your upcoming dinner. We will be back to being physically prepared, but we need to be mentally prepared as well. We have got to be mentally ready and qualify as many girls as possible for the state meet.”