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Softball, baseball, track and field seasons replete with championship aspirations

Mar. 31—TRAVERSE CITY — No sports during the 2023 spring sports season produced more champions — from districts to states — than softball, baseball and track and field.

That trend isn't likely to change in 2024.

SOFTBALL

You cannot talk about softball in northern Michigan — even the entire state — without mentioning Gaylord.

The Blue Devils became one of the most dominant state champions in recent history, and they come into 2024 as the prohibitive favorites to go back to back in Division 2. They return a bevy of state champs, including Record-Eagle Softball Player of the Year Aubrey Jones along with fellow Dream Teamers Jayden Jones (P/SS), Braleigh Miller (CF), Taylor Moeggenberg (C), Lexi Shepherd (2B) and Avery Parker (P/SS/3B).

Gaylord's undeniable and unstoppable ascent to the top could be seen coming from miles away, and yet no team was able to stop the Blue Devils from achieving state glory. Even with a big target on their back, the Blue Devils could very well be hoisting another title trophy come June.

Both Lake Leelanau St. Mary and Johannesburg-Lewiston are coming off regional championships, and both are looking to make it further than they did last year. The Traverse City West Titans claimed a district championship before falling in the regional title game, and last season saw Grayling, Elk Rapids and Kingsley all nab district crowns.

With the extremely deep crop of talented players in the area, competition should be fierce and should prepare every team for the pressure of the postseason.

Just the roster of R-E Dream Teamers coming back this season is wild, including Freshman of the Year TC West's Piper Cavanaugh and fellow Titan Taylor Williams, Traverse City Central's Camryn Craig, Boyne City's Delaney Vollmer, Grayling's Jessica Campbell and Anna Wood, Kingsley's Grace Lewis, Benzie Central's Grace Heiges, Johannesburg-Lewiston's Jayden Marlatt and Reagan Sides, Mancelona's Ella Schram and Ella Jones, Buckley's Kayla Milarch, Manton's Adriana Sackett, Charlevoix's Anna Kemp, and Lake Leelanau St. Mary's Cathryn Mikowski and Jenny Morio.

The district tournament finals are slated for May 31 and June 1 with regionals to follow on June 8. State quarterfinals are set for June 11 with the semifinals at Michigan State Univerity's Secchia Stadium on June 13-14 and the championship finals right back there the following day.

BASEBALL

No area baseball team ended its season with a state championship last year, but the Traverse City West Titans were certainly knocking on the door.

Behind the stellar play of Record-Eagle Baseball Player of the Year Ian Robertson, the Titans won district and regional championships, advancing to the state quarterfinals where they lost to Mattawan. The 2024 season could see a repeat appearance in the state championship bracket for West as Pitcher of the Year Jack Griffiths returns for his senior season along with fellow Dream Teamer Quinten Gillespie.

Griffiths dominated Big North Conference competition to the tune of a 7-1 record with a 0.60 ERA and a 0.669 WHIP in 2023. He fanned 99 batters in 58.1 innings while giving up only five earned runs, 16 walks (the fewest among area pitchers with 80+ Ks) and 23 hits. Gillespie, the Titans' start infielder, was first-team all-Big North after hitting .368 with 33 RBI, 38 runs, an area-leading 12 doubles, four triples and 13 steals, all while adding an effective arm in the West staff with a 2.12 ERA and 1.281 WHIP and three saves in 29.2 innings.

Other Dream Team players to keep an eye on this coming season will be Traverse St. Francis' Sam Wildfong, Benzie Central's Dan Wallington, Kingsley's Eli Graves and Bode Bielas, Grayling's Corbin Allen and Jake Huspen, Inland Lakes' Connor Wallace and Grant Blumke, Glen Lake's Benji Allen and Aiden Gokey, Charlevoix's Owen Waha and Aiden Spiegl, Mesick's Connor Sisson, Bear Lake's Cole Merrill and 2023 Freshman of the Year Myles Harless, East Jordan's Korbyn Russell and Central Lake's Garrison Barrett.

The 2023 season saw a bevy of area teams grab postseason championship hardware.

Petoskey won a district title but fell in the regional title game. Benzie Central, Charlevoix and Grayling all won district titles with the Huskies and Rayders both advancing to and falling in their respective regional championship games. Glen Lake, Bear Lake, East Jordan, Gaylord St. Mary and Inland Lakes all captured district gold with East Jordan and Glen Lake reaching the regional finals only to fall short of a title.

The district finals are set for May 31 and June 1 followed by regional play June 5-8. The state quarterfinals also take place June 8 with the state semis June 13-14 and the state finals June 15 at Michigan State University's McLane Stadium.

TRACK & FIELD

Northern Michigan is spoiled when it comes to the amount of track and field talent that competes for championships year in and year out. Last season was no different as both the Benzie Central boys and the Buckley girls brought home their respective program's first-ever team state title.

Benzie has some major shoes to fill with the departure of the now-graduated Hunter Jones, but Buckley still has one more season with Runner of the Year frontrunner Aiden Harrand back for her senior campaign.

Last year, Harrand won three individual state championships — the 800-meter run, the 1600m and the 3200m — as she helped anchor the Bears to win the state title. Fellow Buckley Bear Brooklynn Frazee, now entering her sophomore season, set a personal record and won the 100m in 12.47 seconds to earn a state title. Frazee was also second in the 200m and sixth in the 400m to take home All-State honors in those races.

Expect those two to collect plenty of more gold this season.

Although Benzie will be without seven-time Runner of the Year Jones, they still have a dearth of talent that junior Pol Mollins and senior Tyrone Brouillet. State champion and 2023 Boys Soccer Player of the Year Mitchel Harrington of Grayling is also on the hunt for more gold as he comes back for his senior season with the Vikings. Harrington won the long jump state title last season and nearly had a perfect season, winning his event at 11 of 12 meets that included the conference championships, the regional, the Northern Michigan Meet of Champions and, of course, the state finals.

Other boys track and field athletes to pay attention to this year should be Traverse City West's Wally Tupper, Willem DeGood, Chase Weston, Ben Habers and Kyler Brunan; Traverse City Central's RJ McCuien and Asher Paul; Traverse City St. Francis' Josh Slocum, Tucker Krumm and Cam Sellers; Petoskey's Sam Mitas, Shane Izzard and Korbin Sulitis; Kingsley's Chase Bott; Kalkaska's Gavin Guggemos; Elk Rapids' Max Ward; McBain's Ben Rodenbaugh; Manistee's Damien McEntaffer; Manton's Andrew Phillips; Johannesburg-Lewiston's Blake Fox and Malaki Gascho; East Jordan's Logan Shooks; Buckley's Jeremiah Pasbjerg; Glen Lake's Warren Aylsworth III; Frankfort's Fletcher Anderson and Bellaire's Jayden Hanson.

Both the Frankfort and Cadillac girls relay teams captured state championships last season, and there is likely to be plenty of more state gold coming home with area athletes after the girls state championships. Frankfort could certainly repeat, and the Panthers have the depth to challenge for a state title.

Aside from the Buckley duo of Harrand and Frazee, there are plenty of top performers to keep an eye on in 2024.

That list includes Traverse City West's Ava King, Reese Smith, Avery Lahti, Grace Moeggenborg, Alyssa Fouchey and Abby Veit; Traverse City Central's Alexis Ball and Ella Kirkwood; Traverse City St. Francis' Maya Padisak, Kate Classens, Sophia Tucker, Mary Masserant, Helen Ludka, Sophia Ellalasingham and Olivia Padisak; Gaylord's Katie Berkshire; Petoskey's Madeline Loe and Sarah Bailey; Cadillac's Hanah Johnson, Madisyn Lundquist, Brooklynn Brown and Makenzie Johns; Elk Rapids' Hunter Shellenbarger; Benzie Central's Mylie Kelly; Manistee's Audrey Huizinga, Cecilia Postma and Libby McCarthy; McBain's Peyton Grant and Isabel Rozeveld; Manton's Mattie LaFreniere; Lake City's Sadie Larson and MacKenzie Bisballe; Frankfort's Sofia Alaimo, Gwyneth Dunaway, Eliza Frary, Addison Jarosz and Grace Wolfe; Glen Lake's Kariesue Taghon; Brethren's Abby Kissling and Maddy Biller; Manistee Catholic Central's Lauren Niedzielski; Gaylord St. Mary's Miriam Murrell; Leland's Ella Knudsen; and Johannesburg-Lewiston's Allie Nowak, Madalyn Agren and Rosalinda Gascho.

The regionals for boys and girls run May 16-18 with the state championship finals taking place June 1 at East Kentwood (Division 1), Hamilton (Division 2), Kenty City (Division 3) and Baldwin (Division 4).