Oak Park's girls track team is primed for a run at a repeat as Division 1 state champion heading into the final month of the season.
Coach Brandon Jiles returned the majority of his athletes from the title team and the addition of Clemson-bound middle-distance runner Ersula Farrow made the team stronger than ever.
Oak Park won the state title by a 92-50 margin over runner-up Northville last spring.
"I think we have a great chance to repeat, but we're just taking it week to week," said Jiles, who won the 800 state title in 1999 while running for Detroit Mumford before competing at Eastern Michigan. "I know we're the favorites, but we're not taking anyone lightly.
"Anna Jefferson is my leader. She keeps the team glued together. She's very coachable and loves to train. Ersula's a great kid who transferred in from Grosse Pointe South after her family moved into the district. I coached her older sister Christina Farrow with my Motor City Track Club and she went on to win the Division 2 state title (800 in 2008) with Renaissance."
Jefferson set a state record (53.5) last year in winning the state title, becoming the fastest sophomore in the country. She also won the 400 title her freshman year (55.44) and has been offered scholarships by Texas, Texas A&M, Ohio State, UCLA and South Carolina.
Farrow won the 800 state title (2:07.63) as a member of Grosse Pointe South, beating the field by three seconds.
Jiles took his program to Dayton, Ohio, this past weekend to compete in the Dayton Roosevelt Memorial, bringing home the first-place trophy. Senior Courtney Taylor took the shot put (35-7) and discus (106-7) and sophomore Drew Coleman was first in the high jump.
Jiles left most impressed with his relay teams.
"We pretty much dominated the meet," Jiles said. "Our 4x200 came in at 1:40.20 and our 4x400 was at 3:46.89 and both of those times were significantly faster than we had run all year."
The 4x200 team was made up of sophomore Tamea McKelvy, junior Brianna Holloway, sophomore Carlita Taylor and Jefferson. Senior Johnyce Powell, freshman Dorriann Coleman, senior Jayla Fleming and Farrow composed the mile relay team.
Farrow's goal is to set the state record in the 800 before moving on to Clemson.
"I'm definitely going to go after the state record which is 2:06.3 (set by Hannah Meier of Grosse Pointe South, 2013)," Farrow said. "I feel I have a shot at it. I know I'll have to work a little bit harder than last year, but I'm prepared and ready to go after it."
Farrow took a visit to Clemson last fall and came back home knowing that's where she wanted to spend the next four years.
"I went around November, went to a football game and their football games are really hyped," said Farrow of Clemson. "It was really between Clemson and Oregon, and with Oregon I really didn't want to look at all the accessories and everything that they had. I wanted to look at coaching-wise and when I went to Clemson, I fell in love with the coach and the team. I felt at home so that was the best decision for me."
Jiles pointed out Oak Park has talent across the board with Holloway ranked No. 1 in the state in both hurdles, Drew Coleman outstanding in the high jump and Courtney Taylor solid in the shot put and discus.
Fleming is also a standout in the 800 while Powell and Carlita Taylor have been part of state championship relay teams.
McKelvy competes in the 100 and Dorriann Coleman is making a name for herself in the 400 (56.1) and 800 (2:14).
"We have a lot of kids who can run a lot of different events and that's what makes us a strong team," Jiles said.
Seaholm has talent, too
Birmingham Seaholm is led by its 1-2 punch of seniors Audrey Belf and Rachel DaDamio. Both long-distance runners earned Indoor All-America status this past winter and are 4.0 grade-point students with Belf headed to Georgetown and DaDamio to Notre Dame.
Belf is the two-time Division 1 state cross country champion who recently set the Sterling Heights Invitational meet record with a two-mile time of 10:09. She won the 3,200 meter state championship last year at 10:17.08.
DaDamio, who finished fourth in the 1600 meters last year, was a part of Seaholm's 4x800 state-title relay team.
"Audrey is the person to beat every time she takes the track," longtime coach Jeff Devantier said. "She's a fierce competitor who works hard every day and hates to lose. She runs twice a day, getting in a morning workout, then a run in the evening as well.
"Rachel is also a great competitor who works extremely hard. She's a bit in the shadow of Audrey. Her best time in the mile was 4:47 last year."
Groce getting attention
Ypsilanti Lincoln junior basketball player Ty Groce was a lot like DaDamio, playing in the shadow of teammate Devin Haygood (Youngstown State) this past winter.
Now, Groce is getting attention from more than just mid-major programs.
Groce, a 6-foot-7, 185-pound forward, had 10 offers, including such schools as Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Detroit, Toledo, Kent State, Rice and Cornell before joining the Michigan Mustangs AAU team, which includes Michigan-bound center Austin Davis, a junior from Onsted.
Groce scored 19 in an AAU game for the Mustangs in Dallas last month. Now, Virginia has shown interest.
"Virginia didn't offer, but I did get a call from Ron Sanchez, Virginia's assistant coach," Groce said. "He said he was watching another player and I caught his eye and (he) was really impressed.
"I feel my strength is my versatility and how I can play 1 through 5, but I think probably the 3 spot is my position."
By the numbers
2: Individual state cross country championships won by Birmingham Seaholm senior Audrey Belf, who is the defending state champion in the 3,200
10: Offers received by Ypsilanti Lincoln junior basketball player Ty Groce with Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Detroit already offering and Virginia showing interest
11: Runs Ann Arbor Huron's baseball team came back from Wednesday to defeat rival Ann Arbor Pioneer, 16-13, in eight innings