Brandon Jiles has built a dynasty in girls track at Oak Park this past decade, guiding it to three consecutive Division 1 state championships (2014-16) and a runner-up spot to Ann Arbor Pioneer last June.
And, Jiles feels Oak Park has a strong chance at winning another state championship this June with a solid nucleus which includes North Carolina-bound Dorriann Coleman, Miyah Brooks (Howard), junior Janae Barksdale, sophomore Aasia Laurencin and freshman phenom Jada Roundtree.
“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t win the state championship,” said Jiles who is in his seventh year as Oak Park’s head coach. “We have seven kids who can score points so that gives us a great chance. It’s all about staying healthy and running well once we reach that point of the season.”
Multiple Oak Park runners were either injured or ill last year which enabled Pioneer to come through with the state title by a 69-65 margin last year, but Pioneer senior state-record holder Britten Bowen (100-meter hurdles, 13.4 seconds) decided to not come out this season, opting to practice with her club team.
Coleman is thrilled to be healthy once again. She won the state championship in the 800 meters her sophomore year with a time of 2 minutes, 10.2 seconds, but then was hampered by a strain to her right hamstring last season.
“I’m healthy and it boosts me up,” said Coleman who has a 3.8 grade-point-average and plans to major in exercise science so she can one day be an athletic trainer. “Coach (Jiles) is really confident in me so I feel more confident in myself. The workouts have progressively gotten harder and I’ve been able to get through it. We’re real talented and all of us our healthy now. Our goal is to get another state championship.
“My goal is to be able to do a 2:15 (in 800) before I get to the state championship and the 400, I don’t know if I’ll do it at state, but I want to reach my goal of about a 56 or 55.”
Laurencin has set high goals for herself after winning the 60 meters hurdles indoor state championship last month at Saginaw Valley State.
“I have really high expectations for myself coming into the state meet, I really want to win the 200 meters state championship and really get up there for high hurdles as well,” Laurencin said. “I want to PR in both of my events, go low 23s and 13 in the 200 and 100 hurdles.”
Laurencin, who is already getting interest from Clemson and Michigan State, was part of the 4x200 and 4x400 state championship relay teams last year with Barksdale also among the foursome. She also placed 15th in the 200 meters.
Laurencin has high praise for Jiles, saying: “He’s a great coach, pushes us and gives great inspirational speeches, has big hopes for us and pushes us to be the best version of ourselves.”
Barksdale is a returning all-stater, placing third in the 400 meters last season. She is the fastest returning runner (54.28) in that event. Brooks placed sixth in the 400 meters.
Roundtree and Brooks were the top two 400 meters runners in the indoor state meet.
“I was injured last year and really didn’t get to run that much,” Brooks said. “I ran the 400 at state and got a fifth or sixth, ran a 57.09. I had a groin injury, messed up my groin really badly and I kept running and I ended up messing up my hip flexors. I was in a lot of therapy.
“I’m healthy now. My goal is to drop my time in the 400 because I’ve been running 55 consistently and 54 in splits so I want to do a 53 by nationals, which is in North Carolina in mid-June. I’ve been doing 300 hurdles lately, so I’ve been getting better and better each meet so my goal for that is to get down to a 42. I’m at a 44.3 right now so by regionals I should be at 42 or 41 and that’s my biggest goal.”
Brooks is surprised she is having success in hurdles.
“This is my first year running hurdles so I’m surprised I’m actually decent at them,” Brooks said. “I think it has something to do with my 400 speed. I just have to keep working on my technique.”
Troy senior Megan Worrel will be a threat to win the 800 meters this season after finishing second a year ago.
And, although Bowen is no longer running at Pioneer, Anne Forsyth will be back to defend her 1,600 meters title.
White Lake Lakeland junior Grace Stark will also be one to watch after finishing second to Bowen in the 100 hurdles and second in the 100 meters as well.
It was Stark who set the state record in the 100-meter hurdles at last year’s Oakland County Meet at Novi with a time of 13.54 which shattered the former mark held by Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Candice Davis (13.66, 2003).
Then, in the state finals, Bowen broke Stark’s record at 13.40 with Stark second at 13.62.
Oak Park senior Donnie James is looking to break the state record in the 400 meters after placing eighth in the state meet last year with a time of 49.49.
So, why does James feel he has a shot at running a 46?
Well, James ran a 47.3 in the indoor season this past winter which would have won him the state title last June.
“I won the state championship in the 400 meters in the indoors at Saginaw Valley this past February,” James said. “Now, I want to get the state record, working hard to get that done this spring.”
Notre Dame off to perfect start
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep has made the biggest turnaround in the state in baseball this spring, taking pride in its new facilities to go unbeaten at 16-0, earning a No. 6 spot in Division 2 by the Baseball Coaches Association Rankings after an 8-22 record a year ago.
Jason Gendreau deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround after taking over the program after winning nearly 250 games the past 10 years while head coach at Utica Eisenhower.
“I’m in my first year at NDP, having come over from Utica Eisenhower and our Irish team is in unchartered waters, now 16-0,” pointed out Gendreau after Notre Dame Prep won the tournament Saturday at Lake Orion with wins over Ann Arbor Skyline and the host school.
“I took my coaching staff from Eisenhower with me. We have a new all-turf field, took the whole program to Florida for spring training, just a lot of cool things going on for our program.”
Senior catcher Ryan Knutson leads Notre Dame Prep’s hitting attack, hitting .610 with junior third baseman/pitcher River Shea and junior first base/pitcher Jack Krausmann also having strong starts.
Shea is hitting .330 and owns a 5-0 record with a 1.60 earned-run average. Krausmann is hitting .350 and is 4-0 (2.10 ERA).
“Shea and Krausmann are right-handers, both throw 82 to 84,” Gendreau said. “We don’t have a single kid on our team that you would show up and watch us warm up and say, ‘that kid’s a stud.’”
“We’ve had opposing coaches say our team is very disciplined and that we don’t do anything great, but we do everything really well, and the team hustle factor, I’m telling you whether it’s baserunning, diving for balls, everybody goes 100 miles-per-hour and we don’t beat ourselves. We have a lot of team speed and can play small ball, force our opponents to make mistakes.”
Gendreau also feels fortunate to have senior left-handed reliever Jacob Genord who is 6-0.
Notre Dame Prep will play host to Auburn Hills Avondale Tuesday, then host Detroit Western Wednesday afternoon.