Gielczyk: Pentwater Girls Make History in 2017
Pentwater’s girls track and field team came into the final Western Michigan D League competition of the season in Brethren as the favorite to take first place and win the league title all alone, but instead had to share it with the Mason County Eastern Cardinals who stormed to a 154-134 victory.
It was the most points Pentwater had scored all season.
The Falcons had won the first three league jamborees, and while they would have preferred to close it out with a first place finish in the season finale it didn’t diminish their achievement in the least.
It was the first ever league championship for the Falcons, shared or otherwise, so there was ample reason for the girls to celebrate their accomplishment even if they had fallen a bit short of winning the title outright.
"We took a little field trip to the gym beforehand to look at all the banners, and there’s not a single thing for girls track at all, ever," said Pentwater track coach Erika Fatura. "That was pretty exciting for us to finally get something up on the wall for girls track."
Eastern’s girls team hadn’t won the league in nine years, and were overjoyed to have ended their own long dry spell, and Fatura professed great admiration for the Cardinals’ program.
Pentwater was sparked by freshman hurdler Mika Hugo, who finished first in the 100-meter high hurdles with a time of 20.52 seconds as well as the 300-meter intermediate hurdles in a time of 1:02.08.
With the departure of perennial league powerhouse Onekama/Bear Lake for the Northwest Conference this year, the Falcons figured to be a contender for the title this year after finishing second to the Portagers last year.
But, it was never on Fatura’s radar when she first began coaching track at Pentwater. Not with only five athletes, and riding to meets in her car.
"Every year I would get the little things from the newspaper asking ‘Who are your top competitors for conference?’ and I would always put ‘N/A,’" Fatura said. "Like, ‘this doesn’t apply to me.’ We just show up, do the best stuff individually as we can and call it day."
Once Onekama left the conference, things changed for Fatura and the Falcons.
"It took me a long time to finally wrap my brain around the fact that I had to start thinking about some team goals, and team accomplishments," the coach said. "So, it was kind of in the back of my head that, ‘okay, if we got second last year, and Onekama’s not here anymore, it (first place) might be a possibility.
"Going into the first jamboree, and winning, I thought ‘Okay. I guess they can do this.’ We’re still a pretty small team. We have nine total girls on the team. But, here and there with injuries and things, we were competing with seven or eight most meets."
Which meant Fatura had to do a lot of strategic planning for each meet, finding ways to get as many girls in as many events as possible.
She also had girls trying new things, just to fill some events. It was a numbers game. Fatura needed to make sure there was at least one competitor in each event, so the Falcons would not be swept.
"It’s been fun, and obviously it takes some top level athletes, too," Fatura added. "When you have a few girls that are consistently pulling 20, 30 points is important. But, those third, fourth and fifth places squeak out every single point."
Fatura hopes that the girls’ success this year – the girls middle school team also won the league title – will spark interest among the younger kids, and help grow the program.
Right now, the track program is carrying a lot of momentum that Fatura hopes continues into next spring.
The Falcons finished fourth in the Division 4 regional meet and will be sending three athletes, two girls and one boy, to the state championship meet on Saturday.
Julia Hall qualified in the 100, 400 and long jump; Grace Alvesteffer in the shot put, and Max Stoneman in the 400. Alvesteffer is the only senior on the team, but Hall is only a sophomore and had scored a team-best 199 points going into the regional meet.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.