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Norway’s unlikely track title ‘a whole team effort’

Eight members of the 2021 Norway boys track and field team pose holding their MHSAA U.P. Division 2 championship trophy on July 7 outside Norway High School. The team received their trophy after the meet due to a first-place tie. From left are Brandon Dishaw, his dog Winston in front of him, Gabe Hautamaki, Wyatt Richter, Jacob Moln, Aiden Richards, Zach Seat, Colton Paul and Bryce Neuens. (Al Trudeau photo)

NORWAY — Winning an MHSAA Upper Peninsula track and field championship with a roster of only 10 athletes is quite a feat.

This past spring, Norway’s boys track team coached by Al Trudeau did just that. The Knights captured a Division 2 regional title at Ishpeming in mid-May and then finished in a first-place tie with Ishpeming for the D2 boys U.P. title.

A team typically needs a huge roster with athletes placing and competing in multiple events to win any track title.

Early in the season, the Knights won an eight-team Republic-Michigamme Invitational with nine athletes. Next, Norway won the annual Bobcat Invitational in Florence, Wis., with eight or nine members to start, as senior Jeffrey VanHolla also played golf as a dual-sport athlete.

“Really it was a whole team effort, nine guys at the beginning and 10 towards the end,” said Trudeau. “The kids were so easy to coach, came up with ideas, asked me my thoughts, tried a few things at practice and then at some meets — quads that were not invitationals, we figured things out as a team,” said Trudeau. “The kids were at breakfast time with me, stopping in my room, texting me, talking at practice, asking questions, figuring things out, working on techniques — always working hard to get better. They really supported each other in each and every event.”

Four members of the Norway boys track and field team pose after winning the MHSAA Division 2 championship at the U.P. Track and Field Finals on June 5 at Flivver Field in Kingsford. From left are head coach Al Trudeau, Bryce Neuens, Wyatt Richter, Adam Cavagnetto and Jeffrey VanHolla. (Matt McCarthy/Daily News photo)

Trudeau also credited the girls team and their coach Rae Anne Seat.

“Mrs. Seat was so encouraging and supportive to the boys and myself this year. She was so much fun to coach with. Both the boys and girls team had such a great time this year,” Trudeau added.

The 10th team member who missed the first part of the season due to a health issue was distance runner Adam Cavagnetto.

“Adam came about May 10 for the North Dickinson meet or maybe May 6 for the Republic meet. He was a huge asset. At first he only ran the 800 meters, but then stepped up his times in that plus then ran the 1600 meters,” said Trudeau. “We improved as a team and had extra added success due to Adam’s return to competition.”

The Knights having multiple meets each week was tough for a small team. Most times they’d have two or three meets each week, and then practice.

“Sometimes I had to have pretty easy practices because we had back-to-back meets or three meets in a week. We had to lay off and do just a few field event days–which paid off,” said Trudeau. “Zach Seat in both the high and long jumps. Bryce Neuens and Aidan Richards with the discus, which also paid off in several meets, along with Brandon Dishaw got us some points in the disc and sometimes in the 1600.”

The 3200 relay of Colton Paul, Jacob Moln, Dishaw and Richards got Norway points in every meet, Trudeau added.

Dishaw and Neuens both added points in other field events, while VanHolla scored in the high jump and later in the long jump.

“Colton Paul and Wyatt (Richter) in the pole vault were awesome this year, getting us some huge points always in every meet,” Trudeau said. “Wyatt also in both hurdles were huge for us. Each meet he did an outstanding job, plus part of a relay team. Those two hurdle events are not easy events — I know because I ran them in high school myself,” Trudeau said.

The squad’s relay teams interchanged competitors at different points of the season, but always seemed to find a way to place and sometimes win their races. “Seat and VanHolla used to both place in each meet in the 200 meters. But once we moved Seat to the anchor of the 800 relay, that group really took off,” Trudeau said. “Seat already anchored the 400 relay team, which did well all season.”

Seat was named team MVP by Trudeau, as he scored the most points for the team in every meet through the season. He also placed in all four of his events, which is remarkable in itself.

VanHolla was named coach’s choice by Trudeau. “Both Zach and Jeff were great in every aspect, they will be very difficult to replace next season, no doubt about it,” Trudeau said.

“This season was just unreal. Not a thought in my mind that we would win regionals and the U.P.s when the season started,” Trudeau said. “We had to take two weeks off of everything due to the high school being shut down to contain COVID, plus only having two or three practices before jumping right into meets. I am still at a loss for words, almost two months after the season, that we accomplished everything we did.”

Without track in 2020, Norway went from a roster of 25 in 2019, to nine to start this year.

“That is a huge drop-off to overcome but these 9-10 kids were just awesome this year,” Trudeau said. “I can’t say enough about this team. Once we had our first meet at Niagara and took third with nine guys and were just a few points behind Iron Mountain and Niagara then things changed for sure,” he said.

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