St. Clair Shores South Lake freshman Summer Blakely finishes first in the 100-meter at the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division meet on May 14 at Warren Lincoln High School.

St. Clair Shores South Lake freshman Summer Blakely finishes first in the 100-meter at the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division meet on May 14 at Warren Lincoln High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

South Lake track and field readies for state finals

Relay teams eyeing all-state finishes

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 31, 2024


ST. CLAIR SHORES — If there’s ever been a year where a program is poised for the biggest transformation, 2024 would be the year for St. Clair Shores South Lake track and field.

Holding the largest group head coach Joe Crachiola has ever had since taking the head coaching job in 2015, the Cavaliers not only have the numbers to maintain a successful program, but they’re getting it done in all aspects.

The girls side took care of business for the second-straight season in the Macomb Area Conference Silver, posting an unbeaten 5-0 dual-meet record and winning the divisional meet by nearly 100 points, but they weren’t done yet.

In the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 Region 18 championship on May 17 at Oakland University, South Lake dominated the relays and qualified eight members of the girls team for the MHSAA state finals with junior Mahogany Pettaway (shot put), senior Semaja Shivers (200), and South Lake’s 4x100, 4x200 (regional champs), and 4x400 relays all punching their state finals ticket.

Senior Jamal Newton (200 & 400), who broke the 400-meter school record at regionals with a 41:06 time, and junior Rafeal Payne (long jump), the regional champion, will represent the boys side at states.

With 10 athletes total, it’s a massive jump for a Cavaliers squad that sent only two events to states last year and has struggled to send any athletes since 2019. Even Crachiola is trying to figure out where it all came together.

“That’s a question I ask myself often,” Crachiola said. “I think there’s a good energy about the team throughout the school. Kids have success and they show that, and then other kids look to it and want to be a part of it. We always seem to have very talented athletes at South Lake, so it’s just about shining that diamond to show the full potential.”

An easy place to start would be looking at South Lake’s relays on the girls side, which have taken Macomb County by storm this season.

South Lake’s 4x200, which qualified for states last year, was arguably going to be the biggest question mark having graduated two seniors, but freshmen Summer Blakely and Brooklyn Taylor-Robinson have filled the void to perfection alongside junior Gracie George and Shivers.

Following their regional championship, the 4x200 group, ranked No. 5 heading into states, earned first at the Macomb County Championship on May 23 at Warren Mott High School. The Cavaliers were the top-ranked 4x200 relay at counties, and already broke the school record this season by three seconds.

Blakely credits the chemistry of the team for how well her and Taylor-Robinson have transitioned into varsity track.

“First, it’s scary because you’re thinking, ‘Man, these people might be faster than me,’ because you’re moving from middle school to high school,” Blakely said. “It’s a completely different level. It was just all about getting comfortable with your teammates.”

Especially with relays, it’s an entirely different speed at the varsity level with baton handoffs and just learning each other’s speed and how everyone works. Once everything came to fruition, George said they immediately knew their potential.

“Adding two more faster freshmans, it really put everything together,” George said. “We really got a chance to win it all at states if we really wanted to.”

Blakely, Taylor-Robinson and Shivers also headline the 4x100 relay with sophomore Patience Dickerson while George, Blakely, Shivers, and junior Autumn Blakely run the 4x400.

Mahogany will be making her second-straight state finals appearance in shot put while first-year contenders such as Newton and Payne on the boys side are gearing up for the challenge.

Payne said a change in attitude and his attention to detail have led to his success.

“I did way better in long jump this year than last year,” Payne said. “Last year, I didn’t take it seriously. This year, I took it seriously. I studied top Olympians jumping and just practiced. I used to stutter step, and now I’ve learned to stop stutter stepping from the Olympians because they jump really far. A few notes I took were when I start, I gradually get into my top-end speed, and when I’m jumping, I make sure I have my knee up and looking to the sky, bringing my hips and my body forward.”

For Newton, a Ferris State University commit, running well at states is at the top of his priorities, but so is beating out a league rival in the process.

“There’s this one boy from (Madison Heights) Lamphere, Matthew Hamel, he beat me two times,” Newton said. “One was at (Macomb) Dakota and one at the city meet, and then I beat him at regionals. So, now we got to see if it’s 2-2 now. Honestly, I would say that’s been my biggest comp throughout the season.”

South Lake will graduate key seniors in Shivers and Newton, but the program’s increase of numbers only hopes to continue.

Sophomore Sania Verge, an alternate in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays and also qualifying for states, was a consistent contributor for South Lake this season, and even finished fourth in the 100-meter at regionals.

“South Lake only has about 500 students in the school total, so when we can pull 80 kids to the program, we almost have a fifth of the school as a part of our team,” Crachiola said. “It makes me really proud that so many kids want to be a part of our program.”

South Lake will compete in the MHSAA Division 2 state finals on June 1 at Hamilton High School.