PETOSKEY – June 10, 2022 – St. Michael High School (SMHS), Northern Michigan’s only Classical Catholic high school, is pleased to announce that its Boys Track & Field team placed eighth at the Division-4 State Finals, its first-ever ‘top ten’ finish. The team scored 22 points, largely on the sturdy shoulders of senior leader Sam Paga.
“We couldn’t be prouder of Sam,” stated beaming St. Michael head coach Larry Rudnicki. “He put on quite a show to close out his high school career, ascending the podium four times, all with ‘top five’ finishes!”
“While his times were solid, if not spectacular, it’s extremely difficult to compete in four ‘distance races’ in a single-day State meet format. The mental and physical toughness required for such a performance is testament to the relentless work ethic Sam has demonstrated for us over the last four years.”
The day began with a fourth-place finish in the 4×800 relay in a season-best time of 8:29.16, just 0.03 seconds ahead of Regional rival Johannesburg-Lewiston. The team consisted of Mac Moore, Zach Maendel, Russell Vandermus, and Paga, all of whom ran faster than their prior best split times.
“We surprised everyone with our 4×800 win last year,” continued Coach Rudnicki, “but there was no denying the heavy-favorite ‘Potter’s House’ team this year and they won handily. Our fourth place finish with an all-new crew (except Paga) from last year’s team was a great way to start the day.”
Next came the mile, which unfolded in unexpected fashion, with Paga emerging from being badly boxed at the outset to find himself in a slow, tactical affair where none of the top runners wanted to lead. Taking charge himself, he led the field into the third lap but was unable to go with the eventual top three finishers. He valiantly fended off other challengers to again claim a fourth-place finish, and another five points, in 4:30.29.
Next was the 800 meters, which had no clear leadership and with the entire field on its second or third race of the day. Paga quickly joined a small lead group which broke away, ever so slightly, from the scrum that doggedly trailed them. He fought his way into second place and maintained it through the finish, claiming eight more points in 2:01.35.
Paga’s fourth and final race, the 2-mile, was a fitting capstone to his outstanding career. Less than thirty minutes after the 800, he went out conservatively, deliberately working his way up the field into medal contention. Pulling together for a final attack on the bell lap, Paga scrapped his way to a fifth place finish in a personal-best and school-record time of 9:58.99, scoring four final points and securing the Guardians’ eighth-place team finish.
Coach Rudnicki continued, “While Sam’s runner-up effort in the 800 was his best finish and had us cheering wildly, his first-ever ‘sub-10’ 3200-meters was his most impressive deed of the day. Pulling that off in his fourth race, and against a capable and relatively rested field, was an unexpected treat and simply incredible to watch. I’ve coached for more than twenty years and can’t recall any of my runners delivering an accomplishment quite like that one!”
Also competing for St. Michael at the State Finals, Mac Moore placed 18th in the 800 in 2:09.24 and Zach Maendel placed 15th in the 3200 in a personal-best time of 10:28.37.
The St. Michael Ladies Track & Field team made its first-ever appearance at the State Finals, with its 4×800 relay team of Emma O’Neil, Sydney Feagan, Jane Manthei, and Anna Zielinski placing 19th in a season-best time of 11:05.17.
Coach Rudnicki concluded, “Despite the success of our distance programs at St. Michael, I think it’s noteworthy that of our eight competitors at this year’s State Finals, only Sam had ever competed for us there previously. This was a terrific day for us, not only because of his remarkable exploits, but because we gained invaluable experience which will surely benefit our program in the years to come.”
“Finally, I’d like to thank my assistant coaches for helping to make this season such a tremendous success, and thanks also to the parents and families of our athletes, including our middle school runners, for being so dependably supportive of our program! Together, you’ve made this a thoroughly enjoyable season for everyone! Thank you and God bless you! GO GUARDIANS!”
St. Michael High School is High School with a Higher Purpose and a proud member of the Chesterton Schools Network, the largest and fastest-growing network of its kind in the country. Established in 2013, the St. Michael mission is to nurture and elevate a new generation of joyful leaders educated in the Classical tradition and truth of the Catholic faith. For information on SMHS, visit the school website at www.stmichaelchesterton.org.