Freshman Distance Ace Impressing Again as Sault Gets on Track

By John Vrancic
Special for

April 14, 2023

SAULT STE. MARIE — Gabe Litzner made quite a first impression here April 7, dominating the 3,200-meter run at the Second Annual Yooper Invitational track & field meet.

Upper PeninsulaThe Sault Ste. Marie freshman was clocked at 10 minutes, 7.84 seconds in the 16-lap race on the 200-meter track inside Lake Superior State University’s Norris Center, more than a minute ahead of the field in his high school varsity debut.

“I’m pretty happy with that,” said Litzner, who was crowned Upper Peninsula Division 1 cross country champion last fall. “I wanted to take it somewhat easy because of all the turns. I didn’t want to injure myself. I’m surprised by my time. I was shooting for 10:20.”

Charlevoix squeezed past Kalkaska by half a point for the boys team title, with the Blue Devils finishing fourth. The Indian River Inland Lakes girls won with 100 points, five ahead of Sault Ste. Marie.

“I was a little nervous at first,” said Litzner. “I had a little bit of butterflies, but they tend to go away after you get started. This is a big step up from junior high track. I’ve definitely been able to build off what I did in cross country.”

Senior teammate Cody Aldridge was runner-up to Kalkaska junior Gavin Guggemos in the 1,600. Guggemos was clocked in 4:42.3 with Aldridge at 4:43.92.

“It wasn’t a PR (personal record), but it’s a good start to the season,” said Aldridge, who led until well into the final lap. “I just tried to do my best and see where I’m at and got a chance to see where the competition is at. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off. I hit a hurdle (near the inside lane) coming into the final straightaway, although I think he had me anyway. He got a PR, which is good for him. It feels like I have room for improvement.”

Sault senior Cassandra Gallagher placed second in the girls 3,200 (13:19.52), 11 seconds behind Cheboygan sophomore Samantha Harke.

“For the beginning of the season, I’m happy with that,” said Gallagher. “I thought it was more difficult to pace myself because we were on a smaller track. I had IT band syndrome and spent a lot of time in physical therapy this winter. I didn’t get to train as much as I wanted, but this was better than I expected.”

Gallagher won the 3,200 (13:27.84) and was runner-up in the 1,600 (6:19.7) in a triangular meet at Alpena on Tuesday.

The Sault girls won at Alpena with 66 points, followed by Traverse City Central with 34 and Alpena at 32.
Litzner won the boys 800 (2:13.45) and 1,600 (4:43.35), and Aldridge took the 3,200 (10:14.56) as the Blue Devils boys (34) finished third to Alpena (62) and the Trojans (41).

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO Sault Ste. Marie’s Gabe Litzner leads the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final in the fall. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

Blissfield's Miller Set for Senior Success After 3 Junior-Year Finals Trips

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

August 15, 2023

BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City. 

Southeast & BorderAs she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore. 

“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.  

“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.” 

Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team. 

“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.” 

Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.  

Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled. 

“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind. 

“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said. 

Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.  

“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.  

“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.” 

Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run.Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness. 

“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.” 

Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season. 

“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.” 

Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor. 

“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.” 

The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear. 

She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places. 

“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do. 

“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.” 

Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture. 

“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.” 

Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again. 

“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)