McBain Twins Geared Up for Last Finals

May 24, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

MCBAIN — It’s been said that records are made to be broken.

McBain twins Keegan and Klaudia O’Malley seem to have taken that notion to heart.

The seniors’ names are all over the school record books for track & field as they wind down their standout careers. Klaudia holds the all-time marks for the 800 meters (2 minutes, 17 seconds), 1,600 (5:04), 3,200 (11:06) and as an integral part of the Ramblers’ 3,200 relay team (9:57), while Keegan broke a 42-year-old school record in the 3,200 earlier this season in a time of 9:33, shaving five seconds off what had been the longest-standing boys track & field record on the school’s board.

“They hold all those distance records,” said McBain boys track & field head coach Pat Maloney. “Going down in history, they’re going to be talked about. People will be compared to them for years to come.

“It’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. People don’t see how many miles they put in year after year after year.”

The O’Malleys certainly come by their running prowess honestly. Their father, Tim, has been the cross country coach at Cadillac for the past 18 years and has spent the last seven years as an assistant track coach at McBain. Their mother, Tasha, coaches cross country at McBain. Both parents have been active in competitive running as well, with Tasha having competed in multiple Boston Marathons among myriad other races.

“Our life pretty much revolves around running — in a fun way, not in a bad way,” said Tim O’Malley. “My wife raced a lot. I would just take the kids and pace them in the 5Ks that they wanted to run. They seemed to like it.”

The O’Malley children – including Maggie, the twins’ younger sister by two years – didn’t know any differently than being immersed in a running lifestyle.

“I’ve grown up with running,” said Klaudia.

Tim O’Malley jokingly says Keegan and Klaudia’s running careers actually began with running as a form of babysitting. Even when they were as young as 7 years old, the O’Malley twins would tag along with their father to practice. They attended cross country camps with the team, would run right along with the group, and even get to compete in open races following meets.

“I loved it and his team was so supportive, so I just got into it,” said Keegan.

Not only did the twins enjoy running, but it became quickly apparent that they were good at it too. Really good, in fact. Keegan and Klaudia started establishing school records in elementary school, and that continued as they moved into middle school and then high school. No one was surprised to see them become dominant runners at the high school level, to say the least.

“They hold all those distance records,” said Maloney. “People have been waiting for them to shine, and they haven’t disappointed by any means.”

Klaudia is the four-time Highland Conference champion in the 800 and 1,600, and a three-time winner of the 3,200 — she didn’t run that event this year. She has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals four times in the 1,600, three times with the 3,200 relay team, and twice each in the 800, 3,200 and with the 1,600 relay, earning all-state honors a total of six times across four events. She is qualified for the Finals in the 800, 1,600, 1,600 relay and 3,200 relay this season. Three of the four school records she holds came as a result of breaking her own record-setting times.

“Last year I didn’t feel as confident, but this year I feel a lot stronger and a lot more confident with my running,” said Klaudia. “It’s sweet to show, just because I’m from a small school, you can still have a lot of talent.”

Keegan is a three-time league champion in the 3,200 and twice has won the 1,600 and ran with the winning 3,200 relay. He also has four Regional crowns to his credit — twice winning the 3,200. He is qualified for the Finals in the 1,600, 3,200 and with the 3,200 relay. He battled an injury a year ago but has seemed to make up for any lost time with a dynamic senior season. That includes shattering Ron Eising’s school record in the 3,200 that had been around since 1977 with a stunning performance at the Shepherd Invitational that eclipsed Keegan’s personal best by 16 seconds.

“It was kind of like a dream come true because the guy who had the record (Eising) is very supportive of me,” said Keegan. “He came to the track and mentored me. Told me he wanted me to beat it. He wanted me to take after him. I put in a lot of training in the offseason, and I was really surprised when I got it, but I knew I could do it. I wasn’t terribly close. It was kind of a big PR (personal record).”

The twins will complete their high school careers at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Jenison High School, then are taking their talents to Grand Valley State University in the fall. They say they are close and relish the idea of heading in the same direction for the next chapter of their careers.

“At first I didn’t really want to (go to the same school),” said Klaudia. “But senior year got going, and we got running together again. Now I’m glad I chose the same college as him. I’ll have a buddy there right away and I can still watch him and cheer him on at meets.”

Maloney has seen the work Keegan and Klaudia put into running, and he’s witnessed the records fall. He will be watching keenly to see how the O’Malleys perform at the collegiate level.

“They’re going to do a great job representing McBain, their family and northern Michigan runners,” he said. “I think they’ll be right in the heat of things for the next four years.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at sports@antrimreview.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The O’Malley twins, Klaudia and Keegan, run their respective events during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. (Middle) Klaudia O’Malley, second from right, gets ready to start the 800. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

August 8, 2022

Maia Perez and Gabriela Leon saw it coming.

In fact, the two 2017 East Kentwood all-staters each predicted remarkable post-high school success for each other long before graduation.

Perez was a four-year letterwinner as a soccer goalkeeper who led the Falcons to the Division 1 Semifinals as a sophomore and now plays professionally in Los Angeles. Leon, an all-state pole vaulter in high school, recently became University of Louisville's first NCAA champion in that event.

The two say the success doesn't come as a surprise to either, that part of that success can be explained because they continually pushed each other athletically at East Kentwood.

"Obviously there are a lot of good athletes at East Kentwood, and she was one of those amazing athletes," Perez said of Leon. "When she accomplished something, I wanted to do something big, too. I was all-state in soccer, she was all-state in track, and it was nice to have someone push you, even on days when you didn't feel like being pushed."

Leon credits Perez for helping her grasp the difference between toiling as an ordinary athlete and rising to an elite status as early as the ninth grade.

"When you see high-caliber athletes in the state finals, I think you see the struggles that others don't see," Leon said. "I saw what she was doing, and I learned from that. I learned, and I think she did too, that you have to work hard to be good, to achieve your goals. There is definitely mutual respect between us."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe two met as freshmen and quickly became friends. They originally had soccer in common as both played junior varsity as freshmen before Perez was promoted to varsity later that spring. The teammates began hanging out together off the field, be it at the beach or while taking the school's advanced physical education class together. By the time they were sophomores, however, it had become apparent that Perez's future – despite being a good basketball player – would remain in soccer, while Leon – who had also lettered in volleyball and cross country – narrowed her focus to track.

Both excelled after leaving East Kentwood. Leon had earned her first top-eight MHSAA Finals places as a sophomore, and as a senior placed fourth in pole vault, third in long jump and ran on the fourth-place 400 relay and third-place 1,600 relay as East Kentwood finished third in Lower Peninsula Division 1. Her high school personal records were 13 feet in pole vault and 18-11 in long jump (with a wind-aided 19-7). She broke Louisville's indoor and outdoor records in the pole vault as a sophomore and never looked back. She won the 2022 NCAA outdoor championship in June with a jump of 15-feet, one inch (4.6 meters) while becoming just the fourth collegian ever to amass three clearances over 4.6 meters.

Perez was a three-time Ottawa-Kent Conference Red soccer pick in high school who helped the Falcons in 2015 to their best postseason finish, when they lost to 1-0 in a Semifinal to eventual Division 1 champ Saline. She went on to play at University of Hartford after attracting interest from other programs including Western Michigan, Coastal Carolina and Pittsburgh. She wound up playing every minute of all 37 of her starts as a sophomore and junior while missing just 45 minutes over 19 games as a freshman. COVID-19 wiped out the program's season when Perez was a senior. Still, she is eighth on the school's all-time saves list with 206 while ranking 10th in shutouts with 12.

Following college, Perez was signed by the Los Angeles-based Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. While she wasn't drafted by any NWSL club, Perez impressed coaches enough during a tryout to land a spot on the team's "Discovery List" as the youngest of three goalkeepers.

"Things have been going real well for me there," Perez said. "I feel like I've improved a ton."

While Perez credits Leon with pushing her as an athlete, she said the two didn't necessarily dwell on what they accomplished in high school. They did, however, compare notes on the similarities it took for both to succeed, both physically and mentally.

"We didn't necessarily talk about (honors) a lot," Perez said. "We both knew what each other accomplished, and I don't think we need to talk about it. But I just knew one day she would be really good in track."

East Kentwood soccerLeon said the trait which stuck out about Perez in high school was her competitive drive. She hated to lose, Leon said.

"She was always a very impressive athlete," Leon noted. "She always had (success) in her because she was a real hard worker. Going into high school you could see her work ethic. We had a mutual friendship, and I saw what a work ethic and being humble could do for you."

As for herself, Leon, like many athletes, explored playing many sports. But she always came back to track.

"I always wanted to be the best athlete I could be," she said. "I was never just satisfied with just doing something. I always had this deep desire to perform to the best of my ability."

Perez remembers the first sport which interested her was skateboarding. In fact, the first time Perez met then-East Kentwood coach John Conlon, she told him she was only marginally interested in soccer. Conlon, who led East Kentwood’s girls and boys programs to a combined 654 wins and the boys varsity to five Division 1 championships, quickly made a convert of Perez.

"It's funny how things work out," Perez said. "I was looking for something that I could really be a part of, and now it's my job and I'm so happy I can say I'm getting paid for something I really like."

2021-22 Made in Michigan

Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: 
Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: 
Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 
2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: 
Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14:
Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
June 30: Hrynewich's Star Continuing to Rise with Olympic, Pro Sports Arrivals - Read

PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from left, Gabriela Leon competes for the East Kentwood and University of Louisville track & field teams, and Maia Perez plays soccer for East Kentwood and trains for the NWSL's Angel City FC. (Middle) Leon holds up her NCAA championship trophy in June. (Below) Perez is one of three keepers for Angel City FC. [Photos courtesy of East Kentwood's athletic department (2017 soccer), Run Michigan (2017 track & field), the Louisville athletic department (2022 track & field) and Will Navarro/Angel City FC (2022 soccer).]