Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

July 28, 2022

A decade ago the Meier twins, Haley and Hannah, were instrumental in changing the dynamics of the track & field and cross country programs at Grosse Pointe South.

South had never won an MHSAA Finals team title in either sport before their arrival at the school in 2009. Under longtime coach Steve Zaranek, the Meiers led South to three consecutive MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 track titles (2011-13) and another championship in cross country (2011), while forming half of a national record-setting 3,200-meter relay in the former.

“I've never seen anything like it,” said Zaranek, who will lead the program for a 44th season next spring and recently retired from teaching. “We had all of those athletes. The highlight was the distance (events) with the Meier twins. It was the perfect storm.”

The Meiers attended Duke University for their first two years of college before they transferred to University of Michigan. Their career paths have taken them in different directions, but they remain as close as ever. 

Two years ago Haley moved to Adelaide, Australia, with her fiancé Jordy Hewitt, who she met at U-M. Hannah soon will leave Ann Arbor for Charlottesville, Va., where she will begin work as a dietitian within the medical school at the University of Virginia.

Two weeks ago, Haley and Hannah were together in Nashville, Tenn., along with four friends, for Haley's bachelorette celebration. The wedding is scheduled for Oct. 8 on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.

Grosse Pointe South trackHaley, who received her bachelor’s degree in education, is in her second year as a middle school teacher in Adelaide, and Hewitt works as a consultant at Price Waterhouse just blocks from St. Mary's College, the all-girls private school where Haley teaches.

“I always loved spending time with kids,” Haley said when asked why she chose the teaching profession. “When they figure things out, it's so rewarding. It comes with its challenges. I've been practicing my patience daily.”

This past spring Hannah completed her master's degrees in both sports management and public health from U-M, to go with her bachelor’s in kinesiology. Her longterm goal is to work with athletes in their efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Hannah Meier began researching various types of food and how they affects athletes and their eating habits. For instance, Hannah is a firm believer in a person eating breakfast 30-to-60 minutes after rising to allow for metabolism to kick in properly.

“I was getting injured (so often) between lifting and cross training that I decided to go into public health,” Hannah said. “That's one of the reasons I left Duke. They didn't offer a public health (curriculum).”

The Meiers were highly competitive at both Duke and U-M. At Duke, Haley won the Atlantic Coast Conference title in the 1,500, and for U-M she won the Big Ten Conference title in the indoor mile. In her last season (2019), Hannah won the Big Ten title in the mile with a school-record time of 4:32.46. Both qualified for the NCAA Championships on multiple occasions.

Their college accomplishments stacked on top of significant achievements that helped Grosse Pointe South to those three Finals teams championships.

Hannah continues to own the all-Class/Division Finals records in the 800-meter run (2:06.35, 2013) and 1,600 run (4:39.23, 2013 – also ninth-best all-time nationally at the high school level). She and Haley, along with Kelsie Schwartz and Ersula Farrow, set that national high school record in the 3,200 relay of 8:48.29 in 2012. (Of note, the second-best 3,200 relay time in MHSAA LPD1 Finals history was recorded by Oak Park in 2015, 8:54.29, as Farrow teamed with Jayla Fleming, Lashae Bowens and Dorriann Coleman.)

To show how competitive and talented the twins were, when Hannah set the all-Finals record in the 1,600 in 2013, the previous all-Finals record was the 4:42.60 she had run in 2011. Haley's time of 4:42.43 in 2013 was good enough to top her sister's 2011 record, but not the time Hannah posted that June afternoon – as Haley finished in that race to her sister.

For Zaranek, the post-Meier era has included a team that placed sixth in LP Division 1 in 2014 and another top-15 finisher since, with at least a few Finals qualifiers almost every season.

Grosse Pointe South track“For me and our program,” Zaranek said, “to get to the Regional level and compete, that's the sign of a really good program. I really think the best programs are the ones that allow the students to try different events. We talk about opportunities. We talk about contributing to the team.”

For the Meiers, they cherish the memories and continue to run but at a much slower pace. In addition to the memories and accomplishments, they say the sport made them better people, more appreciative for what they have and who they are.

“Haley and I ... we have a better perspective on life,” Hannah said. “We are able to handle situations much more calmly.

“And it's all because of Coach Z. We weren't fans of running in middle school. Without running we wouldn't have gone to U-M and graduated. If we hadn't gone to U-M, we wouldn’t have met our significant others.”

(Hewitt, from Australia, was a middle distance runner for U-M when he and Haley met. Hannah's boyfriend, Kevin Haughn, was competing in the pole vault for the Wolverines when they first crossed paths.)

Haley said her life, and Hannah's, are so busy that finding time to run requires a few less hours of sleep at times.

“I enjoy it, but the hardest part is getting up in the morning to do it,” she said. “It's a transition.
“After all these years, it's still practicing good habits. Running has taught us to be resilient, to persevere.” 

2021-22 Made in Michigan

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) At left, Hannah and Hailey Meier enjoy the moment after helping set a national high school record for Grosse Pointe South in the 3,200 relay in 2012. At top right, Haley and fiancé Jordy Hewitt. At bottom right, Hannah and boyfriend Kevin Haughn. (Middle) The Meier sisters, center, bring their family together in Australia. (Below) Haley, left, and Hannah Meier top the LPD1 1,600 medalist podium in 2013. (MHSAA Finals photos from RunMichigan.com; recent photos courtesy of Hannah and Haley Meier.)

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).]