By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
ADA – Quality depth is a big key to success in high school track and field.
And over the past four years, no Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls track team has boasted the depth of Dearborn Divine Child.
That depth proved to be the key once again at Saturday’s MHSAA Final at Forest Hills Eastern. Scoring points in 10 of 15 events, the Falcons captured their third team title in the past four years.
Divine Child finished with 81 points while host Forest Hills Eastern finished second with 53.
“We are a team of one and we have demonstrated that throughout the year,” Divine Child coach Anthony Mifsud said. “This is our third title. We did it in 2010, we shared it last year and this year we won a third one. I’m just very happy for the girls. To score points in 10 of 15 events is extraordinary.”
Leading the way for the Falcons was a senior class small in number but big on production.
“Our seniors really came through,” Mifsud said. “Paige Patterson has been a 16-time all-stater during her four years. She was on the 2 by 200 and 4 by 400 relay teams that have been undefeated the past two years.”
“Mallory Myler also has been on the 4 by 200 and the 4 by 400 the last two years. Ashley O’Neill, our thrower, finished seventh in the shot. Those have been our three, main seniors.”
Host Forest Hills Eastern was fueled to its second-place finish by strong performances in the relays. The highlight of the day for the Hawks came in the 400-meter relay when the team of Alli Gutschow, Sam Reno, Camron Nelson and Jaclyn Goble turned in a Division 2 Finals record time of 48.4 that broke a 13-year old record set by Detroit Renaissance.
“We set our goals high at the beginning of the year,” Gutschow said. “We always had an eye on this. To win it on our home track and to set the state record on our home track, especially with the seniors on the team, is special. I feel privileged and lucky to be a part of this.”
Reno also was one of three seniors on the winning relay team.
“It just feels awesome,” Reno said. “It feels real great, especially to win it and set the record at home.”
Detroit Country Day shared last year’s team title with Divine Child, and the Yellowjackets were again a major factor.
Saturday marked the end to one of the most successful high school careers in Michigan history, and Country Day senior Kendall Baisden closed it out in a big way.
Baisden won the 400-meter dash for the fourth time and won the 200-meter dash for a third straight year.
“It feels pretty good,” Baisden said. “To win the 400 all four years and the 200 my last three years shows that throughout my high school career I was pretty consistent. I just wanted to stay focused today.”
Baisden will continue her track career at UCLA next season. The journey to become one of the finest sprinters in state history began in the fourth grade.
“I started running track back in the fourth grade at Saint Regina in the CYO league,” Baisden said. “Today was kind of bittersweet. I have loved coming to the state meet. It’s my favorite meet of the year along with the (Oakland) county meet. It was real special coming here for the last time.”
Remus Chippewa Hills junior Megan O’Neil was one of the busiest athletes at Saturday’s meet. By the end of the day, few athletes were as tired as O’Neil – but all of her work resulted in a pair of championships.
After beginning the day by running a leg in the 3,200 relay, O’Neil then won the 1,600-meter run in a time of 4:52.21.
“I just wanted to go as hard as I could go in the final 800 meters,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil then her sights on the 800-meter run. After winning her second race of the day, O’Neil ended her day running the 3,200.
“I think I finished in last in the 3,200 meter,” O’Neil said. “By the two mile, I was pretty much dead. I do like the order of the races. In the 4 by 800 you run pretty clean and you are running for your team. In the 1,600 it’s more of a tactical run, but then you sprint at the end. The 800 is real fast. They should call it a dash and not a run.”
A standout on the Chippewa Hills cross country team, O’Neil will take some time to rest before gearing up for the cross country season.
“I think I will take it easy and take a little break before starting to build a base for the cross country season,” O’Neil said. “A lot of cross country runners don’t like running track, but I love running track and I love running cross country. I don’t put a label on what is my favorite race; I just set my mind to running and try to do the best I can in each event.”
Mason sophomore Meg Darmofal, another talented runner during the cross country season, also added a track title to her resume as she won the 3,200-meter run.
“It felt awesome,” Darmofal said. “It was everything that I was working for and it feels awesome. I took off with a lap left and it felt good. I had a good mentality. If you tell yourself you are going to win, you are going to do it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) The Dearborn Divine Child girls track team poses with their third MHSAA championship trophy won over the last four seasons. (Middle) Detroit Country Day's Kendall Baisden sprints to the finish line on the way to winning the 400-meter dash. (Photos by Greg Chrapek.)
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.
As 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.”
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 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.)