Balanced Divine Child Celebrates Again

June 1, 2013

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.”

Click for full results.

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.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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).]