Blissfield's Smith Aims to Spring into More Long-Jumping Success

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

March 30, 2022

BLISSFIELD – The 2021 track & field season didn’t start the way Annabelle Smith had hoped, but it sure finished the way she wanted. 

Smith opened the season by long jumping only 15 feet, 5 inches, well short of her best. She bounced back quickly and never lost in the event again, culminating with a Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship in the event. 

“I think it was probably my worst day since middle school,” she said of last spring’s start. 

Those days are long behind her. As she prepares for her senior season, she is confident, mentally strong, and physically ready to beat the early spring Michigan weather. 

“It’s sort of hard for me because I much prefer warmer weather,” the Blissfield senior said. “Spring is my time to prepare. I try to give as much as I can.” 

Michigan’s weather doesn’t do prep athletes any favors this time of the year. But, Smith said, it’s something you have to set aside and push through. It’s part of being mentally strong and focused. 

“It’s something you can’t really control. You just have to deal with it.” 

Smith picked up track & field in middle school. Her coaches had all of the athletes try every event to see what they were best at. She immediately took to the long jump. She qualified for the Finals as a freshman and tied for eighth place in the long jump but missed out on being named all-state due to a tiebreaker.  

She trained hard for her sophomore year, only to have it canceled due to COVID-19. Last year she recovered from that early-season meet to win the Lenawee County championship, Lenawee County Athletic Association championship, Regional and Finals titles. She set a personal record at the LPD3 Finals meet with a jump of 18-1.5 and became Blissfield’s first female athlete to win a state track title in 30 years. 

“What sets her apart is her competitiveness and ability to adapt in any situation,” said Calvin Sullins, a former decathlete at Siena Heights University who now coaches Smith at Blissfield. “She trusts our process and is an exceptional student of the sport.” 

There was a time that Smith just went out, located her marks, and jumped.  

Blissfield track & fieldSullins and the rest of the Royals coaching staff turned her head by concentrating on technique. 

“Coach Sullins has a lot of knowledge about track in general,” she said. “It’s been great to work with him. Being a decathlete, he knows about every event.” 

One of the techniques she learned was to count steps rather than just look for her mark when starting to sprint as she approaches the long jump platform. 

“I use an 11-step approach,” she said. “I count 11 strides, and I lift off.” 

She counts down in her head every time her left foot hits the ground. 

“I jump when I’m at one,” she said. “I don’t have to worry where I’m at. It took a little bit to get used to, but it makes everything easier.” 

She has scratched on occasion, but she trusts in her ability to take equal strides and count the 11 steps during her approach. 

Being consistent in her events is her biggest challenge. She also takes pride in her mental approach to every event. There can be long breaks during a track meet, but she makes sure to get focused when she has to. 

“Mentally, I’ve changed a lot,” she said. “For me, what works is to be very involved with the team and not spend my down time thinking about my event. When I start to warm up, I just envision what my jumps are going to look like. That’s my time to myself, my time to get focused.” 

In between her junior and senior year of high school, she competed in a United States Track and Field Junior Olympic event in Atlanta, placing third in her division. She also had a national event in Florida. Closer to home, she entered some indoor meets in the open class in the area and trained whenever she found the opportunity to get out of the cold. 

“I just tried to stay consistent all winter,” she said. “For me, technique is very important.” 

Smith is looking at a few colleges, some nearby and some across the country. She’s undecided what she wants to do or where she wants to compete at the next level. 

This year she intends to compete in the 100 or 200 meters and possibly some relays as well as the long jump. Her goal is to start stronger than last year and steadily improve as the season goes on and be at her best come the first weekend in June – when the MHSAA Finals take place. 

“This year, my goal is to PR and get back to the state meet and place,” she said. “I have a lot of time to improve myself. That’s my main goal – to be better.”

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) Annabelle Smith, right, and credits her Blissfield coach Calvin Sullins with helping her become a championship long jumper. (Middle) Smith jumps during the 2019 Lenawee County Championships. (Top photo courtesy of the Smith family; middle photo by Mike Dickie.)

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.)