By John Leerar
Special to Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Remus Chippewa Hills coach Sally Schafer wasn’t optimistic about her team’s chances halfway through the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on Saturday at Houseman Field.
“Things weren’t going the way I thought they had to go the first half of the day,” Schafer said. “I thought we were going to have to score in the upper 40’s to win. And even with a perfect second half of the meet, that wasn’t going to happen. It was going to be an OK day.”
When asked where she thought her team would finish at that point in time, Schafer responded, “Third or fourth.”
However, the lower-than-anticipated point total turned out to be enough, as the Warriors won the meet and their first MHSAA Finals title with 34 points. Lansing Waverly was second with 31.
Chippewa Hills did not win a single event, but scored points consistently enough to build a lead.
“We scored in six events today, which is the most we’ve ever scored in since I’ve been coaching,” Schafer said. “All of the girls came through at the end and ran consistently across the board today. We faltered a little bit, and were disappointed here and there, but when it came down to the last race, they got it done and did what they needed to do.”
The race Schafer was referring to was the 1,600 relay, the last event of the afternoon. The Warriors came into that race 10 points ahead of Waverly, the top seed for that event. Chippewa Hills had to place in the top eight to secure the championship and did so, finishing sixth in a time of 4:03.87.
Senior Megan O’Neil was a major contributor for Chippewa Hills, scoring 16 points by herself with second-place finishes in the 800 and 1,600 runs.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet that (the 1,600) was Megan O’Neil’s last race,” Schafer said. “But she’s going to go on to bigger things. I’m sure she’s very happy her high school career ended like this.”
Schafer also made sure to give credit to her entire team. “This championship still took our entire team. We had 10 girls here today who all helped us win,” she added.
Chippewa Hills finished the season unbeaten.
The LP Division 2 1,600-meter record fell at Houseman Field. Junior Karrigan Smith of St. Johns edged out the previous record of 4:51.67 in that event, running a 4:51.53 while beating the rest of the field by more than two seconds.
“It’s such a great feeling,” Smith said. “This is the first state championship in my school’s history for the girls, so it’s a really important moment for me as well as my team. I’m just so thankful to be here.
“My goal during the race was to stay behind the lead girl and kick it in the last 200 meters. I’m just happy that I could execute today, and it’s a great feeling. I had no idea I was even close to the record until my teammates informed me.”
Spring Lake also made its presence known. The sister duo of Allie and Gabriella LeRoux took first and second, respectively, in the pole vault. Allie, a senior, finished with 11 feet, 8 inches, while her freshman sister Gabriella vaulted 11-5. Junior Carlyn Arteaga won the 800, finishing in 2:16.09.
“I’m happy with my performance today,” Arteaga said. “I’m glad everything worked out. My best time before this was 2:17, so this is a PR (personal record) for me. I qualified for the 400 as well as this race, but I decided to just concentrate on the 800. I wanted to go all in on this race and it paid off. I just started running the 800 as my main event this year, so I’m very happy about how it turned out.”
Senior Brittany Casey of Zeeland East dominated the field events, winning both the shot put and discus. She threw 43-1¼ in the shot put and a 138-10 in the discus.
“I’m still in shock about today. I’m so excited about my performance,” she said. “I was especially satisfied with my discus throw, which was a personal record by about six feet.”
Other field winners include Charley Andrews of Battle Creek Harper Creek in the high jump and Gabriella Collins of Mount Morris in the long jump. Race winners include Alison Rich of Haslett in the 100 hurdles, Josie Yesmunt of DeWitt in the 100 and 200 dashes, Zoe Eby of Carleton Airport in the 400, Hannah Coverdill of Marine City in the 300 hurdles and Kaela Theut of East Grand Rapids in the 3,200 run.
PHOTOS: (Top) Remus Chippewa Hills’ Kylie Schafer runs her leg of the 3,200 relay Saturday at Grand Rapids Houseman Stadium. (Middle) Chippewa Hills celebrates its first MHSAA championship. (Head shot) Karrigan Smith, St. Johns. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
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.)