Classic Sprint, Oak Park Run Highlight D1

May 31, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

ROCKFORD — It was arguably the greatest high school girls 200-meter race ever in Michigan.

Sophomores Sekayi Bracey of East Kentwood and Anna Jefferson of Oak Park posted two of the seven fastest times in Michigan history at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Track and Field Finals on Saturday at Rockford High School.

Bracey edged Jefferson at the finish, crossing the line in 23.98 seconds. Jefferson was second in 24.03. Bracey's time is the fifth-fastest ever run in any Finals meet in Michigan, while Jefferson's is seventh.

Both the winner and runner-up enjoyed the duel, having rarely faced competition during the high school season.

"I love races like that," Jefferson said. "When I have her with me in the 200, I know she's going to make me work. I know I'm going to have a good race."

This wasn't the first duel between the two and, with two years of eligibility remaining for both of them, certainly won't be the last.

"I'm actually friends with her," Bracey said. "We've been running together since we were young."

Bracey and Jefferson were the individual stars of the meet, each winning three events and taking second in another.

Bracey won the long jump with a leap of 18 feet, 7.25 inches, the 100 in 11.88 seconds and the 200. She was on a second-place 400 relay team. Last year, Bracey was third in the long jump and won three events.

Jefferson greatest performance came in the 400, where her time of 53.50 seconds set an all-MHSAA Finals record, breaking the mark of 54.29 set by Southfield's Latipha Cross in 2011.

"When they said 53.50 officially, I screamed," said Jefferson, whose previous best was 54.30. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' I went to pick up my teammate (fourth-place Johnyce Powell) and hug her but she was exhausted, so I had to give her a minute. I still couldn't believe I ran 53. I've been aiming for that for the past few years."

Jefferson was also on the winning 800 and 400 relay teams, helping Oak Park win the team championship in a rout, 92-50 over Northville. The 92 points are the most by a girls team in any division in seven years.

"I love my team," Jefferson said. "We've had a fantastic season compared to last year. We didn't have as many people, but we had high quality. Even though we're one of the smallest schools, we still have some of the top runners in the nation."

Oak Park will be a heavy favorite to win it all again next year, as there were no seniors among nine girls who scored points for the Knights. Scoring for Oak Park were freshmen Drew Coleman, Tamea McKelvy and Carlita Taylor; sophomores Jefferson, Lashae Bowens and Brianna Holloway; and juniors Jayla Fleming, Kailsi Latta-Thompson and Powell.

The Knights won three relays and were fourth in the 3,200 relay.

Birmingham Seaholm junior Audrey Belf, one of the nation's premier distance runners, ran an anchor leg of 2:08 in the 3,200 relay to help the Maples post the second-fastest time ever in an MHSAA Finals, 8:59.08. The other team members were Rachel Dadamio, Brooke Callaghan and Patty Girardot. Belf’s final leg was a personal best in the 800.

"When you get down to the end and your girls have done that much hard work, you don't want to mess it up," Belf said. "I know how much we wanted it. I wanted to finish it and make sure we got that victory."

Belf got a lengthy rest after that and dominated the 3,200, winning in 10:17.08. Northville senior Rachel Coleman, who won the 1,600 in 4:45.76, took second in 10:24.58. The top nine girls broke 10:46.

"I don't like running in the heat, but I made the best of it," Belf said. "I ran a little more conservatively."

Sterling Heights Stevenson senior Jailah Mason set an LP Division 1 record in the high jump, going 5-9.25.

Grosse Pointe South junior Ersula Farrow took aim at the Finals record in the 800 set last year by former teammate Hannah Meier. Farrow came up just short, finishing in 2:07.63 to win convincingly by 3.33 seconds.

"I wanted to go after the record," Farrow said. "I didn't get it this year, but I'm definitely going to try again next year. Hannah and (twin sister) Haley told me I was going to be the leader of the team. I did my best to be the leader of the team."

Click for full results.

PHOTO: East Kentwood's Sekayi Bracey (left) and Oak Park's Anna Jefferson race toward the finish of the 200 on Saturday in Rockford. They posted two of the fastest times in the race in MHSAA Finals history. (Click to see more from

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).]