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."
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 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.)