By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Fowler girls track coach Jill Feldpausch might have felt like she won the lottery Saturday afternoon, even though she said she “didn’t have a winning ticket.”
The lack of a “winning ticket” that Feldpausch referred to was her team failing to have an individual champion at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals at Houseman Field. A bevy of solid performances, including three relay titles, led Fowler to first place with 56 points. Concord was second with 44, and New Lothrop was third with 38.
“We don’t have a winning ticket. We have two awesome seniors who really stepped up,” Feldpausch said. “We just do what we train for. We keep coming and working hard, and it seems like every meet they kept setting personal records one right after another.”
It was the seventh state championship for the Fowler girls program and third with Feldpausch as coach. Last year, Fowler was runner-up to Harbor Springs.
“After finishing second last year and third the year before that, our team was ready to finish it and ready to get first,” said Madison Koenigsknecht, one of those two “amazing seniors.”
Julie Thelen, the other “amazing senior,” said, “We got closer and closer every year, and this year it was like the big bang – the perfect finish – and it was just awesome. It was amazing since we all worked so hard all season.”
Koenigsknecht and Thelen ran on two of the three winning relay teams. McKenzie Koenigsknecht, younger sister of Madison, also ran on two of the winning relay teams.
“I think everybody working together in the relays really put us over the edge,” Madison Koenigsknecht said.
Fowler won the 800 relay as the Koenigsknecht sisters teamed with Thelen and Sidney Horak to win in 1 minute, 46.57 seconds. In the 1,600, it was the Koenigsknecht sisters again, this time with Thelen and Taryn Shafer to win in 4:08.23. Both the 800 and 3,200 relay teams broke school records.
That third winning relay was a collection of the classes as senior Madison Koenigsknecht, junior Ashley VanElls, sophomore Kian Becker and freshman Morgan Goerge won in 9:38.0.
“In the individual events, everybody picking up points here and there really made a difference,” Madison Koenigsknecht said.
She was one of those who helped individually as she was third in the 400 in 59.43. Thelen also took third in the 800 in 2:23.64, and Becker was sixth in the 3,200 in 1:41.59.
In the field events, Fowler sophomore Ciera Weber was fifth in the pole vault as she cleared 6-0 to break the school record. Freshman Alyssa Vandegriff was fifth in the high jump at 5-0.5, and Horak was sixth in the long jump (15-11.5).
“It’s just awesome because we’re all one family, and we all work hard and push each other,’ Madison Koenigsknecht said. “Right from the beginning of the season, we knew that this was one of our biggest goals and if we continued to work really hard and push each other that we would be able to do it.”
It was truly a team championship.
“Everybody stepped up, and I’m so proud of them,” she said. “It was all about the team aspect, and our 12 girls here all contributed.”
Concord, which finished second after placing third a year ago, was led by senior Lindsey Lehman, who repeated as champion in the 200 and also won the 100 after finishing second a year ago. She appeared a bit surprised at her victory in the 100 as she was seeded fourth coming into the meet.
“I was shocked that I won the 100,” said Lehman, whose winning time was 12.30 seconds, breaking the Division 4 meet record. “The girl who got third beat me at Regionals, and she’s a really good runner. She’s only a sophomore.”
After winning the 100, Lehman was able to set her sights on repeating as champion in the 200 in what would be the final individual event of her high school career. She won it in 25.70.
“I got out of the blocks really well, and that was one of my better races,” she said. “I just always feel good in that race.
“I wanted to prove that how much work you put in during the offseason can determine the outcome.”
Concord had another individual title. Sophomore Samantha Saenz won the 1,600 in 5 minutes, 10.89 seconds.
New Lothrop, which finished third, had a championship in the 400 relay. Skye Nancarrow, Alex Bedrosian, Sydney Pope and Caitlyn Bruff won in 50.83. Pope and Bruff are freshmen.
Ashley Hermann of Petersburgh-Summerfield repeated in the high jump by clearing 5-4, and Caylin Bonser of Harbor Springs set a Division 4 meet record in the discus with a toss of 141-6. Harbor Springs swept the throws as Erika Lechner took the shot put with a toss of 41-11.75.
Another meet record was broken in the 100 hurdles, where Mary Leighton of Mendon won in 14.53. Sophomore Baleigh Irelan of Reading added a victory in the 300 hurdles in 46.25.
Other winners in the running events included sophomore Alexandra Hannson of Brown City in the 400 (58.11), Kensington Garvey of Blanchard Montabella in the 800 (2:21.58) and Ava Strenge of Battle Creek St. Philip in the 3,200 (10:59.5).
In the field events, Sydnie Avery of Saugatuck won the pole vault at 10-3, and Akwia Tilton of Birmingham Roeper took the long jump at 17-6.
PHOTOS: (Top) Fowler's Julie Thelen (middle) works for valuable points in finishing third in the 800. (Middle) Concord's Lindsey Lehman breaks away for one of her two sprint championships. (Photos by Angie Graham/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.)