Frankenmuth Takes Back D3 Supremacy

May 31, 2014

By Butch Harmon
Special to Second Half

COMSTOCK PARK – After coming up short in its bid to repeat as MHSAA champions at last year’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Girls Track and Field Finals, Frankenmuth was determined to not be denied this time.

With a squad that featured six top seeds and balance on the track and in the field events, the Eagles this time captured the title in impressive fashion as they outlasted last year’s champions, Pewamo-Westphalia.

The MHSAA title was the second in three years for Frankenmuth and fourth in the last six years for a program that is setting the standard for girls track and field in Division 3.

Sprinter Angie Ritter was one of the leaders. The senior, who was part of the title-winning team as a sophomore, was not about to let her career end without hoisting another championship trophy.

“I was real happy with what our team did,” Ritter said. “As a team we all performed up to par. Last year we had a few fallouts, but this year everyone did what was expected. We all came into the season with positive attitudes, and we talked about winning state this year.”

The day went according to form for the Eagles, who knew before the meet was over that they had won.

“By the time we got to the four by four (1,600 relay) we knew we had it,” Ritter said. “We were up by 26 points with one event to go, and we knew we got it.”

She did her part to help. Ritter, who will be running for Grand Valley State University next season, won both the 100 and the 200-meter dashes and was a member of the 800 relay team that also finished first.

“I was just hoping to get first in both the 100 and the 200,” Ritter said. “Winning a state championship says it all. I was pretty happy to win it all.”

Ritter also removed her sister’s name from the school record book in the process as her time in the 100-meter dash was three-tenths of a second faster than her sister Kelsey Ritter’s previous Frankenmuth best.

Angie Ritter was not the only Eagles standout to win a pair of individual titles. Junior Sydney Bronner captured the 100 hurdles and high jump, and like Ritter was also a member of the 800 relay champ.

Bronner placed in high jump last year but was determined to take the title and also set a new personal best of 5-6, something she accomplished in the final. That personal best also tied the LP Division 3 meet record. 

“I took third last year,” Bronner said. “I wanted to take first this year. I tried seven or eight times at 5-6, and this time I finally did it. I was more confident this year and I also have improved my form.”

Second-place Pewamo-Westphalia didn’t let this year’s title go without a fight. The 400 relay team of seniors Jenna Thelen, Sasha Platte, Kenzie Wieber and junior Gabbie Hummel took first, and in the process set a new school record. For Thelen, Platte and Wieber, it was their final time competing together.

“It really helps having three seniors on the team,” Thelen said. “This was the last race for the three of us, and we wanted to go out with a win.”

“It was a blessing in itself,” Platte added. “We did great today. We did a lot of work for this, and our coaches helped lead us to this.”

Elkton-Pigeon-BayPort senior Kayla Deering wrapped up her high school career in a big way. A two-time MHSAA champion in the shot put, Deering closed with a third straight title with a put of 44-11. Deering, who will compete at the University of Michigan next season, also placed sixth in the discus.

“I was satisfied,” Deering said. “I really wanted the state record, but I was satisfied to win a third state title. I just tried to stay focused.  I’m content, but it would have been nice to set a new personal best here.”

Manistee’s Annie Fuller battled through the heat of the afternoon to capture a pair of titles for a second consecutive year. A junior, Fuller won the 800 as a freshman. Last season she won the 800 for a second straight year and also added the 1,600 title. Saturday she again took titles in the 800 and 1,600.

“The heat didn’t help much,” Fuller said. “There was also definitely more pressure this year trying to repeat. The competition is real strong and you don’t want to lose.”

Fuller set personal records in both races and also helped Manistee finish third overall in the 1,600 relay, running the anchor leg.

Napoleon junior Kaniya Weatherspoon had only one jump in the long jump competition but she made it count. Weatherspoon jumped 17-4½ on her first attempt, and that leap was good for first place. She was scratched on her next two jumps as she suffered tightness in her quad muscle and wanted to save herself so she could contribute to the team score in other events. Weatherspoon went on to finish fifth in the 200 and helped Napoleon’s 400 and 800 relay teams finish among the top five. Those efforts enabled Napoleon to finish in fourth place overall.

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PHOTO: Frankenmuth's Cadi Palmreuter (second from left) takes the baton from teammate Rebekah Barger during the 400 relay Saturday. The Eagles finished second in this race but won the meet. (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).]