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.
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 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.)