KENT CITY – Kylee Poulton and Lani Bloom are small-school standouts headed for the big time of Division I track & field in the Big Ten Conference.
They showed why at Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Kent City High School. They’re about to be arch-rivals in college, too.
Poulton, a Holland Black River senior signed with Indiana University, sprinted to individual titles in the 100-meter dash (12.28 seconds) and 200 (24.83). Bloom, an Ithaca senior signed with Purdue University, ran away with championships in the 800 (2:11.86) and 1,600 (4:49.60). Both runners also anchored relays for their respective teams.
Cross country power Hart was a landslide winner of the team Finals title, the Pirates’ second overall and first since 2018, as they totaled 63 points – 24 more than runner-up Pewamo-Westphalia. Onsted was third (33), Montague fourth (29) and Quincy fifth (28).
“You know, it’s been fun. I know when I started coaching back in ’98 for Hart, they needed somebody and it kind of just grew into a passion. I love coaching – I like teaching school, but I love coaching, too,” said Hart girls track coach Calvin Ackley, who is an assistant for the Pirates’ girls cross country program that’s a five-time reigning champ in LP Division 3.
“It’s fun. It’s fun just to put Hart on the map a little bit in one small aspect of life. … If you’re going to do something, do it all-out, you know.”
All-out is exactly the way Poulton and Bloom performed Saturday.
For Poulton, those were her first two Finals championships. She had the best time of all qualifiers in the 400 but decided not to run that event because she wanted to conserve energy for the 200. Last year, she was LPD3 runner-up in the 100, third in the 200 and fourth in the 400.
Poulton ran the anchor leg on Black River’s 1,600 relay team to close the day Saturday. That quartet did not place, but she still enjoyed herself.
“This year was really fun. I really love my team this year,” said Poulton, who ran into a bit of a headwind Saturday but still felt strong. “Having a 4x4 relay has been, like, a highlight because it’s just so fun.
“In the past years, I wasn’t able to participate in relays, but we were able to put together a pretty good team this year and run in the state finals. I’d say my highlight would be the Regional meet. We were last (in the 1,600 relay) and then we ended up becoming first (at the Regional).”
Bloom is no stranger to MHSAA Finals championships. She also won 800 and 1,600 titles at last year’s Finals, plus she captured an LP Division 3 cross country championship in the fall.
Bloom anchored Ithaca’s 3,200 relay team that placed fourth.
“I was really nervous going into (Saturday’s meet) because I haven’t really had a lot of races where I had to have that get-up-and-go mindset where I had to, like, actually race my hardest, dive over the line every time,” she said. “It was a challenge for me today, but I feel like I really rose to the occasion and I’m really proud of what I did today.”
Other individual champions from Saturday’s LP Division 3 Finals included Onsted’s Emmry Ross in the 400 (57.93), Grand Rapids Covenant Christian’s Meghan Beute in the 3,200 (personal record 10:37.57), Pewamo-Westphalia’s Saige Martin in the 100 hurdles (15.23 PR) and 300 hurdles (46.24 PR), Sand Creek’s Grace Elliott in shot put (40-4.25 PR), Grayling’s Rylan Finstrom in discus (145-2 PR), Lawton’s Heidi Newhouse in high jump (5-5), Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Ally Olszewski in pole vault (11-0 PR) and Benzie Central’s Gloria Stepanovich in long jump (17-4.25).
Two of Montague’s relay teams claimed championships, in the 400 (50.24) and 800 (1:47.10). Ross helped Onsted also win the 1,600 relay (4:06.02), while Hart cruised to victory in the 3,200 (9:30.18).
“I mean, it’s crazy. We just came here with nine girls, and we knew we were seeded decently high. But just to go out here and finally do it has been something that I didn’t expect at the beginning of the season,” Hart senior Kendall Williamson said. “I had no idea we were going to be here.”
PHOTOS (Top) Holland Black River’s Kylee Poulton, middle, sets the pace during one of her sprint championships Saturday at Kent City. (Middle) Ithaca’s Lani Bloom builds a significant lead during one of her victories. (Click for more from Carter Sherline/Run Michigan.)
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.)