JENISON – Shepherd senior Amber Gall withstood the elements and pressure to end her tremendous career the way she hoped it would.
Gall won the 800-meter run and the 1,600 on Saturday, and began the day helping her team to a first-place finish in the 3,200 relay (9:33.89) at the MHSAA Division 3 Track & Field Finals at Jenison High School.
Three weather delays – one that delayed the start of the finals until 3 p.m.; the second, a 30-minutes delay, halfway through the meet; and the last one just before the start of the final event (1,600 relay) that pushed the conclusion deeper into the night – caused athletes and officials to pack and unpack throughout much of the day.
The rain, wind and hail didn’t seem to bother Gall, who will attend University of Michigan in the fall on a track scholarship. She won the 800 run as a sophomore and also ran on the winning 3,200 relay that season. Gall finished second in the 800 last season, one hundredth of a second behind Judy Rector of Hanover-Horton, and she and her teammates also placed sixth in the 3,200 relay in 2018.
“I’m excited,” Gall said after crossing the finish line in the 800 with a time of 2:12.72. Lauren Freeland of Kent City was second with a time of 2:13.97. “Last year I lost by .01 to one of my best friends.
“Mentally, it takes a toll. Last year I had a good year, not my best. I couldn’t be happier with the way this year has gone. The 800 is probably the toughest to run. It’s the gutsiest. You have to find another gear. For me, my blood pressure drops really fast so I have to do a lot of prerace work.”
As far as strategy, Gall said it all depends on how the race is run. She trailed Freeland at the halfway point before making her move.
Gall spent two minutes immediately following the race talking and consoling her teammate, Amelia Gouin, a sophomore, who finished ninth in the 800.
“I told her she has some big races ahead of her,” Gall said.
Pirates capture title
Pewamo-Westphalia won its first team title since 2015 and fourth overall as it finished with 45 points. Last season’s co-champion, St. Charles, was second with 37.5 points and Shepherd took third with 35. Scottville Mason County Central was fourth with 31, and Quincy placed fifth with 30.
Kent City won the meet’s final event, taking the 1,600 relay with a time of 4:04.15. Mason County Central, with a time of 4:04.55, placed second, and those eight points moved it past Quincy for fourth place in the team competition.
No Pewamo-Westphalia athlete placed first, but two of its relays, in the 800 and 3,200, placed second. The top individual finisher for the Pirates was Sophie Thelen. She placed third in the 100 dash and took fourth in the 200.
Motivation comes in many forms. For Elizabeth Gramza, a senior from Perry, it came from a fellow track athlete on the boys team at Perry.
Gramza did not place in any event last season but took first in the 100-meter hurdles on this afternoon.
She finished second in the Regional and was seeded ninth entering the finals. Seeded No. 1 was Brittany Bowman of Kingsley.
“I was perfectly getting over the hurdles,” Gramza said. “I was going against the top seed in the prelims and I beat her (with a time of 15.90. Bowman ran a 15.91). I felt really comfortable in the prelims. That gave me confidence.”
Gramza’s best finish last season was ninth in the 300 hurdles. Not only did she not score a point in 2018, but Perry as a team did not score.
“We came in to compete,” Gramza said. “I’m not sure what the difference was this year. I was with a very good hurdler (on the boys team) and he’s short. He said he works hard in practice day after day without getting much results. He said he watched me come out (last season) and saw that I just started running well. That flipped my switch. I started working a lot harder, every day in practice.”
Bowman did place second in the 100 hurdles with a time of 16.04.
Gramza was also scheduled to compete in the pole vault, 300 hurdles and 400 relay. She did well in the pole vault finishing third with a vault of 10 feet, 3 inches. Jael Wood of Scottville Mason County Central took first in that event at 11 feet, 6 inches.
Youth is served
It’s not supposed to be this easy, particularly when one considers Lexus Bargesser of Grass Lake is a freshman.
Bargesser won the sprint double, the 100 and 200 dashes, with times of 12.56 and 25.43, respectively. The time in the 100 is a personal best. She won the 200 by more than half a second.
“That’s my favorite race,” she said of the 200. “I love the energy. You feel yourself, on the run, having all that energy. It’s one of those races, a long sprint that I love. The energy of this meet made me better. I was hoping (to win both). Anything can happen. I was thinking this morning, I can win this.”
Jayden Humphrey of Manchester placed second in both (12.82 in the 100, 26.04 in the 200).
Sprint relays go to reigning co-champ
St. Charles won both the 400 and 800 relays last season on its way to the school’s first Finals team title, which it shared with Hart. On Saturday, St. Charles won both again – and there were some familiar faces leading the charges.
Celine Whiren, a junior, ran on both relay teams each of the last two years, and this time she ran anchor on the 800.
“Pewamo-Westphalia was winning when I got the baton,” she said. “Oh, it must have been four or five strides and I just ran my normal race.”
St. Charles won the 400 relay with a time of 49.95 seconds and the 800 with a time of 1:46.05.
Well worth the wait
Mikayla Williams of St. Charles competed in three field events and in the last one, the long jump, she recorded a personal best of 17 feet, 2 inches to place first. Last year she placed second in the long jump.
“It actually came on my first jump of the (event),” she said. “I jump three events (high jump, pole vault and long jump), and lately I’ve been babying my (left) knee. I jump off my left knee, and today it felt great.”
Williams will attend Wayne State next season and expects to compete in the triple jump and the long jump.
She also played volleyball in the fall. So why risk injuring your knee playing two sports?
“I jump off two knees in volleyball,” she said.
Renae Kutcha of Jackson Lumen Christi said she felt the pressure of winning the 400 dash as a freshman last season. To offset this she decided to work harder, a regiment that included running the 800, to improve her leg strength. It worked.
Kutcha’s time of 57.81 in the 400 on Saturday was good enough to get her past Josee Behling of Boyne City, who placed second in 58.04.
“Doing the (800) helped me,” Kutcha said. “I wasn’t running well early in the season, and then I remembered that this was my event. So I got my legs stronger, and my times started to go down.”
Byron sophomore thrower Sarah Marvin won both the shot put and discus Saturday, ahead of Caro's runner-up Sheridan Dinsmore in both events. Marvin had taken third in both as a freshman.
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian freshman Abby Vanderkooi won the 3,200 in 10:36.17, clearing the field by more than 21 seconds.
Onsted junior McKenna Russell repeated as champion in the 300 hurdles. Hillsdale junior Bailey Morgret won a close competition in the high jump.
PHOTOS: (Top) Shepherd's 3,200 relay, including Amber Gall (second from left), celebrate a win Saturday at Jenison. (Middle) Pewamo-Westphalia breaks past the finish line for more points on the way to winning the team title. (Photos by Annette Tipton. 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.)