ADA – The only common denominator that Kaitlyn Molnar can think of between her two sports is that brief feeling of pure freedom as she soars through the air.
The big difference, of course, is that one comes in a swimming pool and the other while hurling herself along a long jump pit.
The Grosse Ile junior added a state long jump title to a state diving championship at Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Track & Field Finals at Forest Hills Eastern. The long jump win came after Molnar won a Division 3 diving title in the fall and followed a fifth-place finish in the long jump as a sophomore.
While the necessary talents for both sports may seem incompatible, Molnar sees one significant similarity.
"I just love that feeling of being in the air," she said after a jump of 18-feet, 5 inches. "You just take off and go as high as possible. It takes a lot of focus, but I love the long jump.
"It was kind of a surprise, but it was nice to pull it off. (Jumping and diving) are about foot placement and keeping your head up."
While Molnar's individual exploits were impressive, East Grand Rapids successfully defended its team title with 50 points, 16 better than runner-up Sturgis. Mason, New Boston Huron and Otsego tied for third with 26 points. Tecumseh was sixth with 24.
EGR coach Mike Dykstra said the loss of four major point scorers from last season was overcome by depth and young talent stepping up to fill in gaps. But if you had asked the 19-year coach two months ago if the Pioneers had a realistic shot a back-to-back titles, he would have hedged.
"Maybe," he said. "We had some good competitors back and a lot of talented young kids trying to fill in spots. Today, I think the (90-plus degree) weather was helpful in a way because it made us focus on the weather as the enemy. It helped us focus on ourselves. It was kind of a blessing in a way."
Among the Pioneers champions was the 3,200 relay team (9:28.17) and the 1,600 relay (3:58.18), while junior Drew Muller repeated in the 1,600 (4:56.01) and senior Camryn Bodine won the 800 (2:11.53).
"There definitely was more pressure this year," she said. "People look out for me just as I look for them. There was awesome competition both years, but I'm happy because I had better times this year. It took a lot of work behind the scenes."
New Boston Huron senior Elizabeth Anderson had a big day that included winning the 400 (55.38). She also was second in both the 100 and 200 and part of the 1,600 relay team. Anderson followed last season's championships in the 200 and 400 and runner-up in the 100. But by at least one measurement, this season was an improvement, she said.
"It was better this year because my times were better," said Anderson, who will run track at Michigan State next season. "I just felt heathier and wanted to finish my season strong. I really wanted to win the 400 because it's my favorite event. That was my goal the whole year. I trained all year to do it."
Other LPD2 champs included Keyanna O'Tey of Sturgis, who won the 100 (11.84). O'Tey said winning the Regional made her realize she could become a Finals champ.
"It's a mindset; I have confidence in myself," she said. There's a lot going on with me right now, but the right people said they have confidence in me and that gave me a positive mindset."
Saginaw Swan Valley's Lyberty Brandt won the high jump in 5 feet, 5 inches. Brandt was second as a junior with a leap of 5-3.
"This was a chance to redeem myself," said Brandt, who swept every high jump event she entered this season. "My dad said this was going to be the year and I just said, 'whatever.' When I went 5-4 in my first event this year ,I thought maybe I could do this. I just trusted myself, the confidence just came."
Marysville junior Janae Hudson won the shot put with a toss of 42 feet, 7 inches. That followed a 10th in the shot and a third in the discus a year ago. Hudson said the improvement was a matter of fine-tuning technique. She compares throwing the shot to golf in that even the smallest changes can result in a large reward.
"There were very few days when I wasn't working on that," she said. "It was a lot of little things in technique. You fix one little thing and you're better. You have to have the determination to have a good season."
Other champs were the Cadillac 800 relay (1:44.76) and the 400 relay of Berrien Springs (49.32).
Ella Jenkins of Warren Regina won the 100 hurdles (14.64), and Annabelle Densmore of Charlotte the 300 hurdles (45.06). Natalie VanOtteren of Grand Rapids Christian won the 3,200 (10:57.20), Allison Shelton of Ortonville Brandon the pole vault (12 feet) and Haley Guerrant of Otsego the discus (136-11). Sturgis' Jillian Romanyk competed in the adaptive 100 (30.53) and shot put (13-7).
PHOTOS (Top) East Grand Rapids closes in on the 1,600 relay championship Saturday. (Middle) New Boston Huron's Elizabeth Anderson leads the field in the 400. (Below) The Pioneers celebrate their championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/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.)