By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half
HUDSONVILLE – After finishing as runner-up last year, the Traverse City St. Francis girls track and field team did not need any emotional motivation Saturday at the MHSAA Division 4 Final at Baldwin Street Middle School in Hudsonville.
St. Francis got it, anyway. But it came in a painful way.
Senior Kaitlyn Hegewald tore her Achilles tendon in her left foot as she began the third leg of the 800 relay and could not return to action. With Hegewald sidelined, the Gladiators posted three victories and captured their first MHSAA championship in track and field.
“I got the hand-off and took a few steps, and I just couldn’t step on my foot anymore,” Hegewald said while sitting in a golf cart with her left foot wrapped in tape.
St. Francis coach Julie Duffing was watching from across the field and did not realize what had happened.
“I actually thought she got spiked, and then she kept trying to go,” Duffing said. “Coach finally yelled at her to stop, and that’s when she went down. We were expected to win that race, and we were ahead.”
It could have had devastating consequences, but the Gladiators regrouped.
Freshman Holly Bullough came through with victories in the 800 (2:16.53) and the 1,600 (5:07.37), while senior Lauren Buckel defended her Finals championship in the 400 in 59.54 seconds and was runner-up in the 200, which she won last year as well.
“We had one of our top runners tear her Achilles in the 800,” Buckel said. “I think it broke everyone’s heart.
“She’s a senior. It really kind of dampened the mood because we were hoping to come away with a state title in the beginning, then it kind of gave us a ‘let’s do this for Kaitlyn’ mentality.”
Buckel and Hegewald had a special bond that went beyond teammates.
“Lauren and Kaitlyn have done handoffs together since the seventh grade,” Duffing said.
Buckel’s title in the 400 was especially gratifying as that event has caused her both grief and happiness during her career. In fact, she calls the 400 “my beast.”
“That race has kind of been my beast, kind of something that I’ve struggled with,” she said. “It’s been a challenge for me. I’ve ran it now for nine years, ever since the fourth grade.
“It’s always been such a hard race.”
Duffing has seen first-hand how Buckel has struggled with the event.
“Last year she didn’t want to run it, so we did the whole ‘you’re not running it, and you don’t have to run it,’ thing until she asked me to run it,” Duffing said. “And when she asked, it was hers.
“She’s a beast, and the beast conquered the beast.”
Meanwhile, Bullough broke through in her first MHSAA Final in amazing fashion. She won the 800 by more than 5 seconds and took the 1,600 by more than 10 seconds. She also was runner-up in the 3,200 and anchored the 3,200 relay team that finished second.
“In the mile I was seeded first, and I won that, so it was very exciting,” Bullough said. “It wasn’t as close as I thought it would be, but they still pushed me as hard as I could go. In the 800, I was seeded second by like milliseconds, and that one was very hard – harder than I expected. But in the end I had extra power to pull through, and that’s what I did.”
And Bullough spoke of how the injury to Hegewald affected her during the meet.
“That was heartbreaking,” she said. “She’s a senior and everything, and that just made us so sad. But it also made us want to win more for her.”
Runner-up Reading, which finished second to Traverse City St. Francis by 14 points, won three events, including the 400 and 1,600 relays. Junior Michelle Davis won the 300 hurdles in 44.92 seconds, breaking the LP Division 4 record of 44.98 set in 2010 by Megan Heffner of Kinde-North Huron. Davis also ran on both winning relays, as did sophomore Jennifer Davis and freshman Sam Pfeiffer.
The other double winner was Miranda Johnson of Ottawa Lake Whiteford, which placed sixth. Johnson, a junior, repeated as champion in the long jump and also won the 200. Johnson broke the LP Division 4 meet record with a leap of 18 feet , 2 ½ inches, topping the previous record of 17-11¾ set by Amanda Weber of Portland St. Patrick in 2004.
Other repeat champions were senior Elizabeth Herriman of Sand Creek in the shot put, junior Addie Schumacher of Beal City in the high jump, senior Chantel Davenport of Athens in the 100 hurdles and junior Kirsten Olling of Breckenridge in the 3,200.
The other champions were junior Jade Madison of New Buffalo in the discus, junior Amanda MacDonald of Coleman in the pole vault and junior Ashley White of Detroit Edison Academy in the 100.
Royal Oak Shrine won the 800 relay, and Hillsdale Academy took the 3,200 relay.
PHOTOS: (Top) Sprinters approach the finish line during a 100-meter dash preliminary Saturday. (Middle) Ottawa Lake Whiteford's Miranda Johnson (middle) finished first in the long jump and 200 and second in the 100. (Photo by Carter Sherline. Click to see more photo coverage 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.)