Hematites Climb Back to 1st in UPD2

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

May 31, 2015

KINGSFORD — It was bit of a challenge at times, but the Ishpeming girls captured their first MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 track and field title in eight years Saturday by scoring 151 points.

Iron River West Iron County was runner-up for the second straight second with 126, followed by Manistique at 59.

Ishpeming’s Khora Swanson won the 800-meter run in two minutes, 28.53 seconds and took second in the 1,600 (5:45.62) on this partly sunny and breezy day.

Hematites senior Jessica Spencer was runner-up in the 100 hurdles at 17.97, edging teammate Katie Loman by one hundredth of a second. She also took third in the 300 (53.15) and helped the winning 400 and 800 relays.

“We worked on handoffs a lot in practice and those were a key for us,” said Spencer, who will attend Northern Michigan University this fall. “We just focused on doing the best we could, and our team showed its true potential. I’ve been to the Finals all four years, and this was the best. The energy was contagious.

“Everybody just supported each other. This is a great way to end my senior year.”

Ishpeming’s Marissa Maino swept the weight events with tosses of 35 feet, one inch in shot put and 109-4 in discus. Nassi Thomas added a first in long jump (14-10½) and seconds in the 100 (13.4) and 200 (27.5).

The Hematites also won the 3,200 relay, with West Iron taking the 1,600.

West Iron took the top three spots in the 400, which was won by Emmy Kinner (1:02.18). She was followed by Elizabeth Pellizzer (1:04.01) and Erin Angeli (1:05.22).

Kinner also finished first in the 100 (13.19) and 200 (27.16).

West Iron senior Tori Harris placed second in the 800 in a school-record 2:28.77 and the 3,200 (12:42.27) and placed third in the 1,600 (5:50.29).

“I was not happy with the 1,600, but felt better during the 800,” Harris said. “The 800 is my favorite race, and I’m very pleased to get the school record. I started weight training, and I think it helps a lot.”

Keeley Nolingberg provided the Wykons with a second in shot put (30-7¾), with Rachel Tefft third (29-6½). Pellizzer added a third in the 200 (28.53).

Westwood junior Katie Etelamaki won the 1,600 (5:32.91) and 3,200 (12:02.45) and placed third in the 800 in a personal-best (2:29.54).

“I’m not quite where I want to be,” Etelamaki said. “I just tried to find someone to draft off of and had enough left to kick it in at the end. We haven’t had many windy meets this year, but the temperature is pretty good (mid 50s). I really can’t complain about the weather.”

Manistique made its strongest showing in pole vault, which was won my Katie Davis at eight feet. Josie Price was runner-up (7-6) and Brittney Zellar took fourth (7-0).

Hancock’s Mary Jarvis was a double-winner, taking the 100 hurdles (16.76) and 300 (49.21).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming's Jessica Spencer crosses the finish line during one of her four events Saturday at the U.P. Division 2 Final. (Middle) The Hematites' Khora Swanson, right, works to stay ahead of West Iron County's Tori Harris; the two raced each other in the 800 and 1,600. (Photos courtesy of Cara Kamps.)

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

August 8, 2022

Maia Perez and Gabriela Leon saw it coming.

In fact, the two 2017 East Kentwood all-staters each predicted remarkable post-high school success for each other long before graduation.

Perez was a four-year letterwinner as a soccer goalkeeper who led the Falcons to the Division 1 Semifinals as a sophomore and now plays professionally in Los Angeles. Leon, an all-state pole vaulter in high school, recently became University of Louisville's first NCAA champion in that event.

The two say the success doesn't come as a surprise to either, that part of that success can be explained because they continually pushed each other athletically at East Kentwood.

"Obviously there are a lot of good athletes at East Kentwood, and she was one of those amazing athletes," Perez said of Leon. "When she accomplished something, I wanted to do something big, too. I was all-state in soccer, she was all-state in track, and it was nice to have someone push you, even on days when you didn't feel like being pushed."

Leon credits Perez for helping her grasp the difference between toiling as an ordinary athlete and rising to an elite status as early as the ninth grade.

"When you see high-caliber athletes in the state finals, I think you see the struggles that others don't see," Leon said. "I saw what she was doing, and I learned from that. I learned, and I think she did too, that you have to work hard to be good, to achieve your goals. There is definitely mutual respect between us."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe two met as freshmen and quickly became friends. They originally had soccer in common as both played junior varsity as freshmen before Perez was promoted to varsity later that spring. The teammates began hanging out together off the field, be it at the beach or while taking the school's advanced physical education class together. By the time they were sophomores, however, it had become apparent that Perez's future – despite being a good basketball player – would remain in soccer, while Leon – who had also lettered in volleyball and cross country – narrowed her focus to track.

Both excelled after leaving East Kentwood. Leon had earned her first top-eight MHSAA Finals places as a sophomore, and as a senior placed fourth in pole vault, third in long jump and ran on the fourth-place 400 relay and third-place 1,600 relay as East Kentwood finished third in Lower Peninsula Division 1. Her high school personal records were 13 feet in pole vault and 18-11 in long jump (with a wind-aided 19-7). She broke Louisville's indoor and outdoor records in the pole vault as a sophomore and never looked back. She won the 2022 NCAA outdoor championship in June with a jump of 15-feet, one inch (4.6 meters) while becoming just the fourth collegian ever to amass three clearances over 4.6 meters.

Perez was a three-time Ottawa-Kent Conference Red soccer pick in high school who helped the Falcons in 2015 to their best postseason finish, when they lost to 1-0 in a Semifinal to eventual Division 1 champ Saline. She went on to play at University of Hartford after attracting interest from other programs including Western Michigan, Coastal Carolina and Pittsburgh. She wound up playing every minute of all 37 of her starts as a sophomore and junior while missing just 45 minutes over 19 games as a freshman. COVID-19 wiped out the program's season when Perez was a senior. Still, she is eighth on the school's all-time saves list with 206 while ranking 10th in shutouts with 12.

Following college, Perez was signed by the Los Angeles-based Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. While she wasn't drafted by any NWSL club, Perez impressed coaches enough during a tryout to land a spot on the team's "Discovery List" as the youngest of three goalkeepers.

"Things have been going real well for me there," Perez said. "I feel like I've improved a ton."

While Perez credits Leon with pushing her as an athlete, she said the two didn't necessarily dwell on what they accomplished in high school. They did, however, compare notes on the similarities it took for both to succeed, both physically and mentally.

"We didn't necessarily talk about (honors) a lot," Perez said. "We both knew what each other accomplished, and I don't think we need to talk about it. But I just knew one day she would be really good in track."

East Kentwood soccerLeon said the trait which stuck out about Perez in high school was her competitive drive. She hated to lose, Leon said.

"She was always a very impressive athlete," Leon noted. "She always had (success) in her because she was a real hard worker. Going into high school you could see her work ethic. We had a mutual friendship, and I saw what a work ethic and being humble could do for you."

As for herself, Leon, like many athletes, explored playing many sports. But she always came back to track.

"I always wanted to be the best athlete I could be," she said. "I was never just satisfied with just doing something. I always had this deep desire to perform to the best of my ability."

Perez remembers the first sport which interested her was skateboarding. In fact, the first time Perez met then-East Kentwood coach John Conlon, she told him she was only marginally interested in soccer. Conlon, who led East Kentwood’s girls and boys programs to a combined 654 wins and the boys varsity to five Division 1 championships, quickly made a convert of Perez.

"It's funny how things work out," Perez said. "I was looking for something that I could really be a part of, and now it's my job and I'm so happy I can say I'm getting paid for something I really like."

2021-22 Made in Michigan

Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: 
Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: 
Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 
2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: 
Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14:
Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
June 30: Hrynewich's Star Continuing to Rise with Olympic, Pro Sports Arrivals - Read

PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from left, Gabriela Leon competes for the East Kentwood and University of Louisville track & field teams, and Maia Perez plays soccer for East Kentwood and trains for the NWSL's Angel City FC. (Middle) Leon holds up her NCAA championship trophy in June. (Below) Perez is one of three keepers for Angel City FC. [Photos courtesy of East Kentwood's athletic department (2017 soccer), Run Michigan (2017 track & field), the Louisville athletic department (2022 track & field) and Will Navarro/Angel City FC (2022 soccer).]