HOUGHTON — There was a time when hosting a track meet in early April was nearly impossible in the Upper Peninsula.
Meets comprised of four field events were held in the Sault Ste. Marie High School gym in the early 1970s, with similar type meets sometimes held at a few other U.P. schools.
Indoor tracks, however, weren’t available in the U.P. back then, and the long winters sometimes made it difficult to hold outdoor meets even in mid to late April.
That no longer holds true as Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan University host indoor meets for high school student-athletes each April.
On April 6, a majority of the Copper Country schools, plus Iron River West Iron County, Iron Mountain, Munising and Negaunee participated in an indoor invitational at Tech, where the top three finishers of each event reached the podium. Team scores, however, weren’t recorded.
“I think it’s really important that we got this meet in,” said Houghton boys coach Dan Junttila. “It’s nice that Tech does this for us. We got a chance to see what the kids can do, and the coaches get a chance to get times on them. With the weather being the way it is, you never know what you might get this time of year.”
This served as the season debut for every school entered except Munising, which opened at Eagle River, Wis., Northland Pines on March 23.
Many U.P. track athletes will travel to Marquette to compete in indoor meets at NMU within their respective divisions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Munising senior Michaela Peramaki took full advantage of her opportunity to compete in early-season meets, winning the girls pole vault with a school-record leap of 10 feet, 7 inches at Eagle River.
Peramaki then topped that effort last week by winning with another school-best jump of 11 feet at Tech, where one corner of the five-lane, 200-meter track is used as a runway.
“Vaulting here is not much different from any other track,” said Peramaki. “We had plenty of room.
“It’s so important to get a meet in at this time of year. This gives you a chance to work out the kinks. It’s a relief to finally get that (11-foot jump) under my belt. The guy running the vault gave me a few pointers, and I think my plant was a big part of my vault.”
The gym floor was used as a runway for high jump, won by Houghton’s Cara Monette at 4-10.
“I thought it went pretty good,” said Monette, who didn’t practice high jump this year until April 5. “I had to cram everything into one day. It’s different jumping from the gym floor. You get all the room you need, which gives you all the space to do what you want to do.”
The Chassell girls won the 3,200-meter relay in 10 minutes, 37.12 seconds, and Lela Rautiola took the 1,600 (6:10.34) followed by teammate Jenna Pietila (6:12.66).
Chassell’s boys got a first from Karsten Kytta in the 400 (58.35).
“I thought it was great for us to get on a track,” said Chassell coach Marco Guidotti. “We saw a lot of encouraging performances. Our girls in the 4x800 looked real strong. We have some depth coming up. Karsten taking first in the boys 400 was also a real bright spot. It was nice to see some of our kids come through in the sprints and middle distances.”
West Iron senior Emmy Kinner won four races, including the 60-meter dash in eight seconds, 200 (28.44), 400 (1:05.31) and long jump (14-11), just three days after the Wykons started practice.
“It’s different on a short track because it’s harder to pace yourself,” said Kinner. “I definitely ran more conservative (than on a 400 track). Although, we’re glad to get this meet in because we have a lot of new girls on our team.”
The Houghton boys showed their strength in the distances, winning the 3,200 relay (8:45.76) and taking the top two spots in the 800 and 1,600.
Houghton senior Nick Wilson won the 800 (2:13.25), and Clayton Sayen took the 1,600 (5:06.12).
“We feel good about today,” said Wilson. “Our distances did well. Everybody ran well. This meet helps us a lot. This gets us in better shape for the Dome meet (Marquette Invitational on April 18).”
The Gremlins also took the 1,600 relay (3:51.9) and grabbed four of the top five places in pole vault.
“We have 46 boys out, but still need to get an opportunity to see what they can do in competition,” said Junttila. “We want to see who’s going to respond to it. Leif Odegard (a junior) has been running in the shadows of our top-notch distance and middle distance runners, but he’s running excellent times. He’s really coming on.”
Lake Linden-Hubbell senior Brendan Middleton captured the 60 (7.13) and Siena Anderson took the girls 60 hurdles (10.25).
“I enjoy running the 60 more than the 100,” said Middleton, who will play football at Tech this fall. “I compare it to the 40. You can go full out, and I’ve got to get more explosion for football. It was good to get to see how fast the other people were and get a chance to run on a softer track.”
LL-H coach Gary Guisfredi also says the meet is beneficial.
“Right now, we like to come to this meet, especially with the weather being so questionable all the time,” he added. “It’s nice and dry and nice and warm in here. You don’t pull any muscles. This is a nice meet to find out what we have in different events.”
PHOTO: Hurdlers finish a race in the rain during last season's Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals.
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.)