ZEELAND – It hasn’t been easy at Holland Christian this school year. Certainly not as easy as Kayla Windemuller made it look on the track Saturday.
Windemuller pulled off a rare triple as the junior defended her titles in the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs and ran anchor on the winning 3,200 relay (9:09.41) at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Track & Field Finals at Zeeland.
Five people associated with Holland Christian schools died this school year. One was a 13-year-old girl and two were teachers, and it’s something Windemuller and everyone associated with the schools can’t forget.
“It’s tough at the school,” Windemuller said. “In some meets during the season it’s tough to run. When I run in those I think of them. They inspire me. I run for them.”
Windemuller is an inspiration to any young runner, distance or otherwise. She set a personal record in the mile (4:52.60) and, although she came up short of her goal in the 3,200 run (10:49.90), it was a day to savor.
“I was concerned about the heat, but it didn’t affect me too much,” she said. “It’s amazing to defend my title(s). I really like (running) the two mile. I’m more of a distance girl.
‘My goal was to get under 10:40. At the start I felt pretty good. That’s OK. I ran a PR in the mile. It is a long day, but it’s nice to have the meet spaced out. We run the relay in the morning, and then the races get slower as the day goes on. The day, overall, was awesome. I’m not happy with the times. The three state titles are sweet.”
Team title No. 2
Lansing Waverly competed well but luck also played a part in its second consecutive title.
Waverly had no individual winners, but did place first in two relays (400 and 800) to win with 47 points. Zeeland East was second with 46, and Holland Christian was third with 34.
Here’s how some of the drama played out.
Due to injuries Waverly coach Rex Wilkes, Jr., had to shuffle his lineup on the relays. The Warriors had the fastest time in the division in the 1,600 relay entering the Finals, but Wilkes made the decision not to compete in the event while attempting to save his top runners for other races.
It worked, but just barely.
“I knew we could score around 50 (points),” he said. “I just didn’t know what the other teams would do. We got some extra points in the shot. We got 10 there. And then I was told that Priscilla (Trainor) had to finish third or higher in the 200 for us to win.”
Trainor finished third. That’s not all. Suenomi Norinh of Zeeland East finished tied for first in the 100 hurdles with times measured out to hundredths of a second; to break the tie, it was determined she finished second by two thousandths of a second.
“Sometimes it’s good to be great,” Wilkes said. “Sometimes it’s good to be lucky.”
Norinh, a junior, did take first in the high jump (5-foot-8) and was second in the long jump.
Liz Pyles of Cadillac placed third in both the discus and shot put last season as a junior, and she took that experience to place first in the shot with a put of 45 feet, 4 inches, a personal best, and won the discus with a throw of 146-3.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I had three new PRs today (in the shot put). I’m so pleased.
“Last year was something to build upon. I worked with my coach. I worked in the weight room. I went to a bunch of camps. I’m real serious about this.”
Pyles signed with Grand Valley State University and expects to compete in both events. She qualified for the MHSAA Finals in the shot put all four seasons and the discus three times. Even so, she doesn’t have a favorite.
“It depends on the season,” she said.
Catching up quickly
Zoe Eby of Carleton Airport is a notorious slow starter. And when you’re competing in the 100 dash, that usually doesn’t bode well.
Eby got off to a poor start again but managed to come back to win the race with a time of 12.11.
“The last 30 meters was really close,” she said. “When I got off to that start I thought I would (finish) in the middle of the pack. I honestly don’t know how I did it.”
Eby, a junior, also defended her title in the 200. As a freshman she won the 400. She doesn’t compete in that event anymore.
“It’s not my niche,” she said.
Jakarri Alven of Grand Rapids Catholic Central wasn’t at her best Saturday. She said she had to pull out of the 200 because she was feeling ill.
Nevertheless, she won the 400 (56.48), a race she also won last year as a freshman, and she ran anchor on the winning 1,600 relay.
“I’m better at the longer distances,” she said. “But I like the (200). I got off to a good start today (in the 400). It’s the longer distances that I can work through better. I guess I’m better at it.”
Waiting pays off
Waiting for the other competitors to complete their jumps in the long jump was getting to Taylor Dziatczak of Macomb Lutheran North. Dziatczak had used up her tries and stood in first place with a jump of 17 feet, 11½ inches.
“It was a nail-biter,” she said. “A couple of girls who were close had a couple more jumps left. The girl from Zeeland East (Norinh) had three more left. I had to go to some deep breathing to stay calm.”
Dziatczak, who placed second last year, did hold on for first.
The long jump isn’t her best event, and it’s really not second as far as favorites. The javelin is tops with her. Dziatczak is a two-time AAU All-American in the javelin and has signed with Ashland University in Ohio to compete in the heptathlon. That’s seven events, in case you’re wondering. She placed in the javelin as a sophomore nationally in her age group and was third this year. Dziatczak, who is 17 years old, pointed out she moved up to the 18-and-under age group this year.
She just started competing in the heptathlon two years ago.
Her second favorite event is the 200 dash. The other events are the 100 hurdles, 800 run, high jump and shot put.
“I ran. I jumped. I figured why not do all of the others?” she said.
Why not indeed.
Spring Lake senior Gabriella LeRoux set the only meet record in Lower Peninsula Division 2 for this season, pole vaulting 12 feet, 6 inches to break Kristen Hixson's mark of 12-4 set in 2010 while competing for Remus Chippewa Hills.
LeRoux's best this season heading into the meet was 12-0. A junior, she also won the pole vault championship in 2016 and was second in 2015 to her older sister Allie.
PHOTO: Holland Christian's Kayla Windemuller stays a pace ahead of Tecumseh's Christina Sawyer during one of their two races against each other Saturday. (Photo by Janina Pollatz/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.)