Inspiration Fuels Windemuller's Pursuit

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 3, 2017

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.

Double winner

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.

Switching gears

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.

Record vaulter

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. 

Click for full results.

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/

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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).]