KINGSFORD — The Ishpeming girls carried a heavy workload this season and were rewarded with their second straight Division 2 title at Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Finals.
Ishpeming scored 127 points, followed by Hancock with 104 and St. Ignace 81.
“The girls got more points than I thought they would,” said Ishpeming coach P.J. Pruett. “When we started the season in the (Superior) Dome meet, we got beat by West Iron County and Hancock. We were able to put kids in the right spots, which was huge. We didn’t have a lot of girls come out for track. Most of them were doing four events.”
Junior Khora Swanson retained her 800-meter title in 2 minutes, 34.15 seconds and won the 1,600 (6:02.99) and 3,200 (13:21.21). She also helped the Hematites take the 3,200 relay (11:09.24).
“The weather was kind of tough early in the meet, and it effected my breathing,” Swanson said. “Although it’s the same for everybody. I think running with the D-1 kids (in the 1,600 and 3,200; both divisions ran together) may have thrown me off a little.
“We’re excited about being U.P. champions again. We’ve all been working hard. St. Ignace kind of hung with us in the Regional. We’re always worried about them.”
Hancock’s Madisyn Wright was runner-up in the 1,600 (6:08.81) and 3,200 (13:33.96).
“Khora used to anchor our 1,600 relay, then we moved her to the (open) 3,200 for points,” said Pruett. “This was the second two-mile race she ran all year.”
Ishpeming junior Marissa Maino repeated as champion in discus with a school-record toss of 115 feet, 5 inches and shot put at 35 feet. Teammate Libbie Doney won pole vault for the second time in three years with a leap of 8-6.
The Hematites also won the 400 relay (55.64) and took second in the 800 (1:55.8) and 1,600 (4:33.59).
Hancock senior Mary Jarvis defended her crowns in the 100 hurdles (16.74) and 300s (48.85) and helped the winning 800 relay (1:54.89). Teammate Julie Heinonen was runner-up in the 100s (16.97).
St. Ignace sophomore Linnee Gustafson was a repeat winner in high jump (5-0, she won Division 3 last season) and helped the Saints take third in the 800 relay (2:00.24).
The Saints captured the 1,600 relay in a season-best 4:27.18.
“All of our handoffs were good,” said freshman Emily Coveyou, who placed second in the 400 (1:04.75) and third in the 200 (27.97). “We’re just happy we won the last race. Unfortunately, I false started in the 100. But this kind of takes the sting out of that.”
Gwinn sophomore Emlly McDonald set the U.P. meet record in long jump (16-10), topping the previous best (16-8¼) by Dani Gagne of Norway in 2011.
West Iron County had a triple-winner in junior Emmy Kinner, who captured the 400 (1:02.76) for the third consecutive year, retained her 100 (13.33) and 200 (27.53) titles and placed third in long jump (15-3).
“The girl from Gwinn is good,” Kinner said. “She really gets high in the air. After taking third in long jump, taking first in my other three events was nice. My starts weren’t bad, but your legs aren’t as loose when you run in the rain. It takes longer to get warmed up.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming’s Khora Swanson carries the baton during the 3,200 relay. (Middle) The Hematites’ Anna Terres stretches across the finish at the end of the 400 relay. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
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."
The 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."
Leon 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
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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).]