KINGSFORD — The Lake Linden-Hubbell girls ended a lengthy title drought Saturday, earning top honors at the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Track & Field Finals.
Lake Linden scored 110 points to secure its first title since 1983, when it was competing in Class D. Pickford squeezed past Cedarville by less than a point for the runner-up honor, and Bark River-Harris took fourth.
“We’re trying to bring the legacy back,” said junior Laura Lyons. “Mr. G (coach Gary Guisfredi) is doing everything he can to help us carry on the program.”
Lyons led the Lakes by taking the 200-meter dash in 27.53 seconds, long jump at 15 feet, 5 inches, and by helping the winning 1,600 relay (4:23.23) and placing second in the 400 (1:01.37).
In the 400, she was runner-up to DeTour senior Sarah Bailey (1:00.52).
“I think my starts were pretty good,” said Lyons. “I was in lane 8 in the 200, which made it hard to see the other girls.
“I didn’t know Sarah before today. Track is also a social event. Everybody’s just so friendly.”
Lake Linden’s Mariah Wilmer won the 800 in a school-record 2:27.08, followed by Bailey (2:28.59) and Rock Mid Peninsula eighth-grader Daisy Englund (2:35.71).
Wilmer also helped the winning 800 (1:54.99) and 1,600 relays.
Jamie Hendrickson provided the Lakes with firsts in high jump at 5-1 and by helping the winning 400 (54.10) and 1,600 relays. Sienna Anderson added a victory in the 100 hurdles (17.55).
Pickford’s Clare Cottle won pole vault (8-6), and Cedarville’s Mackenzie Barr won discus (103-10), edging Ontonagon’s Holly Wardynski by 6½ inches.
In addition to her victory in the 400, Bailey was runner-up in the 800 (2:28.59) and fourth in the 200 (28.22).
“I think that was my best time (in the 400),” said Bailey, who plans to play volleyball at Lake Superior State University this fall. “I had a pretty good start and tried to get toward the front. I had never seen (Lyons) before, but she was a good motivator. It’s always a challenge when you come here because you never know what you’re going to get.”
BR-H sophomore Hailee Demers took the 100 dash (13.30) and 300 hurdles (49.46) and placed second in the 200 (27.68). Junior teammate Jaelin Lockwood was second in the 100 (13.59) and long jump (15-4).
Dollar Bay senior Cami Daavettila won the 1,600 (5:41.78), and Chassell’s Lela Rautiola took the 3,200 (12:47.38).
“I was pleased with my time in the 1,600,” said Daavettila. “The weather was perfect for the mile and I got a PR (personal record). There was a little bit of a breeze, but nothing to hold you back.”
Engadine junior Ashtyn Buss took first in shot put (36-3) and fourth in discus (95-7).
PHOTOS: (Top) Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Lily Kumpula takes off during her leg of the 400 relay. (Middle) DeTour’s Sarah Bailey completes her championship dash in the 400. (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."
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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).]