Lehman's Concord Run Nears Final Turn

April 29, 2016

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

CONCORD – Lindsey Lehman was just 4 years old when the family dog went on a full-speed run – with her trying to hold on – and she did a good job of keeping up with it.

“Those little legs kept up with that dog, and I thought then about how fast she ran across the yard,” Lehman’s mother, Kathy, remembered.

The speed was no mirage. It was an early flash of athletic ability. Lehman, a senior at Concord High School, won the Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship in the 200 last spring and was runner-up in the 100. But running fast isn’t Lehman’s only talent, and it doesn’t nearly tell her story or reflect what is ahead of her athletically.

Lehman has been a three-sport standout at Concord. She is a two-time Jackson Citizen Patriot Player of the Year in volleyball, and last week she signed to play basketball at nearby Spring Arbor University. And, obviously, she’s a track MHSAA Finals champion.

Despite the early flash of speed, track was not an initial priority for Lehman, whose mother is the volleyball coach at Concord. Her father Matt coached boys basketball and now is the principal at the K-8 school.

“Track was kind of an afterthought,” Matt Lehman said. “She really wasn’t that interested in softball, although she did a little bit growing up. It was mainly basketball and volleyball. We kind of convinced her – I was coaching middle school track – and I said, ‘Why don’t you give track a try? It’s a great sport to keep you in shape.’

“She found out she was good at it, and it might have been her best sport.”

Is track her best sport? Possibly. Is it her favorite sport? Well, her answer was, “whatever sport is in season.”

That is one reason why she had such a difficult decision to make about college. Some of the bigger schools like Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State looked at her for track. Other schools looked at her for volleyball.

Ultimately, Lehman chose basketball and Spring Arbor, a mere 5 miles from Concord.

“It was a really difficult decision,” she said. “I’ve played basketball and AAU my entire life, and my dad was a coach and I was a manager, and that was a reason why I wanted to play basketball.

“At Spring Arbor, my parents and the community can come watch me play on the college level. I was looking at the bigger cities, and that’s why I liked Grand Valley. I love Grand Rapids. But I decided to stay close to home.”

Family tradition

Athletics have been a part of Lindsey’s life practically from the day she was born. And her mother says even before that.

“She’s been on the court since I was pregnant with her,” Kathy Lehman said.

Kathy was a very good athlete at Concord some 30 years ago. But Lindsey hasn’t exactly duplicated her mother’s trail.

“It’s been kind of an honor to watch her follow me, but she’s taken her own path,” Kathy Lehman said. “I was a hitter in volleyball, she’s a setter. I was a forward in basketball, she’s a guard. She handles the ball 20 times better than I could ever dream of, and she’s much faster. I played softball, she ran track, so she has laid out her own path, but it’s been nice that it’s at the same school.

“She is the fifth or sixth generation of Snows (her mother’s maiden name) to graduate from Concord. It’s a tradition that is handed down. Her great-grandfather’s picture is hanging up on the wall, and he played basketball here.”

Lindsey was the rare setter who not only led her team in assists, she also led the team in kills. As a junior, she led the Yellow Jackets to the MHSAA Quarterfinals, and this season, with most of last year’s team absent due to graduation, the team still won its fifth consecutive Big Eight Conference title.

In fact, Lindsey said it was during volleyball season that she had what might have been her proudest moment, even including the championship in track.

“Last year in volleyball, when we beat Bronson,” she said of defeating the eventual Class C champion. “Bronson beat us twice that year, and we beat them the third time. That was a great feeling.

“I like achieving goals on my own, but as a team, it just feels better because you can share it with teammates and friends. This year, we were such a young team in volleyball, and we did so well, and it was a great feeling to watch everybody get better.”

It is hard to imagine that feeling being any better than how she must have felt last spring when she barely edged her good friend to win the Division 4 championship in the 200 after finishing a close second in the 100. The race was so close that the finish was not immediately posted.

“It seemed like it took forever,” Lindsey said. “The both of us really had no idea who had won.”

Lehman’s winning time was 25.92 seconds. Jennifer Davis of Reading also was clocked in 25.92. Lindsey’s mom watched as her daughter paced in anticipation of the announcement of the final result.

“She was going back and forth, and just watching the anticipation and then seeing her face when she realized that she had won was fantastic,” Kathy Lehman said. “Just seeing her face light up at that moment was my proudest moment.”

It had to be especially sweet for Lindsey as she had lost the 100 in a race that was nearly as close as the 200. She was timed in 12.42 seconds, while the MHSAA title went to Mason County Eastern’s Jordan Goodman, who tied the LP Division 4 meet record at 12.40.

This year, Lehman has a goal of not only repeating as champion in the 200 but adding the title in the 100.

“I want to do better than I did last year,” she said. “I probably think more about the race that I lost than the one I won. I don’t like losing.”

Maybe the thought of losing is what drives her. Her parents both spoke highly of her work ethic and desire to be the best she can be.

‘She has always been a hard worker, but she has a drive that she doesn’t like to lose, and if she loses one time, she doesn’t quit,” Kathy Lehman said. “She is going to keep working to get there. Her brother is probably her best incentive because she hated losing anything to her brother.

“Sometimes it would be knock-down, drag-outs, but eventually she would sometimes best her brother. It’s always been a good competition between them.”

Lindsey still has most of the track season ahead of her, but she knows that it might be her last time in the sport. She isn’t sure if she will try to run track as well as play basketball at Spring Arbor. It hasn’t been addressed with the school, and while it has not been ruled out, it certainly is not the priority.

She also has developed a new respect for referees. This past year, Lindsey has served as a referee for sixth-grade games, and it was an enlightening experience.

“Last year, I never said anything, but I got mad at the refs sometimes,” she said, “but this year, I don’t because I know what they are going through. I don’t like being yelled at.”

Close to home

Although she had plenty of options, Spring Arbor made an offer that was too good to pass up.

“She had a chance to go to a four-year university and not have to pay nearly the amount of money she would have had to pay to go to other universities,” Matt Lehman said. “It’s an opportunity for the rest of her life.

“If someone had said at the beginning of the process that she was going to end up at Spring Arbor to play basketball, I would have said, ‘I’m not sure that would happen.’ I wouldn’t have bet on that.”

The transition to college basketball won’t be easy, but Spring Arbor coach Ryan Frost believes she has what it takes to possibly make an impact as a freshman.

“That is up to her,” he said. “You never know how a kid is going to adjust. She will have some really good seniors to learn the college game from. We have a nice group coming back. We’re excited to get her in the mix for that.

“Athletically she’s a super athlete. She has a lot of skill. She’s a competitor. She fits the mold of what we look for in a guard. She will be very similar to some of the guards we have and our style of play. We press a lot and get up and down the floor. She sees the floor real well as a point guard, and she can score, too.”

And, while her parents would have supported any decision that she made, having her at college just 5 miles away will allow them to attend most of her games.

“It has gone by so fast,” Matt Lehman said. “This is my little girl, my little gym rat who was by my side at practices and huddles with me. She’s graduating from high school and going on to college to play basketball.

“She was a gym rat from the get-go, and more than any of my children when I was coaching basketball, she was in the gym with me. She always wanted to come to practice. She was just 4 or 5, but she always wanted to be a part of it. She always had a ball in her hand, and she did the same thing with Kathy in volleyball.”

Lindsey is a pretty solid student, too, as she has a 3.85 grade point average.

“She’s a 3.85 student because of her work ethic,” Matt Lehman said. “She has balanced everything. She likes sports, she’s a good student, and she’s a good kid. I don’t have to worry about her.

“She’s a smart aleck in a good way, and she’s an easy kid to get along with. She knows how to talk to other students and how to talk to adults. She’s very well-rounded. I’m just proud of her because she didn’t accomplish this because her mom was a coach and her dad was a coach and an administrator. She accomplished it because she has talent and she worked her tail off. That’s on her.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at chipmundy@comcast.net with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Concord's Lindsay Lehman runs her leg of a relay for her track team. (Middle) Lehman signs her letter of intent with Spring Arbor, surrounded by father Matt, mother Kathy and younger sister Bradie . (Photos courtesy of the Lehman family.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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).]