ADRIAN – Depth is a big thing at Adrian Madison and for its successful girls track & field team.
The Trojans return nearly all of its top performers from last year's runner-up finish in the Lower Peninsula Division 3 meet – when they finished just 3.5 points behind champion Ithaca.
They boast a deep coaching staff that features five event coaches in addition to head coach Josh Powers and strength and conditioning coach Bill Wilharms.
And Adrian Madison is deep in versatility. Many of the track athletes competed on successful teams in cross country, basketball, volleyball and cheerleading – and some of them are doing the dual-sport thing this spring by playing softball as well.
Unlike some coaches at various schools around the state, Powers embraces the dual-sport status of his student-athletes.
“We've had dual-sports here as long as we've had sports here,” Powers said. “It's all about the kids. It happens at many, many schools, and you have to have a little patience and flexibility within the coaches, but it's whatever is best for the kids.
“If the kids can handle it and get their grades, if they are good enough of an athlete, they should be allowed to do both.”
Instead of looking at it like he is sharing his athletes with other coaches, Powers sees the benefits of dual-sport athletes.
“The speed that we are working on should transfer over to a softball player,” he said. “They're running the bases, and we're helping them get faster. And they are learning things over there that should benefit us, like how to keep cool and how to be prepared and focused as you're waiting on a pitch. That should transfer over, too.”
Whatever the reason, it has worked. Madison has won 10 consecutive conference championships in girls track, and last year its depth showed with MHSAA Finals championships in two relay events. The Trojans bagged a third event title with freshman Kaiya Wall in the 100 hurdles.
With all of those champions back except one member of a relay team, there is plenty of optimism at Madison this spring.
“We have some areas to improve on, but we have great depth from the 100, 200, 400 and up to 800 with good field events, and they are quality kids, too,” Powers said. “But our division gets a whole lot tougher this year with the addition of New Lothrop and Saugatuck. I think they were third and fourth in Division 4 last year, and basically they have everybody back this year, so it's going to be a whole lot tougher.”
Leadership and laurels
Every season, Powers has meetings with his captains, who are selected by the athletes on the team. And there is a list of values that are expected of the team captains.
“We have 10 values on a wall, and we go through that with the whole team,” Powers said. “It is what we're looking for and what the captain should be. It's not just who's the coolest or the prettiest. We discuss that with the kids, and we have expectations of the culture and the values that we want to express to people.”
This season, seniors Corie Marion, Soneida Rodriguez, Megan Rosales and Delaney Stersic were elected captains.
“We talk to the captains and go through leadership roles,” Powers said. “We talk with them about it all the time; how to lead by example and how to bring others alongside instead of barking out orders and to be a line of communication between the team and the coaches. We go over that stuff all the time.
“Our captains are great kids, both athletically and academically.”
Stersic said the transition has been pretty smooth.
“We encourage the team and have little pep talks,” she said. “It's really fun because I remember when I was a freshmen and looked up to the captains, so I think they are looking up to us and thinking they can be a captain one day. It's nice.”
Rosales, Stersic and Sierra Hernandez ran on both MHSAA championship relays last spring: the 800 and 1,600, and that trio ran on the 1,600 relay team that won the Division 3 title in 2015. Benedetta Vianello, an exchange student last school year, also ran on the 800, and she is the only champion from last season that is not back. Chelsea Short also ran on the winning 1,600 relay team.
Rosales also was second in the 300 hurdles last year for the second year in a row, and she won the 400 Finals title as a sophomore in 2015.
“Two years ago, she did back-to-back 400 and 300 hurdles,” Powers said. “Last year, she had a little injury and only ran three events in the state meet. She's back to full strength now, and we're hoping she can make that double again.”
Rosales is one of the many track athletes who compete in other sports.
“I do cross country and basketball,” she said. “Cross country helps me a lot to get in shape and build up my endurance for track. It really helps for the 400 and the 800.”
The other reigning Finals champion for Madison is Wall, who won the 100 hurdles and finished second in the 300 hurdles in 2016.
“She didn't run the high hurdles in middle school, so it was a whole learning experience for her to learn how to three-step and how to do the process of learning the high hurdles,' Powers said. “She picked it up pretty quickly, and she had a great time for a freshman at the state meet.
“It was a great race. She was about fourth or fifth about halfway through the race and came on at the end and had a perfect race.”
Wall said it was sheer will power that pushed her to the Finals win.
“I was just thinking in my head that this was the event that I could win, so I just had to do it,” she said. “It was pretty incredible. It was so overwhelming because at the beginning of the race I was behind. When I crossed the finish line I thought I was second, but they announced that I won, so that was pretty cool.”
Wall also finished second in the high jump.
“She is very consistent in the high jump,” Powers said. “She's not one who is up and down.”
The string of success is always a good thing at a school, but Powers pointed out that it does come with a certain downside.
“I don't think success always breeds success,” he said. “Sometimes it scares some kids away. They think they're not as good as the No. 1 – “I'll never be as good as that person, so I'll never help the team” – is how they think.
“In reality, when we go to the team state or the league meet, we need the top three, and we need that depth. There are kids in the high school that used to run but don't run anymore. It's too tough. They can't handle not being No. 1. That hurts us a little bit.”
Wall is a perfect example. She ended up winning that Finals titles as a freshman, yet she said she felt a little intimidated joining such a successful team.
“I didn't know I was going to be as successful as I was,” she said. “I was a little intimidated because Megan was all-state every year and Delaney was so good. There was a lot of pressure, but when I started doing good, it just came naturally.
“It's so nice that we're all connected. We're kind of a small school, so we always see each other in the hallways and we know everyone, so it's like a family.”
Carousel of coaches
There is no shortage of instruction at Madison. While it isn't the only school to have as many event coaches, it is not an ordinary situation for most Division 3 schools, either.
“It's a huge benefit,” Powers said of the deep coaching staff, “and it is something that not a lot of schools do. Some of our coaches are part-time guys and we split some salaries, but it's a huge benefit.
“It means I can plan and scheme and work with my sprinters, and I don't have to be running around trying to take care of everybody else. We have every area covered.”
The event coaches are Sherri Gamble (high jump and hurdles), Jim Sterling (distance), Larry VanValkenburg (pole vault) and Al Zubke (throws), and Keith Covey (assistant throws). Powers works with the sprinters.
“Most of those coaches have been with us for 10 years or more, and this is my 18th year and 20th overall as I had two years as an assistant,” Powers added.
The athletes seem to love it.
“Coach Gamble did high jump in high school and might have done hurdles, and it's nice to get a second opinion,” Wall said. “Coach P is awesome, and he knows so much, but it's nice to have her for a second coach.”
Stersic said some of the biggest advantages of having so many coaches come during the meets.
“Coach P is always so busy during meets running things, and he doesn't always have time to talk to us, so we have other coaches we can go to when we have questions,” Stersic said. “They pretty much tell us what Coach P would tell us, so that's nice.”
With a bevy of talent and a deep stable of coaches, Madison is primed to make another run at that elusive MHSAA Finals championship.
“It fueled our fire,” Stersic said of last season’s close miss. “We're working hard this year, and we definitely want to win the title.
“I remember the feeling when they said we got second. I knew we were good, but I thought we could have done better, so it definitely helped us to make us work harder.”
Powers is confident in his team, but he certainly isn't making predictions.
“We don't put the cart before the horse,” he said. “We don't think about the state meet because we can't control it. There might be a girl that comes out and high jumps 6 feet, and there are girls that we don't know about. There are freshmen who are elite talents, and there are other divisions.
“We don't worry about that. We are going to control what we can control and work hard and take one day at a time.”
But there is one thing he will boast without hesitation, and that is the type of character shown by his student-athletes. He also coaches the boys team, and he mixes the two together.
“Our girls are a separate team, and the boys are a separate team, but we're one team,” he said. “There are a lot of schools that separate the boys and girls and they never interact, and coaches coach different. We don't do that here. We're one team, but we're separate teams.”
Powers also said those separate teams can feed off each other.
“When you have two good teams, it works out really well,” he said. “But when you have one good team and one that is struggling, they will typically follow in the leadership values of the successful team.
“This is a great academic school. We've had team academic all-state the past two years for the boys and girls. They are great kids who are hard-working, and they respect the game. They respect the sport of track and field, and they try to represent not just our school but our conference and our county. They understand the big picture.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kaiya Wall leads the pack during a hurdles race. (Middle) Megan Rosales, during a cross country race in the fall. (Photos courtesy of the Adrian Daily Telegram.)
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.)