Madison Overcomes to Win Again, EGR Emerges to Add to Title Tradition

By Steve Vedder
Special for

June 4, 2022

ADA – After four years, Chaniya Madison knew she was out of tomorrows.

The Bridgeport sprinter accepted that the odds of capturing a rare third Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals title in the 100-meter dash depended largely on health. And if that was the case, Madison admitted a mysterious knee that has baffled doctors for four years would have much to say about the final result.

There were dark times because of the injury when Madison thought about giving in to the pain, calling it a career and moving on to something else.

But after Saturday's Finals at Forest Hills Eastern, Madison is glad she didn't.

She won her third championship in the 100 with a time of 12.07. The title comes after winning the event in both her freshman and junior seasons and caps four seasons of ignoring knee pain that nearly ended her career several times. It took nearly four years for doctors to determine Madison suffered from fluid of the knee, first in her left and then in her right knee. Madison said doctors tried since her freshman year to diagnose the problem, which they guessed could have been anything from arthritis to a torn muscle.

Even after the knee was finally drained, Madison said she considered herself only 85-percent healthy.

"I lost my will to participate, my mental health and my will to stick to it," Madison said. "But I took a few days off and decided I didn't care how much pain there was. This is a big relief. After being so tired, I just wanted to cry. This is so emotional for me."

Madison also helped the Bridgeport 800 relay finish first (1:44.14).

While Madison headed the individual winners, East Grand Rapids captured the team title with 66 points to 37.6 for runner-up Grand Rapids Christian. Zeeland East was third with 29 points, Hudsonville Unity Christian fourth with 23.6 and Allendale and New Boston Huron tied for fifth with 21.

The team title was the 146th state championship for the East Grand Rapids athletic program, but first for the girls track & field team. That's a fact coach Mike Dykstra said he carefully passed along to his athletes this season.

East Grand Rapids track"Maybe it's a bit overwhelming," Dykstra said of joining the Pioneers' lengthy history of state championships. "We thought this was a chance to make history, and they bought into it. It was definitely a goal of ours. We have that as a goal at the start of every year. This was a pretty special year."

The Pioneers collected individual titles by Camryn Bodine in the 800 (2:12.46) and Drew Muller in the 1,600 (4:51.41) while also winning the 3,200 relay, which included Muller and Bodine (9:25.89).

Ludington senior RyAnn Rohrer had a big day winning the shot put (41-11) and discus (135-07). Like Madison, Rohrer had to overcome injury to win her titles. She suffered a leg injury after just two meets this spring and had to focus on getting healthy for the next two months. Rohrer not only had to overcome injury, she added the discus this season after a string of prior successes in the shot.

“I had to do a lot of work to improve, a lot of reps," said Rohrer, whose parents were both involved in throwing events in college. "I got very frustrated, so this is a relief. I knew I could do it, but sometimes it takes time and a mental ability. I had goals as a senior in the discus and I thought, ‘Why not take on a new challenge?’ I'm open to new things.”

Warren Regina junior Ella Jenkins won the 300 hurdles (44.99) and nearly won the 100 hurdles, finishing second (14.97) to Chelsea sophomore Leila Wells (14.96).

Jenkins was a Finals qualifier in the 100 hurdles a year ago and was seeded first in both events this season.

"I thought I had a shot," Jenkins said of winning the 100. "I always want to get out strong and finish with what I have left. I compete to win; I have a passion to win."

Grand Rapids Christian senior Madelyn Frens won the 3,200 (10:44.24). She said comparing Saturday's title with winning last fall's Division 2 cross country championship is not a stretch. Both, she said, involved mental strength. She also competed in the 1,600, where she was second, and the 3,200 relay, which finished runner-up to EGR.

"I like cross country because it's a little harder mentally, and it's longer," she said. "But this is more competitive, and it feels like there is more pressure with expectations. You have to push yourself mentally through both."

Elizabeth Anderson of New Boston Huron was a double winner in the 200 (25.07) and 400 (56.28).

Other champions included Linden in the 400 relay (49.41) and Dearborn Divine Child in the 1,600 relay (4:00.83).

In the field events, Natalie Christnagel of Grosse Ile won the high jump (5-4), Jordyn Wright of Tecumseh took the pole vault (12-0) and Lindsay Girard of Marine City took first in the long jump (17-7).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Bridgeport's Chaniya Madison, middle, crosses the finish line first in the 100 meters Saturday at Forest Hills Eastern. (Middle) East Grand Rapids celebrates its first girls track & field Finals championship. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/Run Michigan.)

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).]