Many Do Their Parts to Drive Lakes 3-Peat

June 1, 2019

By Adam Niemi
Special for Second Half

KINGSFORD – Lake Linden-Hubbell cruised to its third straight MHSAA Division 3 UP Finals championship Saturday.

The Lakes scored 112 points, well ahead of runner-up Felch North Dickinson's 62.

"It's just unbelievable. We knew where we were on paper; we had the most points from our seeding. We know that that never works out," Lake Linden-Hubbell head coach Gary Guisfredi said. "We talked to the girls about how important it was to work for our personal bests, which we got a lot of those today. We also talked about how important it is to, if we're seeded fifth, to get to fourth and bump up. We had that today. We had multiple girls who were not seeded one through six, came out of other heats and actually placed. It really was just an amazing day."

Rock Mid-Peninsula was third (56), followed by Brimley (45) and Stephenson (42) to round out the top five.

The Lakes' third straight title came on the strength of gritty determination and hard work, embodied by Sienna Anderson's comeback from an ACL injury a year ago. She took second in the 100 hurdles behind Brimley's Hayley Gamberdella.

The Lakes took five firsts including wins in the 400 meter and 1,600-meter relays. Mariah Willmer won the 800 run. Jamie Hendrickson won the high jump, and Camaryn Crouch won the pole vault.

Lake Linden-Hubbell's biggest calling card was getting multiple girls piling points in the same event. Three Lakes took the top three places and 24 points in the pole vault, led by Crouch. It was around then that the Lakes padded the lead.

"All of a sudden we went from close, to not so close anymore," Guisfredi said. "I'm just really, really blessed with this group. I'm so happy for them because they've just worked so hard. All the kids work hard, but this has been a fun group."

Masyn Alexa's big day helped North Dickinson's small team to a runner-up finish.

The Nordics sent just six girls to the UP Finals. Lake Linden-Hubbell had 16.

"We really competed well today. Hats off to Lake Linden. They had a great day," North Dickinson head coach Mike Roell said. "We got beat by a really good track team today, but we beat a lot of good track teams to come in second here today. We're really proud of our kids. All year we've been working hard, and it paid off today. I can't say enough. Masyn Alexa broke two school records in the 200 and 400 dashes. She kind of carried us through this thing. We had a lot of young girls that worked their tails off and scraped up enough points to get runner-up. We're really proud of that."

Alexa, a junior, won and set a school record in the 400 with a time of 1:00.86. She held the previous record from last year.

"I've been working to get that record for a long time,” she said. “I ran high 1:01 three different times last year and once again this year. In practice two days ago I was three hundredths of a second away from getting it. I was hoping today I could get it, and I ended up getting it. My coach was at the 200 mark, marking my time as I came across. Then I knew what I was at so I could finish strong.

"I wasn't sure if I had it or not. I knew I was close. I heard all the cheers as I went across. I didn't know whether I had it or not. When I looked, my mom was nodding so I knew I had it."

Alexa also set a new record in the 200, improved by 13 hundredths of a second.

Alexa barely edged Stephenson's Amanda Starzynski to win the 200, by nine hundredths of a second. She was also the fourth leg of the 400 relay that took second behind Lake Linden-Hubbell.

The Nordics also took second in the 800 and 1,600 relays. Hannah Clark placed fourth in the pole vault. Briana Smith was third in the long jump. Skye Ledzian was third in shot put and fifth in discus.

Starzynski leaned forward while crossing the finish line to edge Alexa in the 100 dash by a hundredth of a second. She also anchored the Eagles' 400 relay team that took fifth, and won the long jump.

Baraga's Jaylyn Lindemann won the shot put at 31 feet, 3.5 inches.

Click for full results

PHOTOS: (Top) Rock Mid-Peninsula's Camryn Croadsell, left, and Lake Linden-Hubbell's Joslyn Perala charge toward the finish in the 400 relay. (Middle) North Dickinson's Sophie Mattson runs the 3,200. (Photos by Cara Kamps.) 

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).]