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.
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.)
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.)