Marquette Standouts Finish Stellar Run
By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com
June 4, 2016
KINGSFORD — The Marquette High School girls have dominated their competition throughout this track and field season.
That held true again Saturday as the Redettes captured their sixth consecutive Upper Peninsula Division 1 title with 169 points. Escanaba and Sault Ste. Marie shared runner-up honors with 61 apiece on a day during which rainy conditions eventually gave way to partly sunny skies at Flivver Field.
“This was a great day for our whole team,” said Marquette coach Natalie Messano. “I’m real proud of their effort. I was a little nervous at first about the weather, but the girls didn’t let it get to them. We have an excellent program and (former coach) John Peterson did a great job building it. It’s going to be hard to lose our seniors, but we have a lot of strong juniors coming up.”
The Redettes grabbed four of the six places in the 1600 and 3200-meter runs.
Senior Lindsey Rudden had a hand in four firsts, taking her fourth straight title in the 800 at two minutes, 16 seconds and 1,600 (5:03.31) and anchoring the winning 1,600 (4:05.4) and 3,200 (10:12.92) relays.
“I was a little slow today,” said Rudden, who set the U.P. 1,600 record at 4:55.28 two years ago as a sophomore. “It felt like I pushed hard. I’m pleased with the victories, but I’m definitely disappointed I didn’t break five (minutes) in the 1,600. Although, it’s still fun. A lot of our girls qualified, and I’m happy our team did so well.”
Senior Holly Blowers led off both relays and was runner-up in the 800 (2:22.69) and 1,600 (5:16.1).
“I think our handoffs went well, and we still have pretty solid times after losing Shayla (Huebner) to graduation last year,” said Blowers. “This is a real emotional day. It’s hard to believe it’s over.”
Marquette’s Izzie Peterson won the 100 (12.6), 200 (26.9), and helped the winning 400 relay (52.59) and runner-up 800 relay (1:49.28).
Junior Amber Huebner, also part of Marquette’s 1,600 and 3,200 relays, placed second in the 3,200 run (11:57.47) and third in the 1,600 (5:18.43).
Escanaba junior Jeny Brandt won discus at 108 feet, 10 inches. Negaunee’s Caylee Dempsey was runner-up (100-1), with Escanaba senior Haile Waters third (97-0).
Sault Ste. Marie senior Brenna James captured the 300 hurdles (47.11) and placed second in the 100 dash (13.03) and fourth in the 200 (27.55).
“My times improved a lot from last year,” said James. “My first 200 in the hurdles was solid, then I really had to fight through the last 100. I have to give credit to my opponents, too. That’s a tough race. Early in the meet, it was hard to stay warm with all the rain we were getting. We had to wear a lot of layers.”
James was followed by Marquette’s Jacquie Cammarata in 48 seconds flat and the Redettes’ Hannah Detmers (48.11) in the 300 hurdles.
Menominee senior Paiton Plutchak won the 100 hurdles (15.95), followed by Escanaba senior Sunny Martineau (16.42) and Cammarata (16.79).
“I felt pretty good,” said Plutchak, who finished with three straight victories in the 100s. “I hadn’t practiced all week because of my hip, but I felt the whole thing went well. My goal was to not hit any hurdles. I had kind of a mental block before the Regionals. I needed to get a few wins to get my confidence up.”
Kingsford’s Olivia Allen took the 400 (1:01.22), and helped the winning 800 relay (1:49.1) and runner-up 1,600 relay, which was clocked in a school-record 4:10.13.
PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette's Lindsey Rudden leads the pack during the 1,600 at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Menominee's Paiton Plutchak outpaces Escanaba senior Sunny Martineau (left) and Marquette’s Jacquie Cammarata in the 100 hurdles. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
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."
The 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."
Leon 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).]