BYRON — In a bare-bones weight room that appears more like a garage to passers-by, Sarah Marvin is working to finish her quest to rewrite the record books in the shot put for girls track & field.
Not just in the Lower Peninsula’s Division 3, in which she won Finals titles in both the shot put and discus in 2019, but for all divisions.
Marvin, who has a track scholarship to the University of Michigan, has had 11 throws this season beyond the LPD3 Finals record of 46 feet, 9 inches, set by Becky Breish of Edwardsburg in 2001.
She twice has surpassed the all-Finals record of 49 feet, 11.75 inches set by Division 1’s Corinne Jemison of East Kentwood in 2018 – the first time during last summer’s National Scholastic Athletic Foundation’s virtual meet, and then again May 26 at a meet in Comstock Park with a throw of 50 feet, 9 inches.
“Throwing is so technical,” she said, “and you have those days where you’re just clicking and firing on all cylinders. I think I’ll be close to being there soon in these few meets I have left.”
It starts with the Division 3 Finals on Saturday at Jenison.
Marvin and her fraternal twin sister, Becky (a strong thrower in her own right) are familiar with the Jenison layout, which was the site of the 2019 Division 3 Finals.
“We’ll get there Friday,” Marvin said. “We like to go to the throwing rings and feel it out, get a good dinner, then stay at a hotel so we don’t have to ride for an hour and a half in a car (before the competition).”
Throwing is a sport that comes naturally to the Marvins, both for the twins, their sister Jessica and their mother, Theresa, who competed at Michigan after winning two state titles in the discus for Byron during the 1990s.
“Their older sister (Jessica) and brother T.J.) did AAU, which isn’t as big here, but is in the Detroit area,” Theresa Marvin said. “We started a club and had kids that weren’t ours on the team as well. It was a lot of fun for us. Other families were doing T-ball and soccer, and we were doing track.”
The Marvins installed a pair of throwing rings on their property about a decade ago, and the twins picked it up from there. The family took its vacations at AAU national meets, driving all over the country.
Both of the Marvin twins (Sarah is two minutes older, Becky an inch taller) played multiple sports at Byron. Becky also ran cross country and played basketball and wrestled, while Sarah was a starting offensive lineman on the Byron JV football team and did some wrestling in addition to playing basketball, where she was a three-time Owosso Argus-Press Player of the Year.
After her junior year, Sarah gave up football and wrestling.
“I had switched my (shot put) technique to rotational, and I needed more time, more months that I could devote to throwing,” she said. “I tried to train and throw during football season, but I was just too physically tired to do it the way you need to do it. I decided to put my effort and time into throwing.”
As she mentioned, Marvin had switched her throwing from a glide technique, where one effectively pushes the shot in the throw, to the rotational, where the shot comes out like it is slung.
“I’m very comfortable with it now,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to getting more comfortable with it. It’s so technique-heavy. You have these guys who have been doing it for more than a decade, and I’ve been doing it for two years. The more you do it, the more you develop the muscle memory.”
Certainly the results have been there. All of Marvin’s throws this season have been well beyond the 44-11.5 she threw to win at the 2019 Finals.
“It’s helped me make a big improvement,” she said. “But we knew that it would.”
But Sarah Marvin also has a key element in her makeup that has spurred her success.
Asked what she thinks makes her sister stand out, Becky Marvin said, “her work ethic, for sure. She’s always working harder than everyone else. She’ll go out and lift without me sometimes. She has talent, for sure, but her drive makes her stand out.”
During last year’s pandemic, the Marvin sisters were without a place to work out after Byron High School closed.
“We got online and on Facebook Marketplace and put the word out,” Theresa Marvin said. “People gave us stuff, and we made an at-home weight room in our barn.”
Their sister Jessica, who competes at Northwood University, came home along with her boyfriend, who like Jessica is a thrower at Northwood. They all worked out.
“It was a houseful,” said Theresa, a mother of six.
Theresa Marvin realized early on that her twins would need more specialized coaching than what she could provide, and for the last couple of years they have worked with Dane Miller, a private coach based in Fleetwood, Pa.
“I do still coach them at meets, and I try to facilitate what Dane’s trying to do,” said Marvin, who also coached her daughters on the Byron varsity girls basketball team the last two years.
Speaking of basketball, the extension of the season into late March cut into the Marvins’ training time for track.
“Her strength levels go down in basketball from all the running,” Theresa Marvin said of Sarah. “It took her a good 4-6 weeks to get back to speed, and I don’t think she’s there yet. Last year, she didn’t peak until mid-July.”
The Marvin sisters, whom Byron girls track coach Byron Schartzer calls “The Wonder Twins,” feed off each other in competition.
“Just to have another person to hold you accountable to train with definitely helps,” Sarah said.
And while they’re serious about their sport, they also keep things light-hearted.
“If I throw big, she throws big, sometimes,” Becky said. “I made fun of her at the Comstock Park meet; I fouled on my first throw and made the second.
“Then she fouled on her first throw and made the second, and I’m like, ‘OK, you can just copy me, then,’” she added, chuckling. “But if one of us hits a big throw, we try to drive off that.”
While there are other amateur meets later this month, the Marvins have their attention set on Saturday’s Finals.
In the shot put, Sarah Marvin has the top throw this season entering the week, but Becky Marvin is in the top 10, seventh in a pack where spots 3-8 are within 21 inches.
Sarah also is ranked No. 1 in the discus, while Becky is ranked sixth.
“They’re both having great seasons,” Theresa Marvin said. “But you never know. You just can’t take anything for granted. We focus on being healthy, being ready to peak, and then being ready to go on that day.”
And then, before they know it, the twins will be separated. Sarah is going to Michigan to study movement science with an eye toward, perhaps, a medical career.
Becky is going to Tiffin University, where she plans to compete on the track team while pursuing a business degree.
“It’s like 2½ hours from Byron,” Becky said. “Ann Arbor’s on the way home, so if I’m driving by and she wants to come home, I’ll pick her up.”
It’s family, after all, that Sarah cherishes the most about her athletic career.
“I can’t imagine where I would have been in my sports, or my success in sports, without my family,” she said. “In basketball, it was my older sister playing. My three brothers are all wrestlers. I have huge family support and a huge extended family that comes to all my games. They’ve all grown up playing sports, and it’s just fun.”
PHOTOS: Byron senior Sarah Marvin shows her shot put form; she’s the reigning Division 3 champion in the event. (Middle) Sarah and twin sister Becky Marvin are workout partners and make up one of the top throwing pairs in the state again this spring. (Photos by Tim Robinson.)
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
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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).]