If you see Janae Hudson doing the “Cotton Eye Joe” dance near a shot put or discus pit this spring, don’t be surprised.
But do pay attention, because a Marysville school record may be about to fall.
“I used to get really stressed out before meets, and it would definitely impact my throws,” the Marysville junior said. “I thought that maybe I need a specific routine to not freak me out or anything, and I kind of have it with volleyball, as well. I like to just go off in my own space. When I’m in the hole, I like to kind of just dance around and get all the jitters out before I throw. It’s kind of like a line dance, something I can do in a single space and not bump into other people. I did it last year, and it started to work.”
Hudson, who placed third at the 2022 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in the discus, has already danced and thrown her way into the Marysville record books. She holds the school record in the discus with a throw of 135 feet, 7 inches. Her sights are now set on the shot put record of 40-10, which is about a foot and a half better than her personal best of 39-2¼.
“She’s such a competitor,” Marysville coach Brian Gwisdala said. “She’s already set high expectations for herself. Track is one of those sports where she’s got distances she wants to hit this year. And I think it’s the sign of a mature kid, even though she wants to finish first at states, her big thing right now is she wants that shot put record at the school. She threw 29-2¼ at Saginaw this year. She’s getting there.”
While Hudson showed potential as a freshman, qualifying for the Division 2 Finals and finishing 10th in the shot put, breaking school records certainly wasn’t the expectation at that point.
In fact, when she entered high school, she figured volleyball would be her main focus. While she still plays and is a major contributor for the Vikings volleyball program, throwing has emerged as the sport she wants to pursue collegiately.
“I was really nervous and timid to actually go to my first track practice,” she said. “But that’s when I fell in love with it. I wasn’t expecting to get this serious with it at the beginning of my freshman year.”
During her freshman year, Hudson began working with throwing coach Michael Hale of Kaizen Throws, and saw immediate results.
She continued to work with Hale through the offseason, and that combined with adding some strength – and a dance routine – helped her take off as a sophomore. In her second season, she added more than two feet to her shot put personal record, and nearly 30 in the discus.
“I think a huge part of it was that she kind of grew into her body,” Gwisdala said. “She’s always been a tall kid, and that coordination and everything caught up to her. I saw it with her in volleyball, too, how much she improved athletically. She really worked hard and put in the time. She throws during the indoor season in the winter. She’s got her private throwing coach that she goes to. All of those factors, and she had the determination and drive to go and do it.”
All of that has put Hudson in a strong position heading into her junior season, not only to further one school record and chase down another, but to improve upon her places at the Division 2 Finals.
Her personal-best discus throw would have tied for first at the 2022 Finals, while her personal best in the shot put would have placed fourth.
“I would love to go to states in both events, and to place first in both would be an ideal situation,” she said. “But if I could finish top three in both, I would walk out happy.”
Helping Hudson chase that ideal situation of winning a Finals title is having watched a teammate do it just two years ago, as Reese Powers won the 400 meters as a junior at the 2021 Division 2 Finals.
“That’s huge,” Gwisdala said. “Just the fact that it was somebody from our school. And it wasn’t someone that necessarily just did one thing, either. Reese and (all-state runner Hannah Fisher) both were multi-sport athletes. The other huge part, and I would say this about Janae right now, too, with Reese was just her work ethic. You would see it every day in practice.”
All of that resonated with Hudson.
“It was a wild moment,” she said. “She’s a junior in high school and can do that; I can do that, too. It would probably mean the world to me.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Marysville’s Janae Hudson unwinds while putting the shot during a meet. (Middle) Hudson prepares to let the discus fly. (Photos by Rodney Thomas/Thomas Sports Photography.)
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.)