By Geoff Mott
Special to Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – Finishing her prep career as the most decorated athlete in MHSAA Girls Track and Field Finals history, the only thing missing for Reed City senior Sami Michell was a trophy.
She managed to knock that off the list late at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 meet at Comstock Park High School.
A year after becoming just the second female to win four MHSAA titles at one meet, Michell won four events again, claiming championships in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles, the 200 dash and long jump.
For those scoring at home, Michell has 12 MHSAA titles, destroying the Lower Peninsula girls record of 10 individual titles for a career.
She scored 40 points for her school and stood alone on the podium to accept the massive runner-up trophy. If rules would have allowed Michell to compete in a couple more events, she might have edged Pewamo-Westphalia, which won its first girls MHSAA team title since a Division 4 crown in 2010. Pewamo-Westphalia finished with 54 points.
“I’m taking this home with me … at least until my open house,” Michell said. “I might look like a one-person team up here, but it doesn’t feel like it. I got a lot of support from the boys team and everybody else.
“It’s so amazing right now. I’ve always wanted a trophy in volleyball or track, and now I have one.”
Michell missed her chance at a trophy in volleyball last fall. She completely tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, had reconstructive surgery in mid-September and spent six months rehabbing the injury so she could defend her track titles.
“I don’t know how I did it again,” Michell wondered after the races. “This has been the worst year with the knee surgery and losing out on volleyball and all the indoor track meets. Then we had awful weather, and it was hard to get ready this spring.
“But I never gave up hope on winning four more titles. Even when the injury happened, I never said I was done. The toughest part of this was the physical part. Mentally it was depressing. (But) I have supportive parents, family and friends help me work through it.”
A year after breaking three MHSAA meet records, Michell was able to win a fourth-straight title in the 100 hurdles with a 14.04-second finish – a full second ahead of the runner-up. After setting the all-Finals record in the 300 hurdles last season, Michell won the title again with a 45.18 finish. She won a third title in the long jump, clearing 17 feet, 3¼ inches.
Her last title of the day came in the 200 dash, an event Michell wasn’t as confident about winning. She was even with Buchanan’s Brianna Dinneen – the 100 dash champion (12.22) – with 50 meters left. She outkicked Dinneen down the stretch, winning the race in 24.98.
“You usually don’t run your best in the last event because you’re tired, but I just felt smooth through the race,” said Michell, who’ll run collegiately at the University of Michigan next year. “I’m so happy with this finish.”
While Michell admitted she never dreamed of 12 MHSAA titles, two runner-up finishes and a total of 16 Finals medals, she was determined to be successful at this stage at an early age.
“I’ve wanted to have this type of finish since I was in sixth grade,” said Michell, a 4.0 grade-point average student who is undecided on a major. “I still have the pink shoes from my freshman year. You always remember your first state title.”
Pewamo-Westphalia picked up big points with wins in the 400 and 1,600 relays and a runner-up finish in the 800 relay. Kenzie Weber, who won the pole vault by clearing 11-foot-7, joined Sasha Platte, Jenna Thelen and senior Tori Klein in winning the 400 relay in 50.85.
“It’s just incredible,” said Weber, a junior. “Our coach did a great job planning our workouts and getting ready for this meet.”
Pewamo-Westphalia coach Scott Werner is in his 13th year coaching the boys and girls and was pleased his girls awarded him his third MHSAA title as coach. Werner, who won a boys Division 4 title in 2008, knew his program was good enough to make the jump to Division 3 this year and compete.
“We have a strong, deep program,” Werner said. “We knew Frankenmuth and Benzie (Central) would be good, and they have some top performers and our kids stepped up to that level. It’s been a tough season with rain and cold during meets, and I think that made our team a little tougher.”
Senior Erica Nurenberg ran the first leg of the Pirates’ title run in the 1,600 relay, helping the team finish in 4:03.56.
“We kept getting rain-outs all year, so once we got to today and it was a nice day, it was like there was nothing to worry about,” Nurenberg said. “This is really exciting, especially to get a state title in the relay. We were really nervous, and we finished seventh last year. But coach said he trusted us to do well, and he was right.”
Manistee sophomore Annie Fuller set the bar even higher for next year after breaking the 800 run Division 3 meet record last spring. She broke her own record while winning the 800 again Saturday, finishing the race in 2:11.77. Fuller also won the 1,600 with a 4:56.11.
“I ran a real good race last week, and the plan was to peak here,” Fuller said. “It was real fun to break my old record, and now I have to shoot for it next year.”
Bridgeport junior Ce’aira Richardson shook off a knee injury to claim the 400 dash title in 56.92. It was her second-best time of the season.
“That’s amazing by itself,” Richardson said. “To have that knee injury and still be able to peak … it brings up a lot of emotions. I’m so proud of myself today.”
Charlevoix sophomore Amber Way also broke an LP Division 3 Finals record, winning the 3,200 run in 10:48.48. Her personal record was 10:52.
“I had a little doubt about winning it coming in,” said Way, who beat runner-up Raquel Serna of St. Louis by 10 seconds. “I knew I could give it a good fight. My first mile time was really early, and I slowed down a bit and I wish I hadn’t.
“I was able to finish strong. It’s an amazing day.”
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port junior Kayla Deering won back-to-back MHSAA titles in the shot put, winning the event this time with a 42-foot-11½ finish. Yet, she stood at the award stand with a little disappointment.
“I really wanted to clear 43 feet,” said Deering, who finished fifth in the event as a freshman. “In practice I’ve hit 44 feet. I’m not surprised that I won, but I was real surprised to match my personal best right on the dot.
“Where I’m from, nobody can go over 40 feet. I still come here expecting to win. I don’t change the way I compete when I get here. But now I have more motivation to at least clear 43 feet.”
Adrian Madison’s Ashley Bussing easily won the discus with a toss of 135 feet, while Durand’s Marissa Johnson won the high jump, clearing 5-5.
After a third-place finish at last year’s Finals in the 3,200 relay, Grandville Calvin Christian came back on a mission with three returning runners.
Seniors Ashley Jourdan and Raechel Broek, along with sophomore Emma Doorn, welcomed junior Emma Augustyn to the squad, and they captured the 3,200 relay in 9:38.02. Charlevoix finished runner-up with a 9:44.25.
“She was our secret weapon,” Doorn said of Augustyn.
Augustyn, who ran the third leg, is a sprinter by trade and had never run 800 meters until this year.
“I knew we had potential to win this,” Augustyn said. “We all run cross country together, so we’re real close.”
Frankenmuth, which had won three team titles in four seasons, finished fourth overall with 35.5 points. Sydney Bronner, Rachel Crompton, Sarah Beulla and Angie Ritter won the 800 relay for the Eagles with a 1:45.16 finish.
PHOTO: Reed City's Sami Michell leaps a hurdle on the way to one of her four MHSAA championships Saturday at Comstock Park. (Photo by Jackie Gomez. Click to see more photo coverage from RunMichigan.com.)
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.)