Michell Makes History Again in Last Final

June 1, 2013

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.

Click for full results.

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.)

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."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe 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."

East Kentwood soccerLeon 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).]