Mid Peninsula Pair Push Each Other to More Finals Success

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

June 22, 2021

ST. NICHOLAS — Daisy Englund and Landry Koski have been training partners for the past six years.

Things will be different this fall, however, as Englund begins her collegiate running career at Ferris State University and Koski enters her senior year at Rock Mid Peninsula High School.

“It’s definitely going to be different without Daisy here,” said Koski. “It’s definitely going to be a change, and it was really a big change without (2020 grads) Kennedy (Englund) and Chevy (Koski). Although, it’s a good feeling to have the team. That just makes everything better. It helps you mentally because it’s nice to have friends to experience that with you.”

Englund was in seventh grade when she and Koski became teammates.

“I ran cross country in sixth grade,” said Englund. “My seventh grade year is when we started running together. We pushed each other and made each other better, and Chevy and Kennedy weren’t all that far behind us. I didn’t start out the best, but when I got into eighth grade I was on varsity and my times improved.”

Koski also recalls what the early days were like.

“I just loved running,” she said. “In my first year of cross country the races were only 1½  miles, but it was hard to stay with Kennedy. I didn’t know how to pace myself, then I kind of learned as I went on. I didn’t know what I was capable of doing.”

Both have come a long way, which was evident during the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Finals on June 5 at Kingsford.

Englund was crowned 800-meter champion for the first time in two minutes, 30.75 seconds, but had won other races at the Finals.

“You only get to experience the U.P. Finals a few times in your life, and I think it makes you hard-working,” she said. “It felt great to finally get the 800 title. I honestly didn’t think I’d get it. The Ontonagon girl (sophomore Makennah Uotila) was a lot taller than me.

Rock Mid Peninsula track“It didn’t feel like those were my last high school races, and it still doesn’t feel that way. It’s so stressful. You know what kind of ability you have, but it can be disappointing if you don’t perform the way you want.”

Koski was seeded eighth going into the 1,600, but came from behind to win it in a season-best 5:39.89 on a very hot and humid day.

“It always gets so nerve-wracking in the end,” said Koski. “You don’t know what everybody else has left. In my freshman year I won the 1,600 and 3,200. I didn’t think I’d win those because Danika Walters (of Superior Central) was real good. You never know what’s going to happen. At the Finals, you see so many schools you don’t see during the regular season, especially this year without having the (Superior) Dome meets.”

Englund was crowned UPD3 cross country champion in 2018 and 2020, with Koski gaining top honors in 2019.

“It was always our goal to get Mid Pen’s name out there,” said Englund. “I always liked running against the bigger schools.”

“Many people think ‘you’re just Division 3,’” Koski added. “It makes you want to go out there and prove yourself.”

Englund was awaiting a training schedule from Ferris State as she prepares for her first collegiate season.

“It’s going to be different,” she said. “I’m not going to have Landry down there. I’ve been running by myself, although we’ll probably be running together this summer. August 22 is moving-in day and practices start in late August. It will be more intense training. We’ll probably run about 15-20 miles a week.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS: (Top) Rock Mid Peninsula’s Daisy Englund leads the 800 on the way to winning the race during the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Finals on June 5 at Kingsford High School. (Middle) Teammate Landry Koski races one of her three individual events during the championship meet. (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."

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).]