SAULT STE. MARIE — Weather conditions in early April can sometimes be frightful in the Upper Peninsula.
On a day with snow showers falling outside, eight schools took advantage of an opportunity to compete in Friday’s indoor track & field meet at Lake Superior State University’s Norris Center.
“The first meet of the season is very important to me,” said Alpena senior Madi Szymanski, who plans to run cross country and track at Northern Michigan University. “This gives me a starting base and a better idea of where I’m at. I prefer to run outdoors, but I’m very grateful to be indoors today. Conditions are always perfect inside.”
Szymanski was a triple-winner in the LSSU Large School Yooper Invitational, taking the 800-meter run in 2 minutes, 28.26 seconds, the 1,600 (5:27.83) and helping the Wildcats take the 1,600 relay (4:44.39).
“I’ve been doing indoor meets during the winter,” she said. “I go to Saginaw Valley a lot and have been to Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, but this is my favorite 200-meter track. I always look forward to coming here. It’s real exciting and my adrenalin is very high. It’s always great to do well in the first races.”
This marked the first of just three indoor meets in the U.P. this season. Many U.P. schools were scheduled to compete in the Michigan Tech Keweenaw Classic on Tuesday in Houghton with another indoor event taking place April 21 at LSSU.
Both Alpena teams were crowned champions, and the two Manistique teams placed fourth.
Manistique junior Grant Mason won the boys 400 in a personal-best 56.88 seconds, and the girls opened with a victory in the 3,200 relay (11:34.36).
“I expected it to be a little harder on a 200 track, but ended up with my best time,” said Mason. “I had a pretty good start. It’s real important to get this meet in. It’s a lot warmer in here. Early-season meets aren’t very easy to find up here. We had some good competition up here today. The downstate schools are ahead of us because they get an opportunity to see some real good competition.”
The Emeralds finished three seconds ahead of the field in the girls 3,200 relay.
“We’re pretty happy with our time,” said sophomore Emma Jones, who led off that relay. “We still have snow on our track. We’ve been working on our handoffs inside which is not the same, especially on a 200-meter track. It feels like you’re going faster. It’s pretty important for us to get this meet in because we haven’t been outside. This is the first time many of us have been in our events this year. It was good to see different competition today. This is definitely pushing us to our new potential.”
Junior Kelsey Muth, who took the baton from Jones, had similar thoughts.
“It was an awesome feeling to win it,” she said. “We went into it not knowing what to expect. That was a real good starting point for us. Emma and I had a real good handoff, but overall we were a little shaky. Our athletic director (Nate Zaremba) has been scheduling meets (we) need to reach the next level. We’re excited about going downstate for the first time. We’re hoping for nice weather down there.”
Jones placed second in the 400 (1:10.14) and Muth was fourth (1:11.64) for the Emeralds, who resume in Friday’s Ram Scram at Harbor Springs.
“I think today was a good first showing,” said Emeralds’ coach Amy Nixon. “In the first meet of the year, you never know what to expect and we had some girls step up. Some of the new girls stepped into events which others couldn’t. We’re proud of them for being willing to do that. Now we know what the girls are capable of doing. It’s fun to compete again.”
The Manistique boys secured fourth place by taking third in the 1,600 relay (4:03.25).
“Overall, the meet went well,” said Emeralds boys coach Cody Kangas. “Some guys did some real good things, and Grant did a great job in the 400.”
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.
PHOTO Athletes took advantage of the opportunity to compete indoors at Friday’s Yooper Invitational at Lake Superior State University. (Photo by Robert Roos/Sault Ste. Marie Evening News.)
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.)