By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
HUDSONVILLE — It was supposed to be the Sekayi Bracey and Anna Jefferson show.
And, to a great extent, it was.
Bracey added two more victories to her resume, finishing her outstanding career at East Kentwood with 10 individual championships in MHSAA track and field meets.
Jefferson led Oak Park to a third straight Lower Peninsula Division 1 team championship and all-division MHSAA Finals records in the 800 and 400 relays. The Knights had 81.5 points, while runner-up Ann Arbor Pioneer had 64.
While Bracey and Jefferson added to their legacies, Northville senior Chloe Abbott upstaged both all-time great Michigan sprinters by beating each of them head-to-head in events they've previously won.
First, Abbott ran 53.10 seconds to take down Jefferson in the 400-meter dash, an event Jefferson won in 2013 and 2014 before taking second in 2015. Jefferson took third Saturday.
Less than an hour later, Abbott pulled off a double that is extremely difficult under most circumstances, but more so considering her primary competition was going for her fourth MHSAA championship in the event. Yet, Abbott charged from behind to win the 200 in 24.03, while Bracey finished fourth in a race that featured six times of 24.51 seconds or faster.
Not yet worn out from those two exhausting races, Abbott anchored Northville to victory in the 1,600 relay, the final event, giving her three victories in the last six races of the day. She was also on the fourth-place 800 relay team, giving her a hand in 35 of third-place Northville's 50 points.
The first thing Abbott did after winning the 400 was try to forget about it.
"I talked to my friends," she said. "I relaxed myself a little bit, kind of numbed myself to the 400 zone. If you think about it for a long time, you're like, 'Wow, I did so good in the 400.' You kind of get comfortable with it. I wanted to forget it and focus on the 200. I'm so glad I was able to pull out another win. I'm surprising myself today."
Abbott didn't have the MHSAA Finals pedigree of Bracey or Jefferson.
In 2013, when Bracey and Jefferson were winning championships as freshmen, Abbott was 27th in the 200, her only event that year. She took sixth in the 100 and ninth in the 200 as a sophomore, while helping Northville get two top-three finishes in relays. As a junior, she was third in the 400 and seventh in the 200, adding a third-place finish on the 1,600 relay.
Abbott didn't beat Jefferson in the 400 until last summer, after the high school season.
"Ever since then, I didn't want to get beat by her again," Abbott said. "So, I kept pushing and knew I could do it."
Abbott had never beaten Bracey until Saturday.
"I never even dreamed of beating Sekayi," Abbott said. "I knew how great she was. She hasn't had a lot of competition all season. I figured she was going to come out and push it today, because she finally has some competition. I was nervous about that, because she's very good. I wanted to make sure I got that out of my head, forget about the people and just focus on my race and what I can control."
Bracey lost in a 200 final only once in her four-year career before Saturday, that coming her freshman year when Rockford's Sammy Cuneo beat her in the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Division 1 team championship meet.
"I don't even know what happened," Bracey said. "I was so frustrated when they were all coming up on me. I'm like, 'What's going on?' I never had that in my life. It was confusing."
Abbott and Bracey will be teammates at Purdue University beginning next season.
"I told her, '1 and 2, that's it, because now we're a team,'" Abbott said. "I wanted her and me to show out for Purdue and show out for our schools."
Bracey won the 100 for the fourth straight year in 12.08 seconds. She won her third long jump title with a leap of 18 feet, 10 inches. She jumped only once in the Finals to preserve herself for her track events.
Jefferson helped Oak Park break two all-division Finals records set by Detroit Mumford in 2005 with times of 1:36.66 in the 800 relay and 46.28 in the 400 relay.
"That was special," Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles said. "We knew we could run fast in the 4x1 and 4x2. It was all about putting it on the track. Those times are the fastest times by far that have been run in the state. For those kids to run that fast, they were really rolling. Everything had paid off, the hard work."
The Knights got off to a shaky start, with Jefferson failing to qualify for the championship race in the 100 hurdles and the 3,200 relay team placing out of the scoring with a ninth-place finish.
"It started out tough, but the kids were resilient and they fought and they showed they could win a tight meet, as opposed to a blowout like the last couple of years," Jiles said.
Oak Park's individual champions were sophomore Dorriann Coleman, who took the 800 in 2:10.20, and senior Brianna Holloway, who set a meet record in the 300 hurdles with a time of 42.71.
Greenville junior Landon Kemp was another of the stars of the meet. The highlight of her day was breaking the all-division Finals record in the pole vault with a leap of 13 feet, 4 inches. She also took second in the long jump at 18-5.5 and fifth in the 100 hurdles in 14.87.
Other individual champions were Ann Arbor Pioneer's Britten Bowen in the 100 hurdles (14.08); Port Huron's Rachel Bonner in the 1,600 (4:49.29); Farmington's Maddy Trevisan in the 3,200 (10:35.85); Grand Blanc's Quiara Wheeler in the discus (136-2); Grosse Pointe South's Kayli Johnson in the shot put (44-7.75); and Macomb Dakota's Kayla Dobies in the high jump (5-7).
Ann Arbor Pioneer won the 3,200 relay in 8:56.52.
PHOTOS: (Top) Northville's Chloe Abbott takes the lead on the way to one of her two championships Saturday. (Middle) East Kentwood's Sekayi Bracey won the ninth and 10th individual Finals titles of her career. (Below) Oak Park's 800 relay was among significant contributors to the team's overall LP Division 1 championship. (Photos by Carter Sherline and John Brabbs/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.)