Oak Park Climbs Podium Again in LPD1

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

June 2, 2018

EAST KENTWOOD – Aasia Laurencin crossed the finish line at East Kentwood High School multiple times Saturday, but the sweetest crossing for the Oak Park sophomore came after a race in which she didn’t compete.

Laurencin was the first to greet teammate Dorriann Coleman following the 1,600-meter relay which clinched a Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship for the Knights, their fourth in five years.

“It’s been a long outdoor season, and we finally got the win we’ve been looking for,” Laurencin said. “Last year we didn’t get it, but now it’s all excitement, all joyful tears.”

Oak Park finished with 66 points to claim the title, with Rockford close behind at 59.5. East Kentwood was third with 52 points, followed by Lake Orion with 48 and Northville with 41.

The Knights thrived on the track, especially in the relays, despite losing a runner early in the meet and coming to East Kentwood with just 10. They won the 3,200 relay and 1,600 relay with the team of Coleman, Makayla Gates, Jayla Jones and Mariyah Archibald, and placed second in the 400 relay. Oak Park looked to be on its way to competing for first place in the 800 relay before Jada Roundtree suffered an injury on the anchor leg.

“We really, really showed some grit and toughness,” Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles said. “We really showed that we can win if we don’t have the perfect meet.”

Laurencin and Brooks were the lone Knights to win individual titles, as Laurencin won the 200 with a time of 24.64, and Brooks won the 400 in 55.12.

“I wanted to run faster, but it was OK,” said Laurencin, who was second in the 100 hurdles and a member of both sprint relays. “I’m satisfied. I’m really satisfied with today.”

Grace Stark of White Lake Lakeland denied Laurencin a title in the 100 hurdles, and she did it in record-breaking fashion. Stark finished in 13.12 seconds, a Finals record for all divisions. One event later, she doubled her title count, winning the 100 meters in 11.74 seconds.

“I really wanted it last year and I missed out, and I was really excited I got to do it here today,” said Stark, who was runner-up in both events a year ago. “I was just hoping to win it. Last year kind of hurt me, and I was upset, but I wanted redemption.”

While Stark and Laurencin had a duel early on, Rockford’s Ericka VanderLende and Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Anne Forsyth had their own in the distance events.

VanderLende won the 1,600 with a personal best time of 4:45.17, while Forsyth won the 3,200 with a time of 10:08.07, an all-division Finals record.

In each race, the other finished second, and in each race, it was VanderLende who took control of the pace. For the 1,600, it worked to perfection.

“I didn’t really want to pay attention to what other people around me were doing,” VanderLende said. “I just wanted to stick to the race plan I knew I was capable of. I normally even split or negative split, so I wasn’t really too surprised that if I took it out hard I could hold it.”

The middle distance events supplied equal drama, as a strong 800-meter field provided a strong race. Waterford Mott’s Katie Osika came out on top, winning in 2:08.88, using a late kick to defeat Hudsonville’s Melanie Helder, who was second at 2:09.28.

“Of course you’ve got that fast time on your mind,” Osika said. “I’m running in New Balance Nationals, so I want to get a good time, but I had to put winning first, like, ‘You have to win state champ first.’ It was definitely tough; it wasn’t easy. This was probably one of the most competitive races I’ve been in all year.”

Lake Orion’s Melissa Symons was used to competition, as Troy’s Lauren Felcher had been pushing her all year in the 300 hurdles. But on the final day of the season, it was Symons, who didn’t run the event a year ago because of injury, who came out on top. As she finished, Symons had a look of shock and excitement on her face, and immediately looked to Felcher, who finished second, and gave her a hug.

“She’s amazing, she’s been my biggest competitor this entire year, and so we were just pushing each other so well throughout this entire year,” Symons said. “I know she’s going to go out strong, so I can just stick with her and then it’s just a battle of the wills at the end to see who can go. I know how she runs, so I think it really does help.”

East Kentwood’s Corrine Jemison set a meet record in the shot put, winning the event with a throw of 49 feet, 11¾ inches. Lansing Waverly’s Malin Smith won the discus with an all-division Finals record throw of 163-9.

Waterford Kettering’s Jessica Mercier won the pole vault with a height of 12-10. Novi’s Hannah Hood-Blaxill won the high jump with a height of 5-6. Northville’s Clare McNamara won the long jump with a distance of 18-7½.

Detroit Renaissance (Makylah Slappy, Mizan Thomas, Paige Chapman and Donae Adams) won the 800 relay in 1:39.91. Adams, Chapman and Thomas joined Imani Jackson to win the 400 relay in 47.42.

Click for full results.

VIDEO: Waterford Mott's Katie Osika kicks to win the 800.

PHOTOS: (Top) Oak Park’s Aasia Laurencin, left, surges ahead of Lansing Waverly’s Priscilla Trainor and the rest of the championship heat in the 200 on Saturday. (Middle) Lakeland’s Grace Stark, middle, pulls away for the 100-meter championship. (Click for more 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

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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).]