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.
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.)
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.)