ROCKFORD – For the fourth time in five seasons Saturday, Oak Park’s girls captured the Lower Peninsula Division 1 team title – this time with a meet-best 80 points at Rockford High School.
Last season’s champion Detroit Renaissance was second with 58 points, while Ann Arbor Pioneer was third at 56.
The Knights – runners-up a year ago – won again mainly thanks to their dominance in the hurdles. Senior Nonah Waldron won the 100 and 300 hurdles, but also Morgan Roundtree was third in the 100 (13.86) and second in the 300 (41.54) and Carrie VanNoy was fourth in both the 100 (14.18) and 300 (44.11).
Waldon said the team’s success was all about pushing each other the best they could in practice every day.
“It takes maturity to understand that you all can be great together,” Waldron said. “It took a lot of love for each other to be the best we can be.”
The Knights also were second in the 400 relay (47.71) and 800 relay (1:38.21), and third in the 1,600 relay (3:55.27).
“I think that dealing with losing and some adversity helps you grow,” Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles said. “I think the kids used the experience from last year to catapult them this year. We know it’s a points game. We know there are no style points in team championships. We spread the kids out to do what we needed to do. We’re not a depth team, but a quality team. They showed out, and I’m happy.”
Waldron won the 100 hurdles in a time of 13.56 before really putting on a show in the 300 hurdles. She won that event in a time of 40.37, which was the second-fast time in that event in the nation thus far this year. Waldron, who will run in college at USC, also won both hurdles events two years ago and won the 100 hurdles last year, but had a mishap that cost her last year’s title in the 300.
“Last year, I fell and tore my ankle,” she said. “That did motivate (me) a lot more than before. It made me want it more.”
If it wasn’t evident that Renaissance sophomore Jayla Dace might be the state’s next big sprinting star already, she established that on the biggest stage.
Dace won the 100-meter dash in a time of 11.90 and was a part of winning 400 and 800 relay teams. Dace also took third in the 200-meter dash in a time of 24.56.
“The starting gun is a horn, so I’m not really used to that,” Dace said of her strategy in the 100. “I had to really adapt quickly and to make sure I wasn’t the last person to get out of the blocks. Once you see people in the 100 ahead of you, it’s over. I just had to make sure when I started the race that I really didn’t see anybody.”
In the relays, Dace ran the second leg in the 400 and the first leg in the 800.
“I’m just happy we were able to execute,” Dace said.
Saturday was quite an inauguration into the pressure of a high school state meet for West Bloomfield freshman Kamryn Tatum. But she performed like a veteran, winning the 400 in a time of 55.74 and the 200 in a time of 24.10.
“I’ve been at big meets so I know how to deal with quite a bit of pressure, but I was still nervous because it was my first high school (Finals),” Tatum said. “I just wanted to run until the end of the line.”
Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Rachel Forsyth won the 800 (2:09.96) and 1,600 (4:44.22), and East Lansing senior Anna Delgado finished first in the 3,200 (10:33.87). Forsyth also was part of Pioneer’s winning 3,200 relay (9:01.19), and Detroit Cass Tech won the 1,600 relay (3:52.82) by 12 hundredths of a second ahead of Renaissance.
Howell senior Sophie Daugard was first in shot put (41-7), Allen Park junior Abigail Russell first in discus (148-7½), and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central junior Brooke Bowers won pole vault (12-3). Farmington Hills Mercy junior Milena Chevallier won high jump (5-11), and Rockford senior Maya Anderson was champion in the long jump (18-6½). Flushing sophomore Ally Ingrahm competed in the adaptive 100 (42.81).
PHOTOS (Top) Oak Park's Nonah Waldron crosses the finish line first in the 100 hurdles Saturday. (Middle) Renaissance's Jayla Dace, right, charges toward the finish. (Below) West Bloomfield's Kamryn Tatum, far left, leads the 200. (Photos by Jamie McNinch [top photo] and Carter Sherline/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.)