KINGSFORD — A season of steady improvement paid off for the Ontonagon girls track & field team Saturday as the Gladiators earned their first Upper Peninsula Division 3 Finals title in five years with 73 points.
They were followed by Rudyard with 64 and Stephenson with 54½.
“It was great,” said coach Brian Amos. “It was one of those seasons which was full of surprises. The girls just kept getting better. Surprisingly, in our first meet on a cold and rainy day in Ironwood (Kraemer Invitational), they started looking smooth. Their performance speaks for itself.”
Sophomore Lilly McIntyre won the 100-meter dash in a personal-best 13.7 seconds and classmate Makennah Uotila took long jump with a personal-best leap of 16 feet on a hot and humid day.
“I had a pretty good start in the 100,” said McIntyre. “The warm weather helped. I didn’t have to spend so much time getting warmed up.
“This is a big confidence builder. We had the best handoffs we had all year (in the 800 relay).
The Gladiators won that race in one minute, 55.25 seconds and the 1,600 relay (4:33.36).
Uotila added runner-up finishes in the 400 and 800 with personal-best times of 1:04.41 and 2:32.81, respectively.
“Those are tough races, especially with short recovery times in between,” she said. “I just try to pace myself for all events. Sixteen feet in long jump was my goal all season. I’m very excited.”
Rudyard sophomore Tristin Smith took the 400 (1:04) and was runner-up in the 1,600 (5:40.69).
“I try to start fast and stride it out,” said Smith. “It’s really good to have this competition, and it feels great to work hard all year and take a first up here. I had the second-fastest qualifying time. I knew I had a chance.”
Emma Bogacki added a first for the Bulldogs in discus (100-5).
Stephenson’s lone first came in pole vault where Daisy Grinsteiner cleared nine feet.
Mid Peninsula senior Daisy Englund won the 800 in a season-best 2:30.75 and was runner-up in the 100 (13.93).
“It’s such a hot day, and we never had competition like this,” said Englund, who will run at Ferris State next season. “I didn’t want to get boxed in. With 200 meters to go, I knew I had to kick it in. It was a relief to win the 800.”
Junior teammate Landry Koski, seeded eighth going into the 1,600, came from behind to win in a season-best 5:39.89, followed by Smith, Bessemer sophomore Natalie Stone (5:42.82) and Ewen-Trout Creek senior Elise Besonen (5:44.82).
“This is my favorite race,” she said. “I knew I had to beat two girls to place. I knew about Gwen Kangas (of Chassell), but I didn’t know about the girl from Bessemer. When I saw they were in the 5:40s, I knew I had to pick it up. After the first 800 I felt I had a chance, and with the Rudyard girl right next to me (during the final lap), I knew I had to kick it in.”
Kangas anchored the winning 3,200 relay, which was clocked in 11:09.64, and won the open 3,200 (12:58.8) followed by Besonen (13:14.38) and Koski (13:22.85).
“I just stayed positive,” she said. “Doing cross country helps quite a bit with all that running and conditioning. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re hydrated. We knew it was coming. You just have to prepare for this.”
Lake Linden-Hubbell took the 400 relay (54.7), edging Brimley by three tenths of a second, and freshman Abi Codere won the 100 hurdles in a personal-best 17.16.
“I think I had a good start,” said Codere. “It felt like my form was good. This is a big confidence builder and a good learning experience. I never expected this, but after one of our home meets, our coach told me I may have a chance.”
Pickford junior Lucy Bennin took the 200 (28.66), edging North Dickinson junior Ashton Hord by 11 hundredths of a second, and Lizzie Storey captured the 300 hurdles (51.59).
“I had a pretty good start in the 200 and really kicked it in at the end,” said Bennin. “I poured a glass of water on myself before the start, and it felt real good. That gave me a little bit of a cool down before the race. After looking at the forecast, we knew it’d be hot and it helped me prepare mentally.”
Ellie Delene provided Baraga with a first in high jump (4-11) and Jaylyne Lindemann won shot put (32-8), tossing an inch further than Republic-Michigamme’s Leah McCracken.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ontonagon's Nicole Lukkari anchors the 1,600 relay Saturday. (Middle) Chassell's Gwen Kangas, right, is followed by Ewen-Trout Creek's Elise Besonen in the 3,200. (Below) Lake Linden-Hubbell's Abi Codere, middle, wins the 100 hurdles. (Photos by Cara Kamps. Click to see more at 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.)