KINGSFORD — Ontonagon High School senior Paige Blake had just enough leg strength to finish the 400-meter dash at Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Division 3 Girls Track & Field Finals.
That was also just enough for Blake to retain her title as she fell across the finish line and edged Munising sophomore Kelsea Ackerman by one hundredth of a second.
Blake was clocked in 1 minute, 3.26 seconds. Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Laura Lyons placed third (1:03.62).
“I ran until I couldn’t run anymore,” said Blake. “My legs just couldn’t go anymore. I was going after the school record, but came up short. I’m glad I won, but I don’t really want to run a full 400 again.”
Blake’s effort was also an example of what the Gladiators needed to secure their first U.P. team title since 1974, when they were competing in Class C.
They scored 72 points, followed by defending champion Newberry with 65 and Munising 62.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our girls,” said Ontonagon coach Brian Amos. “Paige and Lori (Wardynski) have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for the past three years. We finally got some field events and relays and everything came together for us this year. I’m happy for Paige and Lori that they got to experience this. I’m also happy the other girls got to experience this. This is something they can build on.”
Wardynski set a U.P. meet record in the 300 hurdles in 47.27 seconds, topping the previous best (48.07) by Brooke Granquist of Powers North Central in 2009.
Wardynski also won the 300 hurdles as a sophomore two years ago and added titles in the 100-meter dash title (13.4) and high jump (4-10) this time.
“I got off to a pretty strong start in the 300s,” said Wardynski. “I knew I had a good chance to place, but I was surprised to get the U.P. record. I just told myself to go as hard as I could.”
Blake was runner-up in the 200 (28.09) and third in long jump (14-9).
Newberry senior Natalie Beaulieu repeated as champion in the 1,600 (5:24.54) and set the U.P. meet record in the 3,200, erasing the old mark (11:49.16) by Cedarville’s Emma Bohn a year ago. Beaulieu also took fourth in the 800 (2:30.22) and helped the Indians place fourth in the 3,200 relay (10:50.64).
“I didn’t want to start too fast in the 3,200,” said Beaulieu. “I also didn’t want to start too slow. I was able to find a happy medium and my rhythm. I knew I wanted to do it before I went to college (Central Michigan University). This means a lot to me. It’s kind of a relief to get this done, in a way.”
Bohn was runner-up in the 1,600 (5:33.52) and 3,200 (12:03.82) this time.
Junior teammate Taylor Bryant and Brimley senior Kerri Chartrand tied for first in the 100 hurdles (16.73). Bryant was runner-up in the 300s (48.64) and fourth in the 100 dash (13.58).
“I was a little nervous at first,” said Bryant. “The track was slippery in warm-ups. I tried to adjust my steps and do the best I could. My start in the 100-meter dash was better than I thought it would be. I knew the fast heat was behind us and just went for time.”
The Indians added a first in the 400 relay (54.4) and fourth in the 3,200 relay (10:50.04).
“Karley (Honeyssette) got us off to a good start, and our handoffs went real good,” said junior Megan Grigg. “That very important in the 400 relay. If your handoffs aren’t on, you’re not going to place.
Munising won the 1,600 (4:24.02) and 3,200 relays (10:22.9).
Lake Linden Hubbell’s Stephanie Harry took pole vault (7-6) and Lyons captured long jump (15-3).
Pickford senior Heidi Hagen took first in the 800 (2:28.05) and helped the winning 800 relay (1:55.37).
“We were ranked first by a half-second, which is a good motivator,” said Hagen. “This is so exciting. Our handoffs were real smooth. The track was slippery (due to the rain), although it’s not that bad with spikes.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Ontonagon's Paige Blake rounds a curve during her winning 400 run Saturday. (Middle) Newberry's Natalie Beaulieu repeated and set a meet record in the 3,200. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
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.)