Ontonagon Girls Win 1st Title Since 1974
By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com
June 5, 2016
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.)
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."
The 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."
Leon 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
Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14: Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
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).]