Ontonagon's Team Effort Nets 3 Relay Wins, 3rd Team Title in 6 Seasons

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

June 5, 2022

KINGSFORD — The Ontonagon girls withstood the challenge of retaining the Upper Peninsula Division 3 track & field title here Saturday, winning for the second straight year with 74 points.

Stephenson edged Munising 62-60 for the runner-up trophy.

“When you come to the Finals, everybody can do something special,” said Ontonagon coach Brian Amos. “This is our third title in six years. We have a bunch of good kids who do what’s asked of them. We’re super proud of the girls. That’s a team effort.”

The Gladiators won the 400-meter relay in 52.84 seconds, 800 (1:52.68) and 1,600 (4:28.41) on a sunny and warm day.

“We’re pretty excited right now,” said senior Kiirsa Kolpack, who anchored the 400 relay. “Our handoffs and chemistry are real good. Being in sync with each other makes a big difference. We had a breeze kind of drifting on the south end of the field, which kind of cooled us off a little.”

Ontonagon’s Lilly McIntyre won the 100-meter dash in 13.7 seconds, edging Dollar Bay’s Ashlea Datto by one tenth of a second.

Kolpack was runner-up in the 100 hurdles (17.36), and Violet Amos placed second in the 400 (1:01.58).

Stephenson’s Jada Kuntze took high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches, and second in the 800 (2:34.99), and Daisy Grinsteiner added a first in pole vault (8-0).

Rock Mid Peninsula track“This is our first U.P. trophy since 1993,” said Stephenson coach Kate Kuntze. “This is a young team, and these girls like winning. Hopefully, we can take the next step next year. We have work to do.”

Munising opened with a victory in the 3,200 relay (11:23.25), and Monique Brisson took second in the 3,200 (13:15.72).

Purdue Northwest recruit and Rock Mid Peninsula senior Landry Koski gained her third straight 1,600 title in a season-best 5:31.74 and added firsts in the 800 (2:32.19) and 3,200 (12:52.73).

“The weather was nice all day, then it got hot in the 3,200,” she said. “The wind definitely swirled throughout the day – although, I’m real happy with how today turned out. The 400 could have been a little better. That’s not really my race, but it’s good speedwork. I’ll take the three firsts any day, and my times were real good. This is a good stepping stone for collegiate running. Running is such a mind game. It can be so stressful.”

Lake Linden-Hubbell freshman Emily Jokela won the 400 in a school-record 1:00.45 and 300 hurdles (47.78), and placed third in the 100 (13.78).

Teammate Abi Codere added a first in the 100 hurdles (17.19) and second in pole vault (8-0).

Brimley’s Grace Hill took shot put (34-10) and second in disc (101-1).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Ontonagon's Alli Bobula approaches the finish line first in the 800 relay Saturday. Other members of the winning team were Lilly McIntrye, Kiirsa Kolpack, and Senia Kolpack. (Middle) Rock Mid-Peninsula's Landry Koski celebrates crossing the finish line just ahead of Rudyard's Tristin Smith in the 1,600. (Click for more from Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.)

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."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe 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."

East Kentwood soccerLeon 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).]