Performance: East Kentwood's Corinne Jemison
May 25, 2018
East Kentwood senior – Track & Field
Jemison, the reigning Lower Peninsula Division 1 champion in discus and runner-up in shot put, earned the opportunity to compete for those titles again with a pair of Regional championships May 18 at Lansing Waverly while also earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” Jemison won discus by 16 feet with a throw of 151-9, and shot put by two inches with a personal record 46-10½.
In both events, Jemison also finished just ahead of Waverly’s Malin Smith, a top-three placer in LP Division 2 in 2017 and owner of the longest shot put in the state (48-1) this season. Jemison has the longest discus throw – 158-11 – and they will see each other again at the June 2 LPD1 Finals at her home track. Jemison has surpassed both of her best throws from last season, when she won the discus with a 151-0 and threw a season-best 40-9 in the shot put at the 2017 MHSAA championship meet as well. She’s finished first every time she’s thrown this spring but once, when she finished second in discus to a thrower from Ohio in early April. East Kentwood as a team won last week’s Regional by 100 points and should contend for the Finals championship again after coming in third a year ago.
The 6-foot-3 Jemison is capping an outstanding three-sport career at East Kentwood, where she played four years of varsity volleyball and basketball as well. She earned Division 1 all-state honorable mention in volleyball in the fall and made the Class A all-state second team in basketball this winter. She has graduated with a 3.2 grade-point average and will continue her volleyball career at Miami University of Ohio, where she’ll study kinesiology and physical therapy – and hopes to pick up a second sport when she’s a fifth-year senior. In taking her athletic career to the next level, she’ll also be continuing to follow in the footsteps of her parents, Erica Westbrooks-Jemison and Darin Jemison, who both played basketball collegiately at Louisiana Tech.
Coach Stephanie Stephenson said: “Corinne is an exceptionally gifted athlete. She has chosen volleyball as her college sport, but she could have been a force in college basketball or could have gone on to compete at the highest levels of track & field in college and beyond. Her physical gifts are truly unparalleled. She has really been dialed in this season at practice. Her hard work has obviously paid off in her incredible performances. She is also a very fun person to have on the team. She brings joy and laughter wherever she goes. We will miss her next year, but know that she will have many successes in her future.”
Performance Point: “It was kind’ve scary, especially going against (Smith),” Jemison said of the Regional. “Seeing what her PR (personal record) was and being seeded second in shot, I was kinda nervous. (But) I was excited, especially when I heard that obviously she’s the real deal. I’m always up for a challenge. … I learned that I could shock myself. I didn’t think I was going to PR by that much (in the shot put).”
A natural, but with work: “It took a lot of practice. I spent a lot of time with my coach, Coach Mak (John Makinen), and I spent a lot time with Coach (Tyler) Pettit, and they just really (emphasized) the basics with me. For a while, my first year, I didn’t even touch an implement. It was all footwork. Sophomore year, I was picking up things more.”
Three-sport standout: “Obviously volleyball is my favorite sport, but track and basketball are neck and neck. As a junior, I wasn’t going to play (basketball); I was going to try to focus on travel volleyball in the winter. But I was like, ‘Mmmm … I miss it too much.’ So then I went back. … I don’t know how I balanced (three sports). I don’t know how I made it this far, doing homework in the car, staying up late night to study. But I enjoyed it though.”
Falcon pride: “I enjoy being a part of the track team at EK. It’s a really big deal at our school. I think it’s one of our best sports. It’s really incredible walking through the halls, hearing people like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s in track.’ Especially with our track jackets on, everybody just stops and stares.”
Listen to Mom and Dad: “(Their experiences) helped me a lot when I was younger. … Both my parents played in college, so when they (could) help you with sports, I was like ‘I should listen, because they know what they're talking about.’ They've really helped me on my athletic journey thus far.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2017-18 honorees:
May 17: Reagan Wisser, Richland Gull Lake soccer - Read
May 10: Clayton Sayen, Houghton track & field - Read
May 3: Autumn Roberts, Traverse City Central tennis - Read
April 26: Thomas Robinson, Wyoming Lee track & field - Read
March 29: Carlos Johnson, Benton Harbor basketball - Read
March 22: Shine Strickland-Gills, Saginaw Heritage basketball - Read
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City West golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) East Kentwood's Corinne Jemison begins her windup for a discus throw. (Middle) Jemison stands atop the awards podium at last year's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Top photo courtesy of the East Kentwood athletic department; bottom photo by RunMichigan.com.)
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).]