Performance: Farwell's Lillian Albaugh

May 3, 2017

Lillian Albaugh
Farwell junior – Track & Field

Sports run deep in Albaugh’s family, and she added another achievement to the legacy April 26 with a school record-breaking performance. Albaugh broke Farwell’s shot put record that had stood since 1993 with a throw of 38 feet, 10½ inches and also won the discus in a meet against Harrison to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Albaugh’s record toss bested Shane Haas’ 24-year-old throw by 6½ inches and would’ve placed Albaugh third at last season’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals, where she finished seventh in shot put. Albaugh tossed the discus 113-3 against Harrison, a career best and 2 feet, three inches short of another 1993 record set by Haas, now Shane Barnett.

While shot put is her favorite spring athletic endeavor, Albaugh admits her family is half track & field and half softball, and she’s also hitting .400 on the diamond this spring after helping Farwell to a Division 3 District title last season. Albaugh’s mom Jill is a former Shepherd throws record-holder and an assistant track & field coach for Farwell, while her aunt Marge Albaugh was the LP Class C shot put champion for Bullock Creek in 1982. Lillian's sister Libby Albaugh was a softball standout at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart and made the MHSAA record book with 22 doubles in 2012, and her dad Bill directs the summer softball Mt. Pleasant Drillers program. Lillian admits, “My whole life has been sports, sports sports.” But that’s not all; she's a strong student, plays in the marching and concert bands, and participates in 4-H and was Isabella County Fair princess for 2015. She's interested in studying for a career in education and potentially coaching or becoming an athletic director.  

Coach Matt Horodyski said: “Lillian is well-liked by all competitors and coaches. She is a hard worker with a great attitude. She takes care of business in the classroom as well as on the field. She encourages her teammates and classmates alike to do their best. We are all very proud of what Lillian has accomplished, and look forward to see how much further she can take it.”

Performance Point: “I said I’m going to do this, I’m going to give it my all, it feels like I’m going to break some records today," Albaugh said of her record-breaking meet. "When I heard I was in the hole (third in line to throw) ... I turned around and got away from everyone. I prayed really quick, said God, this is my moment in time, I’ve worked so hard, and this is my moment now to shine. All of a sudden I was up, I got in the circle, looked where I was throwing and said OK, I’m going to challenge myself. This is the day. I brought it down into position, I was going into my glide and I don’t know why but I closed my eyes. I felt myself go so quick … I grunted really loud … and I saw the shot put fly so fast. I’ve never seen my throw go so far or fast. … I got out the back (of the circle), and I’m waiting and waiting, and I started crying. All of a sudden I hear ‘38 feet, 10 and a half inches,’ and I started bawling. For two and half years I’ve wanted that record, and I knew sometime someday I’d throw 38 feet.”

Thanks Mom: “I’ve been throwing since I was in seventh grade, and I’ve never had a throwing coach besides one, (middle school coach) Chris Kelly. My mom just helps me some more with it, fills in the blanks with what I need to do more. She helps me a lot.”

Happy to hand off: “(Barnett) is my good friend’s mother. She had the middle school record too and I beat her record. Her daughter (Soyer Barnett) plays softball with me, and I always talk with her mom. She was just so excited for me (Wednesday). When she first saw me she gave me a hug and said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’”

Be like Michelle: “One day my mom said to look up YouTube videos (of throwers), and I did. I typed in ‘girls shot put Olympics’ because I always wanted to know about Olympic shot putters, and Michelle Carter (2016 gold medalist and U.S. record holder) popped up. When I was watching her throws, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I want to be her so much. I want to be like her and throw that far.’ I watched her at the Rio Olympics (last) year … everything was so right. How people were talking on there, ‘Look at her epic throw.’ I’m like, ‘Yes.’”

Busy is best, but shot put is #1: “I like to keep myself busy, just having fun with my friends and enjoying life and trying new things that I always wanted to try. … Shot put … I just like throwing a heavy ball and seeing how far it goes, seeing if I can accomplish more goals in life.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 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 2016-17 honorees:
April 27: Amber Gall, Shepherd track & field  Read
April 20: Sloane Teske, East Grand Rapids tennis Read
March 30: Romeo Weems, New Haven basketball Read
March 23: Jaycie Burger and Maddie Clark, Pittsford basketball Read
March 16: Camden Murphy, Novi swimming & diving Read
March 9: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central wrestling Read
March 2: Joey Mangner, Chelsea swimming & diving Read
Feb. 23: Isabelle Nguyen, Grosse Pointe North gymnastics – Read
Feb. 16: Dakota Hurbis, Saline swimming & diving – Read
Feb. 2: Foster Loyer, Clarkston basketball Read
Jan. 26: Nick Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling – Read
Jan. 19: Eileene Naniseni, Mancelona basketball Read
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Farwell's Lillian Albaugh watches her shot put land during last week's meet against Harrison. (Middle) Albaugh also takes plenty of swings for the softball team. (Top photo courtesy of the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun, middle photo courtesy of Farwell High School.)

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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).]