White Lake Lakeland sophomore – Track & Field
The Eagles’ speedy standout has made significant strides – literally – this season, cutting more than a second off her fastest 100-meter hurdles time from 2016. How much she’s improved in that race gained the most notice at Friday’s Oakland County Championships when Stark won in 13.54 seconds, earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” If she can repeat that time at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals, she’ll break the all-Finals record set by Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Candice Davis in 2003.
Stark’s fastest 100 hurdles time as a freshman was 14.64 seconds, and she also ran 11.82 in the 100 dash. She approached the dash personal record as well at the Oakland County meet, winning in 11.86. She’s undefeated in both the 100 dash and 100 hurdles this season, plus won a Regional title in the 200 in a personal-record 24.99 seconds. Stark owns Lakeland’s records in the 100, 100 hurdles and 200 and as part of the 400 and 800 relays, the last two helped of course by a number of talented teammates, including a strong senior class finishing up this weekend.
After developing bursitis in a hip over the summer, Stark took six weeks off from training. She upped her workouts to near-normal in December and competed indoor before showing her advancing speed on the outdoor track. Also a gymnast during elementary and middle school, Stark focuses solely on track now but said her time on the mat helped her improve physically and become more disciplined. She carries a 3.9 grade-point average, showing discipline and determination in the classroom as well.
Coach John Kababik said: "Grace is the fastest sprinter that I have coached in 40 years of coaching Lakeland girls track. What makes her so good is not only the talent she was born with, but the single-minded determination to be the best. She runs track both in season and out as a club runner. Grace was very good as a freshman, but she has improved by a full second over the last year in the hurdles. For sprinters to improve that much is not common. She came into high school fast, but she’s getting better due to the fact she’s so conscious of her technique. She’s just driven. She wants to be better, and she’s so knowledgeable that she’ll talk to me about former Olympic champions and the techniques they used. Grace will continue to break records and improve because that is who she is: that is part of her personality."
Performance Point: “I think I had a better start that day,” Stark said of the Oakland County hurdles race. “I got out to the first hurdle, and actually I’ve been working on my arms – working on not raising over hurdles, but keeping them low and right in front of me. … I thought I’d pulled off a good time, but I didn’t know it was good enough for a state record. I hit the last hurdle, and I didn’t know how much that slowed me down.”
Give it up for Gail: “Gail Devers (a U.S. Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996), she did the 100 and she did the hurdles too, and she’s the big person I look up to. I’ve been told she has a similar body structure to me, so I thought, well, she’s my height, she did the hurdles and the dash, so she’s very similar to me. And she’s someone I’ve been told to watch by my coaches."
Mat time pays off: “(Gymnastics) made me stronger, my whole body. I did a lot of sprints toward the vault table, and I thought that helped. And the technique we had; it taught me a lot about discipline, helped me prevent injuries, all the workouts that we did.”
Fun to be fast: “I like the pressure of (racing). I like being out on the line, going off and being in the race. I like the thrill of it, really. Not knowing who is going to win, how the race is going to turn out. And giving all of yourself to something you care about is really fun.”
Difference in the details: “I take time with things, make sure they’re done right before I finish them. I think that reflects in both (athletics and academics) how I get stuff done. I’m very critical of myself. If it’s not done almost perfect, I find something to work on or something to fix.”
- 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:
May 25: Brendon Gouin, Gaylord golf – Read
May 18: Hannah Ducolon, Bay City All Saints softball – Read
May 11: Mason Phillips, Salem track & field – Read
May 4: Lillian Albaugh, Farwell track & field – Read
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
PHOTO: (Top) White Lake Lakeland's Grace Stark clears a hurdle during a race this season. (Middle) Stark begins to break away from the pack. (Action photos courtesy of the White Lake Lakeland athletic department; head shot courtesy of the Oakland Press.)
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.)