Shepherd sophomore – Track & Field
Midway through her high school career, Gall already is nearly the fastest cross country runner in Shepherd history, and she’s also on the cusp of rewriting the Bluejays’ track & field record book as well. She achieved her first all-time best on April 19, running the 800 meters is 2:14.83 on her home track to break the former school record, set in 1980, by more than a second – earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”
Shepherd’s girls won both duals that day, against Alma and Standish-Sterling, and Gall also won the 1,600 (5:36.64), 3,200 (13:20.37) and was part of the winning 1,600 relay (4:15.16) with seniors Rachel Mathers, Kylie Hutchinson and Katelyn Hutchinson. Two days later, on Friday, Gall again won the 800 1,600 and as part of the 1,600 and 3,200 relays at Ithaca’s Blue and Gold Invitational, posting a 5:15.28 in the individual 1,600. She’s won every race she’s competed in this season but two, taking second in a 400 and also as part of the 1,600 relay on Wednesday in a league quad meet.
Gall finished third and then fifth, respectively, at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals for cross country her first two seasons, and her personal-best time of 17:50 in the fall is only two seconds shy of Nora Green’s school record run from 1978. Gall finished LP Division 3 Track & Field Finals runner-up in the 3,200 last spring, running 10:52 to approach another school record run by Green (10:48). Gall also is the third-fastest 1,600 runner in school history with a best of 5:05, seven seconds off the record set in 2013 by Kaylie Rhynard – and both track milestones could be hers by the end of this spring. Last week's success gave Gall some ideas about how the 800 might fit into her plans – the time she ran to break the record would’ve put her second in that race at the Division 3 Finals last season. Gall also carries a 4.0 grade-point average, serves on her school’s student council and is active in a number of other school and church activities.
Coach Carey Hammel said: “She is a super kid who works extremely hard and is also a great student. She is very determined to be the best she can be and is a huge running fan. Getting to coach an athlete like that for two seasons (Hammel also coaches girls cross country) is very special because you always know what you are going to get out of her. She is also an incredible teammate in both sports and encourages both the boys and girls on our team to be their best. This year she is on the 3,200 relay with three seniors, and they are very close and she is very proud of what they are able to accomplish in that relay.”
Performance Point: “Beforehand, I was like OK, I want to go after this. I’ll run as hard as possible,” Gall said. “I started out the first lap a little slower than I normally do in 800s, and I was pretty nervous going into the second lap. But with 300 to go, I heard a voice, like God almost, that said, ‘Hey, you can do this. Just push.’ From there, I gave everything I had. I planned on starting faster; I don’t know if my legs were tight that first lap. I was nervous. I knew at a lap that I was slow, and when I finished I was a little shocked.”
Plenty of motivation: “I think that in the offseason, and even last year coming so close in the top five in cross country, being so close in track, it motivates me to work as hard as possible to get (to first). I’m gunning for one, a title, and I’ll work as hard as possible. My teammates motivate me so much. They’re always there right beside me, helping me with everything and the ups and downs of running.”
Following faith: “I believe I don’t do any of this by myself. I believe God is right there helping me though this. I wouldn’t be running, I wouldn’t be doing all of the things I’m doing if not for the gifts given me when I was born.”
Finding inspiration: “I'm one who loves motivational quotes, motivational videos, all of that. I decided one day to try to write a motivational essay for myself; I wanted to see if I could do it. I started writing those, and I actually really like it, just to read, by myself. The 2015 cross season, (I thought) maybe I’ll share this for the team. On overnights I’d always print one off, share it with the team, give them extra motivation to get through races. It was pretty nerve-wracking the first time – I thought maybe they wouldn’t be OK with a freshman doing that. I just took the chance, and I think my teammates like them.”
Mentoring and mentored: “I know a lot of the middle schoolers. They are speedy, and they’re just great people, and I just want them to become the best they can be. Because as a middle schooler, I had as my coach B.J. Tomanek. As a sixth grader, I didn’t know what to run, and he took me in. He expects me to do my best all the time, and he continues to motivate me today. We still run together, we talk, and he’s super motivational along with (coaches Rick) Cahoon and Hammel. They are strong people in my life I took up to, and (coach Wyatt) LeClear gets me through in tough times.”
- 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 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) Shepherd's Amber Gall surges during one of her races last week against Alma and Standish-Sterling. (Middle) Gall rounds a curve during a race at Friday's Ithaca Invitational. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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).]