Petoskey Goes Distance Again for 1st Track Finals Win

June 6, 2021

ZEELAND – Petoskey went the distance again Saturday at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Girls Track & Field Finals.

After claiming the Division 2 cross country championship in the fall, with senior Emma Squires the individual race winner, the Northmen were bolstered by Squires again in winning their first Finals title on the track.

Squires won the 800 (2:14) and 1,600 (4:55.05), finished second in the 3,200 and anchored the winning 3,200 relay (9:27.33) at Zeeland, which added up to 38 of Petoskey’s total 48 points. Parma Western was second with 29.

The Northmen’s only other top-two Finals finish had come in 1992, when they finished Class B runners-up.

“It definitely was a really hot, windy day, definitely not the best conditions, but we just had to gut through it,” Squires said. “It was definitely the hardest race and meet ever this season.

Allegan track“The past two weeks definitely we’ve all been stressing about it. But we tried to sleep well and eat well and train well, and it definitely worked out well. We all peaked at the right time.”

Squires was joined the on the 3,200 relay by senior Sarah Liederbach and juniors Noel Vanderwall and Caroline Farley. Vanderwall also joined Squires finishing fourth in the 1,600 and sixth in the 3,200, and Farley was right there with a seventh in the 3,200 as well.

“The distance girls won the state championship in cross country, and that’s where all of our points came from today,” Petoskey coach Karen Starkey said. “Throughout the year they worked hard, and we had some not-so-good weather, but everybody just worked together and it was positive. … They have a lot of guts, desire, and they’re a good group of girls and we’re going to miss them.

“I was pretty confident they would perform (Saturday) as they did all season long. It’s unusual to have goose bumps on an 88-degree day. And that happened several times today.”

Bridgeport junior Chaniya Madison was among those who powered through as well, as she won the 100 (12.36) and 200 (25.96) to score 20 of third-place Bridgeport’s 26 points. She previously had won the 100 as a freshman in 2019. Allegan senior Hannah Antkoviak was another double champ, claiming the titles in the 100 hurdles (14.94) and 300 (44.69).

Bridgeport trackBig Rapids’ senior Erika Beistle also gave a two-title good-bye to her high school career with a 20-foot win in the discus (147-5) while claiming the shot put championship (42-10) as well.

Belding freshman Brook Simpson, meanwhile, debuted by setting the LPD2 meet record in the high jump at 5-10, besting the 5-9 jumps by Sara Jane Baker of Mattawan in 2001 and Christine Krellwitz of Big Rapids in 2004.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood senior Kaya Freeman won the long jump (17-4), and Grand Rapids West Catholic senior Katie Clifford won the pole vault (12-0). Simpson also finished second in the 400 to Marysville junior Reese Powers, who crossed first in that race in 57.71 seconds. Linden won the 400 relay (50.36), Hudsonville Unity Christian won the 800 relay (1:47.14) and Dearborn Divine Child won the 1,600 relay (4:04.32).

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PHOTOS: (Top) Petoskey’s Emma Squires outpaces the field during one of her championship runs Saturday at Zeeland. (Middle) Allegan’s Hannah Antkoviak, middle, works to stay just ahead of Cranbrook’s Kaya Freeman (left) and Stevensville Lakeshore’s Lynea Slayback. (Below) Bridgeport’s Chaniya Madison powers through the final strides of one of her sprint victories. (Photos by Dave McCauley/

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).]