By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – Pewamo-Westphalia girls track coach Scott Werner has a saying he believes applies to his track program: “Tradition doesn’t graduate.”
On Saturday, a team mixed with youth and experience won the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track and field championship for the second time in three years, but the crown was not clinched until the final event of the meet.
The Pirates totaled 63 points, while runner-up Manistee had 57 and defending champion Frankenmuth was third with 51.5.
Pewamo-Westphalia needed to finish at least sixth in the 1,600 relay to win the championship, but the runners on the relay did not know that. All they knew was the outcome was still in doubt.
Anchor runner Emily Kramer was not sure of the outcome after she crossed the finish line in fifth place.
“I didn’t know if I got it for my team, but I had a little bit of confidence that my teammates didn’t look too upset when I crossed the finish line, so I had somewhat of a good feeling,” Kramer said. “Considering that I don’t normally run this event, and I don’t always go last, there was a lot of pressure. I felt a lot of stress before the race.”
Although Pewamo-Westphalia did not have any individual first-place finishes, it did have two relays win MHSAA championships.
Senior Sarah Barrett, freshman Claudia Heckman and seniors Gabbie Hummel and Marissa Wirth made it two titles in a row for the Pirates in the 400 relay, although only Hummel ran on it last year. Sophomore Brenna Wirth, junior Kelly Thelen and Hummel and Marissa Wirth ran on the winning 800 team.
Brenna Wirth also had a pair of individual second-place finishes in both the 200 and 400.
While the team championship was sweet for everyone, it might have been a little sweeter for Barrett, who missed all of last season with stress fractures in both of her legs.
“It’s really a big thing to me to come back after being injured,” she said. “It felt really good. I’m so proud of my team. I knew we would do great. We’ve all been working together since our freshman year, and I knew what to expect.”
Several of the Pirates spoke of the extra motivation from finishing second at the meet a year ago.
“We definitely were disappointed last year, but we took it in stride to help us this year,” Hummel said. “Our expectation is always set to get to first place, and last year we learned that we still had to improve, even though we had done well.”
While Pewamo-Westphalia ran off with the MHSAA team title, several other athletes starred on an individual level.
Manistee senior Annie Fuller capped her stellar career by repeating as champion in the 800 and 1,600, and she broke her own meet record in the 800 in 2:09.61. She made it four MHSAA titles in a row by winning the 800, and she took the 1,600 for the third consecutive year after finishing second as a freshman.
“I definitely felt the pressure coming in, but I tend to do well under pressure,” Fuller said. “I really wanted it, and I am really blessed to be able to win it four years in a row.”
Fuller had a new opponent in Holly Bullough of Traverse City St. Francis. Bullough won the Division 4 Final titles in the 800 and 1,600 last season, but had to settle for second in both against Fuller in Division 3. After the 800, Fuller and Bullough had a nice chat as they walked across the infield.
“We became pretty close this year running together at all the meets and warming up together,” Fuller said. “I just knew she would be there because I’ve raced her a few times.”
Another individual double-winner was Sanford-Meridian junior Hailey Stockford, who swept the sprints. She won the 100 in 12.07 seconds and took the 200 in 25.11.
Frankenmuth senior Stephanie Lambeth broke the LP Division 3 Final record in the pole vault by clearing 12 feet, 3 inches, topping the previous record of 12-0 set in 2005 by Katie Shaw of Lakeview. The other champions in the field events were Manistee junior Emma Burns in the high jump, Ithaca junior Erica Shehan in the long jump, Watervliet senior Cali McLean in the shot put and Byron sophomore Jessica Marvin in the discus.
The other individual champions in the running events were Manistee senior Jessica Gustad in the 100 and Frankenmuth senior Sydney Bronner in the 300 hurdles, Adrian Madison sophomore Megan Rosales in the 400 and East Jordan senior Kayla Keane in the 3,200.
Adrian Madison took the 1,600 relay, and Shepherd won the 3,200 relay with three sophomores and a senior.
“It’s very sweet to come back and get the win after we scored 72 points and took runner-up last year,” P-W’s Werner said. “We had a very motivated group of kids. They worked very hard in the off-season.
“They wanted to get back on the podium.”
PHOTO: Pewamo-Westphalia won the 400 and 800 relays Saturday en route to the LP Division 3 team championship. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com. Photo by Jamie Geysbeek.)
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.)