Pewamo-Westphalia Returns to Podium

May 30, 2015

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.”

Click for full results.

PHOTO: Pewamo-Westphalia won the 400 and 800 relays Saturday en route to the LP Division 3 team championship. (Click to see more from Photo by Jamie Geysbeek.)

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).]