By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
With power programs shifting into different divisions and the next contenders emerging, Saturday’s MHSAA Girls Track & Field Finals appear full of opportunities to shake up the standings and watch a new batch of champions shine.
Click for meet information including all qualifiers. Check out MHSAA.TV for live streaming of running events from both peninsulas, available with subscription, and come back Saturday night for results as they come in and coverage of all seven meets on Second Half.
The MHSAA Track & Field Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard. (All times/measurements referenced below were achieved during Regional competition.)
LP Division 1 at East Kentwood
Top Regional scores: 1. Rockford 204, 2. East Kentwood 190 2/3, 3. Northville 177.
Oak Park won three straight LPD1 titles from 2014-16 and finished runner-up four points back a year ago. Lansing Waverly won the last two LPD2 championships but moved into LPD1 this season. East Kentwood was third and Rockford fourth a year ago, and both figure to be in the mix again this weekend as well.
Lansing Waverly: Senior Malin Smith and sophomore Priscilla Trainor provide plenty of star power for the Warriors. Smith is seeded second in both the shot put (46-8½) and discus (135-9), and Trainor is seeded second (tied) in the 100 (12.15), first in the 200 (24.77) and fifth in the 400 (57.35).
Oak Park: The Knights have the top-seeded 800 (1:38.6), 1,600 (3:56.7) and 3,200 (9:23.2) relays, plus the second-seeded 400 relay (47.68). Oak Park won the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays at last year’s Finals. Senior Miyah Brooks (57.06) and freshman Jada Rountree (57.08) ran the two fastest 400 Regional times in the division, and senior Doriann Coleman posted the second-fastest in the 800 (2:13.52) and won that race at the 2016 Finals. Sophomore Aasia Laurencin is seeded second in the 100 hurdles (14.28) and 200 (24.87).
Rockford: The Rams’ power will come in distance and relay events. Junior Ericka VanderLende is seeded first in the 1,600 (4:45.85) and 3,200 (10:29.10). The 800 relay (1:42.4) is seeded third, the 1,600 relay (4:00.6) fourth and the 3,200 relay (9:23.3) second and only a tenth of a second behind Oak Park.
East Kentwood’s Corinne Jemison: The reigning champion in the discus is seeded first in both that event (151-9) and the shot put (46-10½) as a senior.
Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Anne Forsyth: Entering her last Finals, the Pioneers’ senior is seeded third in the 1,600 (4:57.01) after winning that event a year ago and second in the 3,200 (10:32.75) after coming in runner-up in that race in 2017.
White Lake Lakeland’s Grace Stark: Another senior star will look to improve on last year’s runner-up finishes in the 100 hurdles and dash; she’s seeded first in both at 13.58 and 12.12 seconds, respectively.
LP Division 2 at Zeeland
Top Regional scores: 1. Dearborn Divine Child 212, 2. South Lyon East 119, 3. Frankenmuth 118½.
The championship is open with two-time reigning winner Waverly in LPD1 this weekend. Divine Child will look to return to the top for the first time since winning three in four seasons in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Zeeland East finished only a point behind Waverly a year ago and might be the favorite. Detroit Country Day and Holland Christian should be able to ride relay successes into the hunt.
Detroit Country Day: The Yellowjackets tied for sixth last season and are keyed by senior sprinter Alexis Officer, who is seeded fourth in the 100 (12.59) and third in the 200 (25.92), and sophomore Ahvon Mitchell, who has the top seed in the 100 hurdles (14.71). Country Day also carries the top seeds in the 400 (49.68) and 800 (1:47.1) relays.
Holland Christian: Last season’s third-place team has the top seeds in the other two relays – 4:04.9 in the 1,600 and 9:24.4 in the 3,200 – and one of the state’s best distance runners in senior Kayla Windemuller. She’s seeded first in the 1,600 (4:54.6), third in the 3,200 (11:07.3) and sixth in the 800 (2:18.2).
Zeeland East: The Chix should have one of the day’s biggest stars in any division – senior Suenomi Norinh has the top seeds in both the high jump (5-5) and long jump (18-0¼) and won the former the last two seasons, and also is seeded second in the 100 hurdles (14.99) and third (tied) in the 300 (46.08). The throws also will be big; junior Aliyah Boeve is the top seed in discus (138-6) and fifth in shot put (38-8¾), and junior Taylor Waterway is the fourth seed in the discus (128-3).
Grand Rapids South Christian’s Mariel Bruxvoort: The reigning champion in both hurdles races will try for two more titles in her final high school meet, seeded fourth in the 100 hurdles (15.08), first in the 300 (44.44) by a second and also fifth in the 200 (26.07).
Lansing Catholic’s Olivia Theis: The Cougars’ senior has risen to national prominence this year for her cross country times, and she also won the 1,600 and 3,200 in LPD3 a year ago; she’s seeded second in the 1,600 this weekend (5:04.6) to Windemuller, second in the 3,200 (10:58.6) to sophomore sister Jaden and fourth (tied) in the 800 (2:17.6).
Bridgeport’s Payten Williams: After finishing fourth in the 100 and 200 a year ago, Williams is set to move up as a junior seeded first in the 100 (12.27) and tied for first in the 200 (25.80).
LP Division 3 at Comstock Park
Top Regional scores: 1. Ida 194, 2. Pewamo-Westphalia 186, 3. Saugatuck 149.
Adrian Madison went from runner-up in 2016 to champion last spring, and Pewamo-Westphalia has won two titles and finished runner-up once over the last five seasons. Ida is in the mix after competing in LPD2 last year, and Hillsdale, Shepherd and Onsted are other hopefuls in what could be a wide-open meet.
Adrian Madison: The Trojans still have their share of standouts after winning last season by 15½ points. Junior Kaiya Wall is seeded third (tied) in high jump (5-2) and fourth in the 100 hurdles (15.69), and won the latter in 2016. Senior Kiarah Horn is third-seeded in pole vault (10-6), and freshman Carly Anschuetz also is among those seeded in high jump at 5-2. The team’s 1,600 relay (4:08.9) is seeded second and was the champion a year ago.
Onsted: The Wildcats should make a big jump from 10th a year ago, based solely on their possible relay successes. The 400 relay (51.18) is seeded third, the 800 relay (1:47.7) is seeded second and the 1,600 relay (407.6) is seeded first. Senior Harlie Sweet is seeded first as well in long jump (17-9½), and sophomore McKenna Russell is seeded second in 300 hurdles (47.41).
Pewamo-Westphalia: The Pirates tied for fifth last season and have potential scorers all over the lineup, led by the top-seeded 800 relay (1:47.3). Senior Grace Trierweiler is seeded fourth in pole vault (10-4) and junior Amelia Thelen is tied for fifth (10-0), and sophomore thrower Katie Lehman is seeded fourth in discus (115-9) and could make a run at a top-eight placing in shot put as well.
Shepherd’s Amber Gall: The champion in the 800 last season as a sophomore, she’s seeded first in that race (2:16.9) and fourth in the 1,600 (5:10.7).
Grass Lake’s Ella Suliman: She will look to repeat in the long jump as a senior and is seeded second in that event (17-4¾), third in the 200 (26.27) and fifth in the 400 (59.96).
Clinton’s Amanda Schaare: The reigning discus champion enters her final high school meet as the top seed in that event (144-6) by nearly 25 feet; she’s also seeded second in shot put (40-7).
Parchment’s Shiyon Taylor: She won the 100 and 200 last season as a junior and will run those races one more time, seeded first in the 100 (12.58) and fourth in the 200 (26.52).
LP Division 4 at Hudsonville
Top Regional scores: 1. Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest 185, 2. Deckerville 175, 3. Lutheran Westland 174.
Fowler is a regular at the top with recent championships in 2011, 2012 and 2016 and runner-up finishes in 2015 and last spring. Pittsford could be a strong challenger as it goes for its first title after finishing fourth last season. After that, it’s a tougher call with lots of individual standouts that could carry teams in the standings. Hillsdale Academy is an intriguing possibility to contend.
Fowler: The Eagles are all over this meet again, starting with top-seeded relays in the 400 (50.90), 1,600 (4:13.43) and 3,200 (10:14.12) and second-seeded 800 relay (1:49.29). Junior Alyssa Vandegriff is the top seed at high jump (5-3) after taking first a year ago, and senior Ciara Weber is the top seed at pole vault (10-0); both run hurdles as well, Vandegriff seeded second in the 100 and third in the 300. Junior Morgan Goerge brings another high seed, third in the 800 (2:24.66).
Hillsdale Academy: The Colts have a handful of individual qualifiers, most notably junior Katie Vanhavel seeded fourth in long jump (16-7½). But the key will be the fourth-seeded 800 relay (1:51.23) and second-seeded 1,600 (4:17.26) and 3,200 (10:14.61) relays.
Pittsford: The Wildcats may have enough to topple Fowler with a combination of high seeds individually and in relays. Starting with the latter, Pittsford is seeded first in the 800 relay (1:47:57), second in the 400 (52.11) and fourth in the 3,200 (10:24.11). Junior Alison Toner is seeded fourth in the 100 hurdles (16.14) and second in the 300 (46.77). Sophomore Rachael Patterson leads three contenders in the pole vault, seeded second (9-9).
Southfield Christian’s Chika Amene: As a junior, she played the biggest part in Southfield Christian’s team title with wins in the 100, 200 and 400; she’s seeded first in the 100 (12.56), fifth in the 200 (26.68) and second in the 400 (59.67).
Ubly’s Haili Gusa: The reigning champion in the 800 is seeded fourth (2:26.80) in that race.
Addison’s Ally McLouth: The long jump champion last year as a freshman is seeded first (17-1) in that event and fourth in the 300 hurdles (47.63).
Concord’s Samantha Saenz: The senior is the reigning champion in the 1,600 and seeded first in that race (5:10.37), the 800 (222.28) and second in the 3,200 (11:36.29).
UP Division 1 at Kingsford
Top Regional scores: 1. Negaunee 71, 2. Marquette 57½, 3. Sault Ste. Marie 57.
Marquette has won seven straight U.P. Division 1 championships, last year’s by 27 points ahead of runner-up Negaunee. Negaunee won its Regional two weeks ago, but Marquette was at a different site – where it barely fended off Sault Ste. Marie.
Marquette: Junior Ahnika Puskala is the reigning champion in the 100 hurdles and is seeded fifth in that race (17.75). The Redettes have the top seeds in two more events but a host of other competitors who should keep the team running for another title.
Negaunee: Senior Clara Johnson won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and ran on the winning 3,200 relay last season. That 3,200 relay is seeded first (10:26.21), while she’s seeded second in the 800 (2:26.43) and 1,600 (5:30.03) both times to sophomore teammate Emily Paupore (2:22.43 and 5:18.69, respectively). Johnson is seeded third in the 3,200 (12:11.44), where Paupore is again seeded first (11:29.76).
Houghton’s Kendra Monette: She’s the reigning champion in the 100 and seeded first (13.29) in her final meet, while also seeded first in shot put (37-1½) and fourth in the 200 (28.6).
Kingsford’s Olivia Allen: The reigning champion the 200 and 400 is now a junior and seeded second in the 100 (13.52), first in the 200 (27.77) and second in the 400 (1:01.79).
UP Division 2 at Kingsford
Top Regional scores: 1. St. Ignace 98, Iron Mountain 74, Ishpeming 49½.
St. Ignace broke Ishpeming’s two-year hold on Division 2 last season with its sixth championship over the last eight years. Iron Mountain is competing for its first team title since 2004. Together have the top seeds in all but two events.
St. Ignace: Reigning individual champions Linnie Gustafson and Libby Becker are back for the Saints. Gustafson, a senior, is seeded first in high jump (4-9), while the junior Becker is seeded first in the 800 (2:22.45), 1,600 (5:13.86) and 3,200 (12:38.13). St. Ignace has six other top seeds.
Iron Mountain: The Mountaineers were seventh in UPD1 last season. They have the top seeds in five events, with two standouts earning two apiece: senior Taylor Talerico in the 100 dash (13.35) and 300 hurdles (50.09) and senior Olivia Berutti in the 100 hurdles (17.12) and 200 (27.82).
UP Division 3 at Kingsford
Top Regional scores: 1. Lake Linden-Hubbell 94, 2. Brimley 61½, 3. Felch North Dickinson 54.
Coming off its first MHSAA championship in this sport since 1994, Lake Linden-Hubbell is undefeated this season and dominated its Regional. Additionally, nine athletes who won a combined 11 individual titles last year also will be back Saturday.
Lake Linden-Hubbell: The Lakes are loaded, led by three-time individual and two-time relay champion Laura Lyons. She’s seeded second in the long jump (15-3¾), fifth in the 100 (13.9), fifth in the 200 (28.69) and second in the 400 (1:04.48) after winning long jump and the 200 in 2017. Jamie Hendrickson is the reigning champion in the high jump and seeded first (5-0), Sienna Anderson the reigning champion in the 100 hurdles and seeded first in that race (17.78), and Mariah Willmer is the reigning champion in the 800 and also seeded first for her repeat attempt (2:32.99).
Engadine’s Ashtyn Buss: The shot put champion the last two seasons is seeded first in that event (36-6) and third in discus (96-5) as a senior.
Pickford’s Clare Cottle: Last season’s pole vault champion is among eight who vaulted 7-0 or better at their Regionals; she was a winner at hers.
Cedarville’s Mackenzie Barr: She won the discus last spring and is seeded sixth in that event (88-0) and ninth in shot put (29-9).
Bark River-Harris’ Hailee Demers: The reigning champion in the 100 dash and 300 hurdles will run both hurdles races this time as a junior, seeded sixth in that 100 (18.56) and first in the 300 (51.58).
Chassell’s Lela Rautiola: She won the 3,200 last season as a sophomore but Saturday will run the 400 and potentially on the top-seeded 3,200 relay.
PHOTO: Negaunee's Clara Johnson, right, here running during her Regional, was a three-time Finals champion in 2017 and will compete again Saturday. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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
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July 28: Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
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July 14: Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
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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).]