By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
We will say good-bye to a number of graduating champions at Saturday’s MHSAA Girls Track & Field Finals.
But it’s hard to not also be excited about some of the final legacy-making opportunities for outgoing seniors – and new chances to shine for a group of impressive rising athletes taking their places among the elite.
Below is a look at some of the teams and individuals to watch at Saturday’s girls meets. All events begin at 9 a.m. local time on both peninsulas.
Click for meet information including all qualifiers. Check out MHSAA.tv for live streaming of running events from both peninsulas, available with subscription and beginning at 10 a.m., and come back Saturday night for results as they come in and coverage of all seven meets on Second Half.
LP Division 1 at East Kentwood
Top Regional team scores: 1. Rockford 179, 2. Oak Park 152, 3. Grosse Pointe North 150, 4. Grosse Pointe South 149, 5. Salem 149.
Oak Park is the reigning champion and has won four of the last five titles in LPD1, also finishing runner-up in 2017. With contenders in nearly every running event, the Knights may be the favorites again. But keep an eye on Detroit Renaissance and Rockford, both also loaded with star power. Rockford was the runner-up last season, 6.5 points off the lead, while Renaissance finished sixth.
Dearborn Edsel Ford’s BreeAna Bates: The speedy sophomore finished ninth in the 100 and didn’t make the championship heat in the 200 last season, but she had the fastest 100 (11.82) at LPD1 Regionals and the second-fastest 200 (24.64).
Detroit Renaissance’s Kaila Jackson: A star already as a freshman, she could cap her first season with multiple titles entering with the second-fastest LPD1 Regional time in the 100 (11.98) and fastest in the 200 (24.37) plus as part of the fastest 400 and 800 relays.
Walled Lake Western’s Kennedy Jackson: Last season’s runner-up in the long jump had the best LPD1 Regional showing in that event (18.5.25) and the high jump (5-7) and the fifth-fastest time in the 100 hurdles (14.57).
Oak Park’s Aasia Laurencin: The champion in the 200 and runner-up in the 100 hurdles in 2018, Laurencin is one of many standouts for Oak Park (freshman Chloe Vines, sophomore Nysha Jordan and juniors Jayla Jones and N’Stajah Banks are perhaps the other most notable of numerous title contenders) and enters this weekend with the second-fastest LPD1 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (14.22), sixth-fastest in the 100 dash (12.23), fifth-fastest in the 200 (24.83) and as part of the second-fastest 800 relay.
White Lake Lakeland’s Grace Stark: The star sprinter and hurdler will try to cap her high school career with one more title after winning the 100 dash and 100 hurdles last season. She enters this weekend with the fastest LPD1 Regional time in that hurdles race (13.84) by more than three tenths of a second after setting the LPD1 Finals record in the event last year at 13.16.
Lake Orion’s Melissa Symons: After winning the 300 hurdles last season by nearly a second, the Dragons’ senior had the second-fastest LPD1 Regional time in that race (43.72) and third-fastest in the 100 hurdles (14.26) after also taking fourth in that event in 2018.
Rockford’s Ericka VanderLende: The Rams’ distance ace won the 1,600 last season and was runner-up in the 3,200, and she should make a run at three individual titles with the fastest LPD1 Regional times in the 1,600 (4:42.75) and 3,200 (10:33.32) and second-fastest in the 800 (2:13.08) trailing only Grand Haven standout Gabby Hentemann in that race.
LP Division 2 at Zeeland
Top Regional team scores: 1. Dearborn Divine Child 214, 2. Zeeland East 161.5, 3. Frankenmuth 154, 4. Corunna 129.25, 5. East Grand Rapids 123.
Zeeland East broke through last season for its first MHSAA Finals championship in this sport after finishing runner-up in 2017, and could be in the mix again of a closely-contested team race. Frankenmuth, Corunna, Saginaw and most of all Holland Christian also have the elite star power to make a run at the team title.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Jakarri Alven: The 400 champion as both a freshman and sophomore, Alven missed last year’s Finals with an injury but could make up for that this weekend. She had the top LPD2 Regional time in the 400 (58.57), the second-fastest in the 200 (25.82), the third-fastest in the 100 (12.48) and also will compete in long jump (16-6.5).
Allendale’s Brianna Bredeweg: After winning pole vault last season as a sophomore, Bredeweg enters with the highest LPD2 Regional vault (11-10) by 10 inches. She set the meet record last year at 12-7.
Ludington’s Emma Fountain: Last year’s 400 champion as a junior had the second-fastest LPD2 Regional time to Alven in that race (58.98) and also will run the 200 (26.74) and on the 3,200 relay.
Holland Christian’s Michelle Kuipers: The Maroons’ junior standout has won four championships, three as part of relays plus the 800 last season. Her LPD2 Regional time in the 800 (2:19.29) ranks sixth, her 1,600 time third (5:03.43) and she’ll be running on the fastest 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
Marysville’s Kaia Scheffler: After taking fourth in the 300 and seventh in the 100 hurdles last season as a sophomore, Scheffler will be aiming for her first titles entering with the top LPD2 Regional times in both races, 46.33 and 14.52 seconds, respectively.
Bridgeport’s Payten Williams: The Bearcats’ sprint star swept the 100 and 200 last season and will run for a repeat in the 100 (12.73) and as part of Bridgeport’s contending 400 relay. Freshman teammate Chaniya Madison will be among her top competition in the 100, entering with the fastest LPD2 Regional time of 12.18.
LP Division 3 at Jenison
Top Regional team scores: 1. Warren Michigan Collegiate 171, 2. Saugatuck 163.5, 3. Berrien Springs 157, 4. Pewamo-Westphalia 150, 5. Kent City 135.
Including last year’s co-champions St. Charles and Hart, six teams have claimed the overall title over the last five seasons. Pewamo-Westphalia last won in 2015 (and also 2013) and might be the favorite again – but watch especially for Shepherd, along with Quincy, St. Charles and Jackson Lumen Christi among many others.
Hart’s Adelyn Ackley: One of the state’s all-time great distance champions, Ackley will run her final high school races after claiming 3,200 titles last season and in 2016 and the last three LPD3 cross country championships. She enters this weekend with the third-fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 3,200 (10:57.22), fourth-fastest in the 1,600 (5:07.48) and running on a contending 3,200 relay.
Shepherd’s Amber Gall: The senior standout won the 800 and as part of the 3,200 relay in 2017 and just missed adding another title a year ago. But she could single-handedly alter the team standings in her final high school event, running on the fastest 1,600 relay, second-fastest 3,200 relay and entering with the fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 800 (2:12.50) and third-fastest in the 1,600 (5:06.07).
Jackson Lumen Christi’s Renae Kutcha: Last season’s 400 champion as a freshman has the fastest LPD3 Regional time on that race (57.40) and will run the 200 (26.99) plus on two relays including a contender in the 1,600.
Byron’s Sarah Marvin: The third-place finisher in both the shot put and discus as a freshman, she has the top LPD3 Regional throws in both by significant margins at 41-10.5 and 128-10, respectively.
Farwell’s Jenna Odykirk: The reigning champion in the 100 enters her last Finals with the fifth-fastest LPD3 Regional time in that race (tied – 12.90) and also should contend for a place in the 200 (26.91).
Hanover-Horton’s Judy Rector: After claiming the 800 and 1,600 titles last season as a junior, Rector will go after the double again with the second-fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 800 (2:13.73) and fifth-fastest in the 1,600 (5:08.65).
Onsted’s McKenna Russell: The standout junior hurdler will run three relays and only one individual race, the 300 hurdles. She won it in 2018 and enters with the second-fastest LPD3 Regional time (47.17) after finishing second two weeks ago to Quincy’s Madelyn Allman.
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian’s Abby VanderKooi: Considered by many the next great Michigan high school distance runner, the freshman had the best LPD3 Regional time in the 3,200 (10:36.17) by more than 18 seconds.
LP Division 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School
Top Regional team scores: Royal Oak Shrine 169, Pittsford 167.16, Marcellus 149, Fowler 142, Athens 140.
Fowler has taken turns winning or finishing second the last four seasons, but coming off last year’s title could be in line for a repeat this time. Pittsford is the reigning runner-up and should be right there again, with Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart and Addison among other interesting possibilities.
Royal Oak Shrine’s Ellie Kendell: Last season’s fourth-place finisher in the 1,600 and third placer in the 3,200 as a sophomore, she ran the fastest LPD4 Regional times in both at 5:17.25 and 11:35.62, respectively – the 3,200 time the fastest by more than 30 seconds.
Addison’s Ally McLouth: The Panthers’ standout could pile up points entering with the best long jump (17-2.5) from LPD4 Regionals plus the fastest 300 hurdles time (44.94) and second-fastest in the 100 hurdles (15.32). She finished second in long jump and third in the 300 as a sophomore a year ago.
Bridgman’s Mikaela Owen: Last season’s runner-up in the 100 and fifth-place finisher in the 200 as a sophomore, Owen had the fastest LPD4 Regional time in the 200 (26.36), second-fastest in the 100 (12.78), sixth-fastest in the 400 (1:02.64) and also the third-best long jump (16-5). Lincoln Alcona sophomore Lily Bilbey should be right there with her in all three races, with the fastest 100 (12.67) and second-fastest 200 (26.71) at LPD4 Regionals.
Fowler’s Alyssa Vandegriff: The Eagles’ senior standout won the high jump and 100 hurdles during last year’s title run (and the high jump in 2017 as well), and she enters her last Finals with the third-fastest LPD4 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (15.59), fourth-fastest in the 300 (48.12), tied for seventh-best high jump (4-11) and running on the fastest 800 relay.
Hillsdale Academy’s Katie VanHavel: The reigning long jump champion had the second-best leap to McLouth in all of LPD4 at their Regional two weeks ago (16-7). She’ll also run on two relays including a contender in the 800 to finish up her high school career.
UP Division 1 at Kingsford
Top Regional team scores: 1. Marquette 66, 2. Negaunee 56, 3. Sault Ste. Marie 45.
Negaunee broke Marquette’s seven-year hold on the UPD1 championship last season, outpacing the Redettes by 25.5 points. Both enter as Regional champions Saturday and appear nearly even on paper. Side note: The winners of all but one individual event in 2018 will be competing again this weekend.
Kingsford’s Olivia Allen: The senior standout will try to win four individual titles to add to her previous six solos and three championships as parts of relays. She won the 100, 200 and 400 last spring and enters with the fifth-fastest UPD1 Regional time in the 100 (13.61), second-fastest in the 200 (27.68) and second-fastest in the 400 (1:02.14), plus she’ll long jump (15-2.5).
Houghton’s Lilly Baker: The reigning pole vault champion tied with two others for the top vault at the UPD1 Regionals with an 8-6.
Marquette’s Rachael Hunt: After winning long jump and as part of the 800 relay as a junior, she’s set for a big Finals running on the fastest 400 and 800 relays and also entering with the fifth-fastest UPD1 Regional time in the 200 (28.16) and fourth-best long jump (15-4.5).
Sault Ste. Marie’s Emily McLean: Last season’s shot put champion – and meet record setter at 38-1.25 – had the top UPD1 Regional toss (39.2) by nearly five feet and also the fourth-best discus throw (95-7).
Negaunee’s Chloe Norman: The junior standout will try to add to titles won last year in the 300 hurdles and as part of the 3,200 relay, entering with the top UPD1 Regional showings in the high jump (5-0) and long jump (16-7.5), the latter by more than a foot. She also had the second-fastest 300 hurdles time (47.21) and fourth-fastest in the 100 hurdles (tied – 17.30).
Kingsford’s Rylee Palmer: Last season’s discus champ had the third-farthest UPD1 Regional toss (96-6.5) and also tied for the fourth-highest pole vault (8-0).
Negaunee’s Emily Paupore: After earning a relay win as a freshman, Paupore broke out last year with championships in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and as part of the 3,200 relay. Her 3,200 time of 11:25.52 was a meet record. She had the UPD1 Regional bests in the 800 (2:22.97), 1,600 (5:26.00) and 3,200 (11:59.61).
Menominee’s Mackenzie Wellner: The reigning champion in the 100 hurdles enters her sophomore Finals with the top UPD1 Regional times in the 100 hurdles (16.19) and 300 hurdles (46.73) and as part of contenders in the 400 and 800 relays.
UP Division 2 at Kingsford
Top Regional team scores: 1. St. Ignace 73, 2. Hancock 49.5, 3. Iron River West Iron County 45.
St. Ignace has won two straight UP Division 2 championship and three of the last five, and appears to be the team to chase again Saturday. The Saints won last season’s title by 70 points.
St. Ignace’s Elizabeth Becker: The Saints’ lead scorer last Finals won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and as part of the 1,600 relay as a junior. She has the top UPD2 Regional times in the 800 (2:22.74), 1,600 (5:37.24) and 3,200 (12:42.24) and will help pace another contending 1,600 relay.
Bark River-Harris' Hailee Demers: After winning the 300 hurdles and as part of the 400 relay in UPD3 a year ago, Demers will make a run with the top UPD2 Regional time in the 300 (50.17), the second-fastest in the 100 dash (13.18) and as part of the fastest 400 relay and second-fastest 800.
St. Ignace’s Heather Lamb: The reigning long jump champion will go for the repeat as a junior entering with the farthest UPD2 Regional jump (15-9.5) by nearly 18 inches.
Manistique’s Ashley McDonald: Last season’s pole vault champion as a junior could finish up high school in a big way, entering with the best UPD2 Regional vault (8-6) by a foot plus as part of the fastest 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
Munising’s Madeleine Peramaki: The senior distance star won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 in UPD3 last season and the latter two in UPD2 in 2017. She enters with the second-fastest UPD2 Regional times in all three races at 2:26.84, 5:41.24 and 13:20.24, respectively.
St. Ignace’s Ally Schultz: The Saints’ freshman enters with the top UPD2 Regional times in the 200 (27.46), 400 (1:02.34) and third-fastest in the 100 (13.22), plus will run on a contending 800 relay.
Iron River West Iron County’s Jordan Shamion: After taking third in both hurdles races as a freshman, she enters this weekend with the top UPD2 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (17.40) and second-fastest in the 300 (51.51).
UP Division 3 at Kingsford
Top Regional team scores: 1. Lake Linden-Hubbell 82, 2. Felch North Dickinson 72.5, 3. Stephenson 68.
Lake Linden-Hubbell has won the last two UPD3 championships, last season’s by 33 points ahead of runner-up North Dickinson. The Nordics look capable of giving a major push Saturday, and watch out as well for relay-strong Rock Mid-Peninsula.
Felch North Dickinson’s Masyn Alexa: The 100 and 200 champ last season as a sophomore will go for the repeats with the second-fastest UPD3 Regional times in both at 13.33 and 27.53, respectively. She also had the fastest 400 time of 1:02:41 two weeks ago.
Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Jamie Hendrickson: She’s won the high jump and two relay titles both of her first two seasons of high school. Hendrickson enters with weekend with a UPD3 Regional-best high jump of 5-0, third-best long jump of 14-7, fifth-best 400 of 1:06.72 and as part of the top 1,600 relay.
Lake Linden-Hubbell’s MacKenzie LePage: Last season’s pole vault champion as a junior tied for the top UPD3 Regional vault of 8-6 and also will compete in high jump (4-6), long jump (13-8) and 100 hurdles (18.54).
Ontonagon’s Holly Jo Wardynski: The reigning discus champion enters her last high school Finals with the top UPD3 Regional toss (108-2) by more than five feet and also will throw shot (28-9).
PHOTOS: (Top) Oak Park’s Aasia Laurencin and White Lake Lakeland’s Grace Stark push through the finish of the 100-meter hurdles race at last season’s LPD1 Finals, as Stark set a meet record in the race. (Middle) Negaunee’s Emily Paupore breaks down the stretch during one of her three UPD1 championship wins in 2018. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
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.)