Winners of 26 individual titles from the 2021 Girls Track & Field Finals will be back at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula championship meets hosted by Rockford, Ada Forest Hills Eastern, Kent City and Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School.
Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions.
Division 1 at Rockford
Team forecast: Oak Park has been the standard most of the last decade, last season winning its third-straight Division 1 championship and sixth in seven seasons (not counting the COVID-canceled 2020 season). Detroit Renaissance finished runner-up for the second straight Finals, but has the star power and depth to make a run at its first championship since finishing a run of 10 titles in 11 years in 2007. Rockford, Ann Arbor Huron and Ann Arbor Pioneer are others with an intriguing mix of possible event champions and qualifiers in numerous events.
Julia Flynn, Traverse City Central senior: Flynn has been among the state’s elite distance runners every fall and spring since the start of her high school career, and she enters her final race day for Central pursuing a first championship as the top seed in the 1,600 (4:53.88), second seed in the 800 (2:13.51) and fourth seed in the 3,200 (10:55.36).
Kaila Jackson, Detroit Renaissance senior: The three-time Finals sprint champion could make a run at the all-Finals records in the 100 and 200 as she enters her last championship meet seeded first in the 100 (11.52) and 200 (24.17) and likely to run on the top-seeded 400 and third-seeded 800 relays. That 100 qualifying time would break the all-Finals record of 11.54 run by Mumford’s Shayla Mahan in 2006.
Sophia Mettes, Dexter senior: Last season’s pole vault champion is the second seed with her Regional vault of 12-3. But she has the highest vault in Michigan this season by six inches at 13-6 from her league meet three weeks ago.
Arianne Olson, Holland West Ottawa junior: She finished only four seconds off the lead as the runner-up in last year’s 3,200, and she’s seeded first in that race (10:18.57) by 24 seconds. She’s also seeded second in the 1,600 (4:55.85) and could run on multiple relays.
Mackenzie Robinson, Ann Arbor Huron junior: She seeded right after Jackson in both the 100 (11.66) and 200 (24.36) and is likely to run on the second-seeded 400 relay and third-seeded 1,600 relay as well. She was sixth in the 200 and seventh in the 100 last season.
Abigail Russell, Allen Park sophomore: She also could take a major step this weekend after finishing 15th in shot put last season. This time she’s seeded first both in shot put (43-0) and discus (131-5), and both by impressive margins.
Nonah Waldron, Oak Park junior: She won both the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles at her Finals debut last season, and she’s seeded first in the 100 hurdles this time (13.88) by half a second, and seeded second in the 300 (42.66) only to sophomore teammate Morgan Roundtree. Waldron also will run on the top-seeded 1,600 and second-seeded 800 relays. She and Roundtree (42.42) should make a run at the all-Finals 300 record of 42.23 seconds.
Division 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Team forecast: Petoskey last season became the seventh team over the last eight LPD2 Finals to win the team championship. This season’s race is difficult to forecast. East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Christian both could score major points in distance competition, with the Eagles showing potential in field events as well. Madison Heights Lamphere, New Boston Huron, Allendale, Bridgeport, Petoskey for a repeat – in a low-scoring meet, all could have a chance, especially considering Petoskey was the only team to score more than 29 points last season.
Elizabeth Anderson, New Boston Huron junior: After finishing third in the 100 and 400 and fourth in the 200 last season, Anderson could climb the podium multiple times. She’s seeded first in the 200 (25.48) and 400 (56.90) and fifth in the 100 (12.45).
Madelyn Frens, Grand Rapids Christian senior: The LPD2 cross country champion in the fall also is back after winning the 3,200 a year ago. She’s seeded first in the 3,200 (10:58.33) by nearly 12 seconds and fourth in the 1,600 (5:04.61), and she’ll also possibly run on the second-seeded 3,200 relay.
Ella Jenkins, Warren Regina junior: A qualifier in the 100 hurdles last season who finished 11th in the preliminary, she’s improved literally with leaps and bounds. Jenkins is seeded first in both the 100 hurdles (14.95) and 300 hurdles (45.20) and could also run on the 1,600 relay.
Chaniya Madison, Bridgeport senior: The reigning champion in the 100 and 200 also won the 100 as a freshman. She’s seeded third in that race (12.36) for Saturday, her time only a tenth of a second from topping the list, and she’ll also likely run on the 400 relay and top-seeded 800 relay.
Reese Powers, Marysville senior: The reigning 400 champion is seeded second to Anderson in that race (58.77) and second in the 800 as well (2:19.58) after finishing 10th in that race last season. She also will run on the 1,600 relay.
Ryann Rohrer, Ludington senior: Her third place in shot put last season was only 3½ feet off the lead, and she returns as the top seed in that event (44-6) by 3 feet, 7 inches. She’s also the fourth seed in the discus (122-6).
Division 3 at Kent City
Team forecast: Pewamo-Westphalia has been the standard for most of the last decade with four championships over the last eight seasons (not counting canceled 2020), and the Pirates and Grass Lake tied for the title a year ago. Qualifiers throughout the meet should have P-W contending again – but Hart’s distance and relay talent might make it the favorite. Onsted also has high-scoring potential with two top-seeded relays and two of the top three seeds in the 400.
Lexus Bargesser, Grass Lake senior: The future Indiana basketball player missed her entire senior hoops season because of a knee injury but will be back this weekend as a five-time individual champion after winning the 100, 200 and 400 last season. She’ll run just the 400 this time, seeded seventh (1:00.36).
Lani Bloom, Ithaca senior: She’s looking to add to her 800 and 1,600 championships won last season and LPD3 cross country championship won in the fall. She’s seeded second in the 800 (2:18.22), fourth in the 1,600 (5:04.77), fifth in the 3,200 (11:18.28) and will run on the top-seeded 3,200 relay.
Allison Chmielewski, Roscommon senior: Last season’s runner-up in the 800 and 1,600 has been one of the state’s top distance runners throughout her career and will finish with a chance to be multi-event champion. She’s seeded first in the 1,600 (5:01.94), third in the 3,200 (11:12.25) and fourth in the 800 (2:21.66).
Mickenzie Brancheau, Kent City senior: The reigning high jump champ is among 10 who qualified with a Regional jump of 5-0 to 5-4.
Audrianna Enns, Hart senior: She has a chance to be high points scorer as Hart goes for the team title, seeded first in the 800 (2:16.25), sixth in the 1,600 (5:07.55) and running on two top-four seeded relays.
Kylee Poulton, Holland Black River senior: She could finish her high school career with one of Saturday’s biggest performances in any division, entering as the top seed in the 100 (12.23), 200 (25.39) and 400 (57.24) and running on the 1,600 relay. She finished second in the 100, third in the 200 and fourth in the 400 last season.
Annabelle Smith, Blissfield senior: The reigning long jump champion is seeded sixth (16-5½) in that event and also fourth in the 100 (12.65). She’ll also run the 200.
Division 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School
Team forecast: Fowler has won five of the last 10 championships including most recently in 2018 and 2019, and the Eagles are strong in relays with scoring possibilities all over this meet. Reigning champion Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart has three top seeds and relay strength as well, and Hillsdale Academy has two top-seeded relays and a third top seed in long jump that could put it in contention. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, moving over after running in Division 3 last spring, also has a strong opportunity with distance and relay power.
Nicole Olivieri, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior: Last season’s 400 champion is seeded first in that race (58.11) and the 200 (26.57) and will run on two top-four relays as well.
Aiden Harrand, Buckley sophomore: She won the 1,600 and was second in the 800 in 2021, and enters this weekend seeded first in the 800 (2:20.66), second in the 1,600 (5:05.54) and fourth in the 3,200 (11:49.22).
Makenna Scott, Maple City Glen Lake senior: Last season’s 3,200 champ and 1,600 runner-up is seeded first in the 3,200 (11:03.29) and third in the 800 (2:22.80) and 1,600 (5:09.92).
Jocelyn Hall, Athens junior: The reigning 100 hurdles champion is seeded third in that race (16.75) and will run on the sixth-seeded 400 relay.
Tara Townsend, Frankfort senior: She’s seeking to finish with her third pole vault championship in three tries (with 2020 canceled). She’s seeded second at 8-9 but has the sixth-best vault (tied) in the state this spring at 11-6. She’s also seeded fifth in the 100 (13.19), fourth in the 200 (26.96) and will run on the fourth-seeded 400 relay.
Emma Valentine, Morrice senior: The reigning high jump champ has tied for the sixth-best in the state this spring (5-6) and enters as the top seed with a 5-4 Regional jump.
Abigail VanderKooi, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian senior: She won the 3,200 in Division 3 as a freshman and junior and in the fall became the eighth runner in MHSAA history to win four cross country titles. She’s seeded first in the 1,600 (5:05.40), second in the 3,200 (11:13.12) and fourth in the 800 (2:24.87) and will run on the top-seeded 3,200 relay.
Tess VanDyk, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep senior: She swept the throws at last year’s Final and is seeded first in both with a toss of 40-0 in shot put and 125-5 in discus.
Allison Wichert, Vestaburg senior: She seeded third in the 300 hurdles (48.75) and seventh in the 100 hurdles after winning the 300 championship last season.
PHOTOS (Top) Vestaburg's Allison Wichert leaps a hurdle during her Lower Peninsula Division 4 Regional on May 21 at Coleman. (Middle) Alma's Trinity Greer, left, pulls away in the 100 during the Shepherd Invitational on May 6. She'll run the 100, 200 and on the 400 relay at the LP Division 2 Finals. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)