Preview: Past Champions Filling Upper Peninsula Girls Track & Field Finals
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
June 2, 2022
An extraordinary 16 individual champions from last season’s Upper Peninsula Girls Track & Field Finals will return to Kingsford this weekend seeking the same success and more. And only six of them are seniors.
The star-studded meet will feature the final high school races for standouts like three-time champion Landry Koski from Rock Mid Peninsula and Houghton distance star Ingrid Seagren. But the Division 2 meet easily could be dominated by sophomores, and the Division 3 Finals return nine of last year’s 13 individual winners including five sophomores and juniors.
Events begin at 10 a.m. (EDT) and tickets to attend can be purchased online only at GoFan. The meets also will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv and viewable with subscription.
Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all three divisions.
Team forecast: Marquette solidly won its ninth championship over the last 10 seasons (not counting canceled 2020) last spring, but at last month’s Regional edged Sault Ste. Marie by just five points. The Blue Devils were last season’s Finals runner-up as well, and Negaunee in 2018 is the only team other than Marquette to claim a UPD1 championship over the last decade. The Miners had winners in three relays at their Regional and swept hurdles and throws to hold off star-powered Houghton.
Claire Erickson, Sault Ste. Marie junior: The top-seeded contender in the 300 hurdles (50.52) ran the race eight tenths of a second faster than anyone else at a UPD1 Regional. She was third in the 300 at last season’s Finals and ran on two placing relays.
Alyssa Hill, Negaunee senior: She’s seeded first in the discus by nearly 19 feet with a Regional throw of 123-4, and second in shot put at 34 as one of only two (with teammate Eliana Juchemich) who tossed farther than 31-1 in UPD1 qualifying.
Julia Ott, Marquette junior: She’s seeded second in two events – the 100 and 200 behind teammate Baux Truckey – and tied for the top seed in high jump (5-0) after winning that event last year. She’ll also run on the top-seeded 800 relay and being part of the winning 400 relay in 2021.
Ingrid Seagren, Houghton senior: The reigning 1,600 champ is seeded first in that race (5:30.23) by 13 seconds, the 800 (2:30.43) by six seconds and the 3,200 (12:34.34) by six seconds as well. She won the UPD1 cross country championship in the fall.
Baux Truckey, Marquette junior: She entered the mix in a big way last season winning the 100 and 200, and she’s seeded first in both at 12.86 and 26.73 seconds, respectively. She’ll also run on top-seeded 400 and 800 relays after helping both to wins in 2021.
Team forecast: West Iron edged Ishpeming by 3½ points at last season’s Final and can match star power with any of the contenders with three-event champion Danica Shamion returning. Ishpeming with another returning three-event champ in Lola Korpi should be in the mix again despite just a third-place Regional finish. Bark River-Harris especially in relays and field events and St. Ignace across the board have enough potential scorers to make this a close meet.
Mckenzie Hoffmeyer, Bark River-Harris sophomore: Her Finals debut last season included the long jump championship and second places in the 100 and 200. She’s seeded first in long jump (15-11½), second in the 200 (27.99) and third in the 100 (13.57) this weekend, and also could run on the top-seeded 800 relay.
Lola Korpi, Ishpeming sophomore: This fall’s UPD2 cross country champion also is the reigning track champion in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. She’s seeded first in those three in 2:31.91, 5:47.79 and 13:09.59, respectively, but in the 3,200 she’ll have to hold off UPD3 cross country champion Kaylen Clark from Newberry. Korpi also is slated to run on the top-seeded 3,200 relay.
Danielle Lund, Manistique sophomore: She placed sixth in shot put in UPD1 last season, and she enters this weekend seeded first in shot put (33-4) and discus (96-0) in UPD2. She’s also slated to run on the top-seeded 1,600 relay.
Chloe Maycroft, Iron Mountain junior: She’s set to compete in the high jump, long jump and run on two third-seeded relays after winning high jump last season. She’s seeded second in that event (4-8) this time.
Danica Shamion, West Iron County sophomore: She burst onto the scene with championships in the 100, 200 and 400 last season, and she’s seeded first in all three this weekend in 13.2, 27.01 and 1:01.23, respectively. The 200 and 400 meet records could be hers with major performances. She’ll also compete in high jump.
Team forecast: Ontonagon broke Lake Linden-Hubbell’s three-season Finals winning streak last spring, and won a closely-contested Regional two weeks ago that saw the top five teams all finish less than 11 points from each other. Relay strength and qualifiers throughout the meet should have the Gladiators in the mix, with Pickford’s potential for a number of meet champions make it another favorite.
Lucy Bennin, Pickford senior: Last season’s 200 champion will run that race again and also is seeded second in long jump (14-3¼) and expected to run on the top-seeded 800 relay and second-seeded 400 relay.
Abi Codere, Lake Linden-Hubbell sophomore: The reigning champion in the 100 hurdles is seeded first in that event (17.45) and also will compete in pole vault.
Ellie Delene, Baraga sophomore: The reigning high jump champion is among 10 qualifiers who went between 4-6 and 4-8 at Regionals. She’ll also run both hurdles races.
Daisy Grinsteiner, Stephenson junior: The returning pole vault champion is seeded first (8-6) by a foot, and she’ll also run on two relays.
Emily Jokela, Lake Linden-Hubbell freshman: She’s set up for a major debut seeded first in the 200 (28.48) and 400 (1:03.00), fourth in the 100 (14.01) and second in the 300 hurdles (52.52).
Landry Koski, Rock Mid Peninsula senior: One of the finest distance runners in the peninsula during her career, she’ll look to add to two 1,600 championships and a 3,200 title she’s won over her first two Finals. She’s seeded first in the 800 (2:39.04), 1,600 (5:44.73) and 3,200 (12:56.05), and third in the 400 (1:04.79).
Lilly McIntyre, Ontonagon junior: She won the 100 last season and will run that race again as well as three relays, including as part of the top-seeded 400 and 1,600 groups.
Tristin Smith, Rudyard senior: Last season’s 400 champion will run that race again, is seeded second in the 1,600 (5:48.64) and will run on two relays including the second-seeded 3,200.
Lizzie Storey, Pickford senior: The reigning 300 hurdles champ is seeded first in that race (50.07) and second in the 100 hurdles (18.18) and also will run on the top-seeded 800 and second-seeded 400 relays.
Makennah Uotila, Ontonagon junior: Last year’s long jump champ is seeded first (14-10½) in that event and fourth in the 400 (1:05.19) and will also run the 800 and potentially as part of the top-seeded 1,600 relay.
PHOTOS Ishpeming's Lola Korpi (1) takes the early lead in the 1,600 at the May 13 Negaunee Lions Invitational, with Negaunee's Marlee Plaxco (3) following close behind. (Middle) Marquette's Julia Ott wins the 200 that afternoon. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper
By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com
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."
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
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).]