A year away because of COVID-19 makes anticipating champions at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Girls Track & Field Finals even more difficult than usual.
Of course, frequent favorite Oak Park is back in Division 1 and is almost assured of being in that title mix with a few more speedy teams including Detroit Renaissance. But as for the other three divisions? There are plenty of possibilities, including teams that haven’t been in the conversation much before.
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. Click to watch each division: LPD1 | LPD2 | LPD3 | LPD4.
Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions.
Division 1 at East Kentwood
Top Regional scores: Northville 164, Macomb Dakota 144, Detroit Cass Tech 143.
Team forecast: Oak Park has won the last two Division 1 championships and four of the last five (finishing runner-up in 2017). The Knights might be the team to chase again with top seeds in four events and two more lower-seeded relay contenders. Detroit Renaissance was runner-up in 2019 and should be in the mix with high finishes in the sprints and sprint relays, while Ann Arbor Huron has contenders all over the running events plus the top-seeded long jumper.
Fatouma Conde, Ann Arbor Huron: If Huron is to make a team title run, Conde most certainly will play one of the largest parts. She’s seeded second in the 100 and 200 and is expected to run on the top-seeded 400 relay (47.46) and second-seeded 1,600 relay.
Audrey DaDamio, Birmingham Seaholm: The Division 1 cross country champion in the fall will be looking to add a few more titles in her final meet for the Maples. She’s seeded first in the 1,600 (4:50.01) – which her sister Rachel won in 2015 – and also in the 3,200 (10:40.72), and she’s the third seed in the 800.
Kaila Jackson, Detroit Renaissance: Jackson made an immediate impact in her Finals debut in 2019 with championships in the 200 and as part of the 800 relay to go with a runner-up finish in the 100. Now a junior, her top-seeded 11.58 in the 100 lines her up to chase the all-Finals record of 11.54, and her top-seeded 23.71 in the 200 is faster than the all-Finals record of 23.74. She’ll also run on the top-seeded 800 relay (1:37.91) and second-seeded 400 relay.
Opal Jackson, Macomb L’Anse Creuse North: The senior thrower is the favorite in both the shot put (47-3) and discus (145-2) with her Regional tosses in those events two and four feet, respectively, farther than the next best in these fields.
Jada Roundtree, Oak Park: One of many Oak Park standouts, Roundtree is the top seed in the 400 (55.47) and will run on the top-seeded 1,600 relay (3:50.9) and second-seeded 800 relay.
Nonah Waldron, Oak Park: Part of the next generation of Oak Park stars, Waldron is a sophomore and seeded first in the 100 hurdles (13.77) and 300 (43.31) at her first Finals. She also will long jump and run on the 800 relay.
Division 2 at Zeeland
Top Regional scores: Dearborn Divine Child 214, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 134, Chelsea 134.
Team forecast: Six teams have won this meet over the last seven seasons, with Corunna the most recent champ in 2019. A number of teams appear contenders this time, with Divine Child, Petoskey and Parma Western among the intriguing possibilities. Divine Child is running for its first title since 2013 backed by strong relays and qualifiers in a variety of events. Petoskey’s only top-two Finals finish was a Class B runner-up in 1992, but the Northmen could compete for championships in four distance events. Western also has never won a team title but has top-four seeds in six events.
Hannah Antkoviak, Allegan: She finished second in the 300 and fourth in the 100 hurdles in 2019 as a sophomore, and she enters this weekend as the top seed in the 300 (45.16) and long jump (17-2¾) and third in the 100 hurdles.
Madelyn Frens, Grand Rapids Christian: The 3,200 runner-up as a freshman two years ago is the second seed in the 1,600 and third in the 3,200 and was third in Division 2 cross country in the fall.
Chaniya Madison, Bridgeport: The lone returning champion from the 2019 Division 2 meet won the 100 that spring as a freshman and will run that race, the 200 and on the 400 relay this time.
Reese Powers, Marysville: The Vikings standout junior should make a run at two individual championships as the top seed in the 800 (2:18.03) by nearly two seconds and a close second seed in the 400.
Emma Squires, Petoskey: The Division 2 cross country champion this past fall, she posted top-eight finishes in the 1,600 and 3,200 as a sophomore in 2019 and is seeded first in the 1,600 (5:08.52) and second in the 3,200 this time. She’ll also run the 800 and as part of the top-seeded 3,200 relay (9:27.52).
Division 3 at Jenison
Top Regional scores: Clare 180½, Pewamo-Westphalia 161½, Adrian Madison 143, Montague 143.
Team forecast: Pewamo-Westphalia is the reigning champion and has won three of the last seven championships. The Pirates have six top-five seeds this weekend and should be in the mix again especially if the meet is low-scoring. Grass Lake is seeded third or better in all five events in which it will participate, and Adrian Madison and Byron also are intriguing at a meet where individual champions can drive team scoring.
Carly Anschuetz, Adrian Madison: She’s the top seed in the 100 hurdles (15.81) and 300 (47.29) and also will high jump and run on the 800 relay. She was third in the 300 as a sophomore in 2019.
Lexus Bargesser, Grass Lake: The champion in the 100 and 200 two years ago as a freshman is the top seed in the 200 (25.32) and 400 (55.15) and second seed in the 100 this time, and she’ll also run on the top-seeded 1,600 relay (4:08.97).
Allison Chmielewski, Roscommon: The junior distance standout has the top seed in the 1,600 (4:53.68) by nearly 18 seconds with a time only 4.28 seconds off the meet record. She was fourth in both the 1,600 and 3,200 as a freshman and also will run the 800 and on the 3,200 relay this time.
Renae Kutcha, Jackson Lumen Christi: She may be the second seed in the 400, but Kutcha is looking to add her third championship in that race after earning the titles as a freshman and sophomore. She also will run the 200 and as part of the 1,600 relay.
Sarah Marvin, Byron: The champion in both the discus and shot put as a sophomore in 2019 is seeded first in both this weekend at 151-0 and 49-10¾, respectively. That shot put is more than three feet longer than the LPD3 Finals record.
Abby VanderKooi, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian: A three-time Cross Country Finals champion, VanderKooi also claimed the Division 3 3,200 title as a freshman two years ago and is seeded first (10:49.44) in that race this weekend by more than 21 seconds.
Division 4 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School
Top Regional scores: Hillsdale Academy 179, Lutheran Westland 149, Allen Park Cabrini 136.
Team forecast: Before COVID, Fowler had won two straight Division 4 titles and three of the last four, with Pittsford the runner-up in both 2018 and 2019. Hillsdale Academy was sixth in 2019 but could make the move for its first team championship with qualifiers all over the lineup and strong relays. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart also should be a contender for its first championship with lots of points possibilities in the running events.
Olivia Findlay, Marlette: The freshman enters her first Finals with the top seed in the long jump (16-1½) and tied for the top seed in the high jump (5-3). She also will run on the 800 relay.
Ashley Plum, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart: The Irish senior sprinter is the top seed in the 200 (26.58) and also will run the 100 and 400 and on the top-seeded 1,600 relay (4:14.35). She was part of the winning 1,600 relay in 2019.
Makenna Scott, Maple City Glen Lake: The standout junior is the top seed in the 3,200 (12:03.63) by more than 16 seconds and the second seed in the 1,600 after also running both as a freshman in 2019. She’ll also run on the 1,600 relay.
Tara Townsend, Frankfort: She won the pole vault championship two years ago as a freshman and is the top seed by a foot at 11-0. She’ll also run the 100, 200 and on the 400 relay. She was seventh in the 100 in 2019.
Tess VanDyk, Kalamazoo Christian: The junior thrower is a favorite in both events, entering the weekend with the top-seeded shot put (36-7) and second-seeded discus toss.
PHOTO: St. Charles’ Lindsey Pumford anchors her 400 relay to a Division 3 Regional championship two weeks ago at Shepherd. (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.)