The baton will be passed literally and figuratively several times during the Upper Peninsula Girls Track & Field Finals on Saturday.
Fans will watch the final competitions for a number of accomplished seniors, particularly Marquette’s Baux Truckey as she attempts to add to an impressive career championship haul.
They’ll also cheer on standouts like West Iron County junior Danica Shamion, Ishpeming junior Lola Korpi and Lake Linden-Hubbell sophomore Emily Jokela as they continue their historic rises.
All three divisions will again be contested at Kingsford High School, with preliminaries leading off the day at 9 a.m. local (Central) time. Tickets cost $11 and are available digitally only via GoFan.
MHSAA.tv will live-stream the meets beginning at 9 a.m. (CDT)/10 a.m. (EDT), viewable with subscription.
Following is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all three divisions:
Team forecast: Negaunee and Marquette both have won two of the last four championships, the Miners finishing first last season by 21½ points. They competed at separate Regionals two weeks ago, both winning those meets, and appear to be the favorites again – although Houghton and Sault Ste. Marie, the runners-up at those Regionals, have the potential to challenge at the top. Just as Negaunee got big contributions from freshmen last season, Marquette could do the same this time – although both also will say good-bye to accomplished seniors as well.
Claire Filpus, Houghton senior: Last year’s 1,600 champion also was on a relay winner and finished eighth in the 300 hurdles. She’ll run on two contending relays and the 1,600 again, and her 800 time of 2:37.70 was fourth-fastest among both UPD1 Regionals.
Cassandra Gallagher, Sault Ste. Marie senior: She finished first in the 3,200 and fourth in the 1,600 last season, and she returns after running the fourth-fastest 3,200 (12:50.71) and 1,600 (5:49.04) at UPD1 Regionals.
Aubrey Johnson, Negaunee sophomore: The reigning 800 champion also was a key relay contributor to last year’s team title winner, and she could provide some valuable points elsewhere this time entering with the third-fastest UPD1 Regional time in the 800 (2:37.32) and also with a pole vault (9-0) that tied for second-highest between the two sites.
Eliana Juchemich, Negaunee senior: She finished first in shot put and fourth in discus last season but heads into Saturday with the top UPD1 Regional tosses in both at 35-10¼ and 111-4, respectively.
Erika Malone, Kingsford senior: She won long jump by eight inches last season and was fifth in the 100, and she’s slated to run on two contending relays in addition to her repeat attempt.
Madison Pekrul, Negaunee sophomore: Her Finals debut last season also played a major role in the Miners’ title quest as she won the 100 hurdles and finished second in the 300. She ran the fastest UPD1 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (17.27) two weeks ago and the second-fastest in the 300 (50.74), and she’ll also compete on the favored 1,600 relay.
Faith Spiroff, Ishpeming Westwood sophomore: Last season’s high jump champion and fourth-place finisher in the 200 as just a freshman as well, she’ll enter the weekend after tying for the third-best high jump (5-0) at UPD1 Regionals, the second-best long jump (15-9½), and posting the fifth-best 100 and 200 times.
Baux Truckey, Marquette senior: She’s won the 100 and 200 the last two seasons and may add three more titles after running the fastest 100 (12.88) and 400 (1:04.09) and third-fastest 200 (26.79) at UPD1 Regionals. She’s also run on four relay champions over her career.
Team forecast: Bark River-Harris was one of the top stories of last year’s Finals winning its first team championship, and the Broncos won their Regional two weeks ago just ahead of Manistique, while Ishpeming won the other Regional by an even closer margin over West Iron County. When considered together, Bark River-Harris’ depth and Ishpeming’s star power appear to be the main factors in this meet, although the Emeralds could play an interesting role with plenty of contenders.
Mckenzie Hoffmeyer, Bark River-Harris junior: She was a major scorer as BR-H won that first team title last spring, winning long jump, finishing second in the 100 and 200 and running on a first-place relay. Saturday’s schedule sees her on at least one relay but also entering with the top UPD2 Regional long jump (15-5) and third-fastest 100 (13.41) and 200 (27.92).
Lola Korpi, Ishpeming junior: Korpi has won the 800, 1600 and 3,200 the last two seasons. She’ll enter with the fastest UPD2 Regional times in the 800 (2:37.82) and 1,600 (5:25.79) and second-fastest in the 3,200 (12:48.12).
Danielle Lund, Manistique junior: The reigning shot put champion also was second in the discus and ran on the winning 1,600 relay last season, and she could run two relays this time while also entering with the second-farthest shot put (33-1½) and discus (92-8) tosses from UPD2 Regionals.
Lena Pleaugh, Gwinn senior: The reigning 100 hurdles champion also was fourth in long jump and seventh in the 200 last season, and she’ll look to repeat in the 100 hurdles with the second-fastest UPD2 Regional time (17.49) plus contend in the 300 hurdles after running the fastest (52.27) two weeks ago. She also was fourth-fastest in the 100 (13.47) at UPD2 Regionals.
Kadence Potoczak, Pickford senior: She threw the longest discus toss (94-0) and fourth-farthest shot put (30-6) at UPD2 Regionals after winning discus and finishing fourth in shot put at the UPD3 Final last year.
Danica Shamion, West Iron County junior: Shamion also is a six-time individual winner with titles in the 100, 200 and 400 the last two seasons. And she could join the elite four-champion club Saturday as she enters after running the fastest 100 (13.06), 200 (27.11) and 400 (1:00.69) at UPD2 Regionals, plus tying for the top high jump (5-0).
Carley Varoni, Bark River-Harris senior: She won the pole vault by six inches last season and posted the second-highest vault at UPD2 Regionals (8-0) two weeks ago – plus she could run on three relays after running on two a year ago.
Team forecast: Ontonagon has won the last two Division 3 championships, last season by 12 points ahead of Stephenson. The Gladiators are loaded in relays and have sprint speed to win again, but Stephenson has similar strengths and qualifiers all over the field events. Newberry and Munising could counter with plenty of scoring in distance events as well.
Kaylen Clark, Newberry junior: The UPD3 cross country runner-up in the fall enters this weekend with the top UPD3 Regional times in the 1,600 (5:47.86) and 3,200 (12:37.24). She finished second in both in UPD2 last season.
Abi Codere, Lake Linden-Hubbell junior: She won the 100 hurdles and was second in pole vault last season, and is looking at possible titles in both with the second-fastest UPD3 Regional time in the 100 hurdles (17.27) and the top pole vault (9-6) by a foot.
Grace Hill, Brimley senior: The reigning shot put champ and discus runner-up threw the top shot (31-5¼) at UPD3 Regionals and the third-farthest discus toss (98-4).
Emily Jokela, Lake Linden-Hubbell sophomore: She made her Finals debut with wins in the 200, 400 and 300 hurdles and a third place in the 100 dash, and she’ll build on that entering this weekend with the fastest UPD3 Regional times in all four – the 100 (13.30), 200 (27.23), 400 (1:01.52) and 300 hurdles (47.22).
Nora Keranen, Dollar Bay sophomore: She won the long jump as a freshman and also finished eighth in the high jump and pole vault, and will return after tying for the top high jump height (4-10) and third-best pole vault (7-6) at UPD3 Regionals.
Jada Kuntze, Stephenson junior: She also tied for the top high jump height (4-10) at UPD3 Regionals and ran the third-fastest 800 (2:36.95) as she looks to add to last season’s championship in the high jump and runner-up finishes in the 800 and 1,600 relay.
PHOTO Ishpeming's Lola Korpi, right, leads the 800 run during the April 17 Superior Dome Invitational, followed closely by Pickford's Talya Schreiber. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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.)