By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
If there is one theme that can be drawn across all seven MHSAA Girls Track & Field Finals to be run Saturday, it’s probably this:
There are plenty of standouts who have climbed the medal stand before – and could knock down a number of records on their way back up.
Read on for some of the teams and individuals to watch at Saturday's girls meets. Click for meet information including all qualifiers and come back Saturday night for results as they come in. Check out MHSAA.TV for live streaming of running events from both peninsulas, available with subscription.
LP Division 1 at East Kentwood
Top Regional scores: 1. East Kentwood 193, 2. Ann Arbor Pioneer 174, 3. Rockford 169½.
Ann Arbor Pioneer: Last season’s runner-up could score major distance points with junior Anne Forsyth, whose 1,600 (4:47.74) and 3,200 (10:21.92) top times are the fastest in the division this season. Senior Alice Hill’s top 800 time ranks among the top four, and junior Britten Bowen’s top 100 dash and 100 hurdles times both rank second and she’s the reigning champion in the latter. The 3,200 relay has the fastest time (9:02.69) by 17 seconds, and the 400 relay has come in second fastest.
Oak Park: The three-time reigning champion could be in line for a fourth straight title paced again by speedy relays – the 400 (47.38), 800 (1:39.03) and 1,600 (3:53.01) have run the division’s fastest times in those events this spring, and the 3,200 (9:19.68) has the second-fastest time. Senior Tamea McKelvy has top-three times in both the 100 and 200, and senior Carlita Taylor has the second-fastest 300 hurdles time. Dorriann Coleman is the reigning 800 champion.
Rockford: The Rams also could make a move on the title powered by relays. All four have run times that rank among the top five in LP Division 1 this season; the 800 and 1,600 relays have run the second-fastest times this spring.
Anavia Battle, Wayne Memorial senior: Battle finished fifth in the 100 and second in the 200 last season, and her top 100 time this spring (11.53) would push the all-Finals record.
Landon Kemp, Greenville senior: The reigning pole vault champion already holds the all-Finals record of 13 feet, 4 inches, and the second highest vault this season of 12-9 – plus the best long jump by more than five inches at 18-11 after finishing second in that event last season.
Taylor Manson, East Lansing senior: After finishing fifth in the 200 and second in the 400 last season, Manson enters this weekend with the fastest times in the division this season in both races – 23.90 and 54.96, respectively.
Grace Stark, White Lake Lakeland sophomore: Stark has run top-10 times in LP Division 1 in the 100, 200 and 100 hurdles, and that hurdles time (13.54) is especially notable because it came a week ago and would break the all-Finals record set in 2003.
Quiara Wheeler, Grand Blanc senior: After winning the discus championship last season by five feet, she has the best throw in the division this season (153-4) by more than four feet.
LP Division 2 at Zeeland
Top Regional scores: 1. Dearborn Divine Child 210, Ada Forest Hills Eastern 144, Zeeland East 137.
Holland Christian: Junior Kayla Windemuller is the reigning champion in the 1,600 and 3,200 and has the fastest times in the division this season in both races, 4:55.82 and 10:38.49, respectively, and is part of the the fastest 3,200 relay time (9:28.19). That 10:38 would set a meet record.
Lansing Waverly: The Warriors are coming off their first MHSAA team title, and could add a second with the top 400 (50.04) and 800 (1:44.88) relay times in the division entering the weekend after winning both last year. Freshman Priscilla Trainor has the third-fastest times in both the 100 and 200, and junior Malin Smith has the longest shot put (45-9¼) and second-longest discus toss (140-5).
Zeeland East: The Chix finished fifth last season and could make a move led by junior hurdler Suenomi Norinh, who has top-five times in both races in the division this spring. Sophomore Aliyah Boeve has top six throws in both, and Norinh has the top high jump (5-9¼) and second-best long jump (17-6¾) in LP Division 2. She won the high jump last season, and her best this season would break the meet record.
Jakarri Alven, Grand Rapids Catholic Central sophomore: The reigning champion in the 400 and runner-up in the 200 has run top eight times in the division this season in those races and the 100.
Ieisha Davis, Romulus senior: After placing third twice and runner-up in a third sprint last season, Davis is seeking her first title with the second-fastest times in the 100 and 200 and ninth-fastest time in the 400 this spring.
Zoe Eby, Carleton Airport senior: Eby has the fastest 100 (11.97) and 200 (24.35) times in the division this season, and the 200 would be a meet record while her best 100 would threaten the record in that race. She won the 200 and finished third in the 100 last season.
Casey Korte, Gaylord senior: Last season’s long jump champion (and fourth-place finisher in the high jump) has posted jumps among the top seven in the division this season in both events, although she is not doing high jump this weekend.
Gabriella LeRoux, Spring Lake senior: The reigning pole vault champion is tied for the top vault this season (12-0) and also will run on a top 800 relay.
LP Division 3 at Comstock Park
Top Regional scores: Clinton Township Clintondale 221, Pewamo-Westphalia 170, Saugatuck 168.
Adrian Madison: The Trojans finished second last season, 3½ points back, and have the firepower to take the next step. Senior Megan Rosales ran on two winning relays and was runner-up in the 300 hurdles last season, and she has the top times in the division this spring in that race (44.77) and the 400 (57.56).
Pewamo-Westphalia: The Pirates won in 2013 and 2015, making this their season again by that pattern. They should be able to back up that hope led by senior Brenna Wirth, whose fastest 200 time (25.74) is tops in the division this season while she also ranks among the fastest in the 100 and 400. Three relays also have posted times among the top four in the division.
Shepherd: Picking a third team to rise in this division is tough because the top performers are spread out over a number of possible contenders. But the Bluejays get the call because of the potential scoring of sophomore Amber Gall. She has the division’s top time in the 800 this season (2:14.83) and also ranks among the top performers in the 1600 and 3,200 and as part of 1,600 and 3,200 relays that have posted times among the top four in the division.
Adelyn Ackley, Hart sophomore: After winning the 3,200 last season as a freshman, Ackley could be in line for more. She has the division’s best time in that race (10:29.45), the second-fastest in the 1,600 (4:54.31) and also ranks as part of a top 3,200 relay. Her best 3,200 individual time would break the meet record by six seconds.
Hannah Hall, Millington junior: The reigning champion in the high jump has the division’s top jump this spring at 5-6, two inches higher than when she won a year ago. That jump Saturday would tie the meet record.
Brooklin Klopf, Montrose senior: As a junior, Klopf won the shot put and didn’t place in the discus, but she enters the weekend with the top throws in both this spring: 44-4½ and 143-6, respectively.
Kasey Staley, Clare senior: Staley broke the meet record last season winning with a vault of 12-4, and she’s gone 12-6½ this spring.
Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic junior: Her top 3,200 time (10:31.03), while second to Ackley’s, also would break the meet record by four seconds. Theis also has the top time this season in the 1,600 (4:53.74).
LP Division 4 at Grand Rapids Houseman Field
Top Regional scores: 1. Fowler 208, 2. Manton 193, 3. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian 147.
Fowler: The Eagles are going for their second straight championship and fourth this decade. Fowler won last season with three relay titles but no individual wins; those relays are again strong, but sophomore Alyssa Vandegriff in particular has a chance to shine individually. She has the second-fastest time in the 100 hurdles and 10th-fastest in the 300, and the top high jump (5-3). The 1,600 relay (4:08.89) also has the fastest time for that event this spring.
Pittsford: The Wildcats’ lone top-two team finish in this sport was a runner-up in Class D in 1994, but they have the standouts to make a run. Most notably, the 400 relay (52.33) and 800 relay (1:49.72) have run the fastest times this season in those events, and senior Maddie Clark – runner-up in discus last season – has the top discus toss (138-3) by 16 feet and the second-farthest shot (36-11). Senior Katie Clement’s 11-0 top pole vault is a foot better than the field.
Southfield Christian: A pair of standouts will give the Eagles a chance to move all the way up from eighth last season. Junior Chika Amene has the top times in the 100 (12.58) and 200 (25.71) and second-fastest 400 (58.21) in the division this season. Junior Kaelin Ray has the fastest 300 hurdles (46.42) and third-fastest 100 hurdles times.
Baleigh Irelan, Reading junior: Irelan has posted only the eighth-best time in the division in the 300 hurdles – but her winning time last season would be the best.
Erika Lechner, Harbor Springs senior: Last season’s shot put champion has added nearly four feet to that title-winning throw with her best this spring being 45-10 – nine feet farther than the rest of the pack. She’s also a discuss contender.
Mary Leighton, Mendon senior: The reigning 100 hurdles champion also set the meet record last year at 14.93 seconds. She has the division’s best time this season (15.40) and the fourth-best in the 300 hurdles after finishing fourth a year ago in that race.
Samantha Saenz, Concord junior: Her division-best time in the 1,600 (5:05.69) is more than 10 seconds better than the rest, and she’s also among the top six in the 3,200 and 800 after winning the 1,600 and finishing third in the 3,200 last year.
Ava Strenge, Battle Creek St. Philip senior: Strenge will try to add at least one more title to a celebrated career. She finished first in the 3,200 last season, has the fastest time this season (11:02.79) by nine seconds and the second-fastest in the 1,600.
UP Division 1 at Kingsford
Top Regional scores: 1. Marquette 75, 2. Sault Ste. Marie 49, 3. Houghton 47.
Marquette: The Redettes have won six straight U.P. Division 1 titles and remain favorites even after graduating some stars last spring. Marquette won all four relays at its Regional, and senior Izabelle Peterson was first in the 200 and second in the 100 after winning both races at last season’s Finals.
Sault Ste. Marie: The Blue Devils tied for second at the Finals last season and finished second to Marquette at this year’s Regional, but had the winner in three of eight running events in the latter. Senior Courtney Arbic was a relay standout at last year’s Finals, but enters this one with a first place in the 800 and second place in the 400 at the Regional.
Olivia Allen, Kingsford sophomore: The reigning 400 champ and 200 runner-up won both races and was second in the 100 at her Regional.
Jenny Brandt, Escanaba senior: She won the discus last season by eight feet, and won it at her Regional by 17 in addition to finishing third in shot put and high jump.
Clara Johnson, Negaunee junior: She won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at her Regional, setting herself up well to add to last season’s Finals title in the 3,200.
Sydney Mills, Gladstone junior: The reigning high jump champion won that event and was second in the long jump at her Regional.
Kendra Monette, Houghton junior: She’ll be favored to win the shot put again after doing so by nearly five feet a year ago and by more than five at her Regional; she also won the 100 at the latter.
UP Division 2 at Kingford
Top Regional scores: 1. Ishpeming 70, 2. St. Ignace 64, 3. Munising 50.
Ishpeming: The Hematites have won the last two championships and return two significant scorers for one last high school meet –reigning discus and shot put title winner Marissa Maino, and reigning 800, 1,600 and 3,200 winner Khora Swanson. Junior Katie Loman won both hurdles races at the Regional and could make another sizable contribution.
St. Ignace: The Saints are going for their fifth championship this decade and after finishing third a year ago. Junior Linnie Gustafson is the reigning high jump champ and has gone 5-3, three inches higher than at last year’s Finals. Sophomore Emily Coveyou also will be key to contention; she won the 200 and 400 at her Regional.
Taylor Bryant, Newberry senior: She won the 100 hurdles in Division 3 last season but is competing in Division 2 this time. So far, so good: she won the 100 and 300 hurdles at her Regional.
Emmy Kinner, Iron River West Iron County senior: She’s won seven individual Finals titles, including the 100, 200 and 400 two straight seasons. She won all three at her Regional, two races by significant margins.
UP Division 3 at Kingsford
Top Regional scores: 1. Lake Linden-Hubbell 91½, 2. Stephenson 64, 3. Pickford 59.
Lake Linden-Hubbell: The Lakes should make a good run at their first Finals title since 1994. Junior Laura Lyons was the long jump champion by five inches last season and posted top-four finishes in the 400 and 200; she won all three and the 100 at the Regional, where the Lakes took first in four of five field events and three of four relays.
Stephenson: The Eagles are seeking their first title – and top-two finish – since 1993. Their highest placer last season was a third in the 200, but that could change with sophomore sprinter Amanda Starzynski riding the wave of Regional championships in the 100, 200 and 400.
Ashtyn Buss, Engadine junior: After winning the shot put and finishing runner-up in discus a year ago, Buss helped her team to a Regional title with wins in both events.
Camryn Croasdell, Rock Mid-Peninsula freshman: She’s a reigning champion despite being a freshman, having finished first in the 200 last year as an eighth grader. She took first at her Regional and also finished second in the 100.
PHOTO: Newberry’s Taylor Bryant charges over a hurdle during last season’s U.P. Division 3 Finals. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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).]