By most any standard, Alexandra Hanson had a tremendous junior track season.
The Brown City star didn’t lose a 100, 200 or 400-meter race in a dual or tri meet, and only finished lower than second twice prior to the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 championships, where she was all-state in all three events – fifth in the 200 and 400, and eighth in the 100.
That great season was not up to the standards of one very important person, however – Hanson – and not just because she was coming off a sophomore season that saw her win a Division 4 title in the 400 and finish second in the 200.
“I just feel like I should have at least improved a little from my previous year, and I didn’t,” said Hanson, who didn’t match any of her personal records as a junior. “I know that was because I didn’t do anything during the winter. I was just super naive about it. I thought, ‘I won a state championship, I can just do it next year.’ I definitely had the completely wrong mindset. I think I got comfortable and was not pushing myself like I should have.
“I’m trying to take it as a lesson learned. Take it as a positive.”
Hanson’s disappointment has fueled her this offseason, as she looks to finish her high school career strong and transition to Saginaw Valley State University, where she will run collegiately.
While the Green Devils don’t have a meet scheduled until April 10, and practices have been hampered by early-spring weather, the difference in Hanson can already be seen by those who know her best.
“When she won the state, she didn’t run again until we started track practice the next year, and right in the middle of track season, she got a really bad cold and missed two or three meets,” Brown City coach Don Twiss said. “When you’re an elite runner, you have to stay at that training level, you can’t afford to take that amount of time off. I’m excited about her this year, just because her motivation seems to be totally different this year.”
Hanson spent much of her summer going through workouts she had taken from the Saginaw Valley coaching staff and her other college visits. She ran cross country for Brown City in the fall, and in the winter she continued to run, albeit mostly on a treadmill.
“I feel like I’m in better shape than where I was a year ago,” Hanson said. “Every time I’m like, ‘I don’t feel like running today,’ I tell myself, ‘Well, you don’t want to be like last year.’”
Hanson’s success this season won’t be measured in how many times she crosses the finish line first – although if she is successful in meeting her goals, she’ll do that plenty.
She’s eyeing her personal best times – 58.03 seconds in the 400, 26.01 in the 200 and 12.71 in the 100 – meaning she’ll spend most of her season running against the clock. Fortunately for her, this is something she’s grown accustomed to, as many of her races aren’t particularly close throughout the season.
“It’s hard, especially when you’re in meets where you don’t have someone pushing you,” she said. “It’s definitely hard when you’re racing against the clock. I’m not the most personally motivated person, so my dad has to be standing there at around the 300-meter mark, and he has to scream at me. That motivates me. I have to have someone there motivating me.”
She also has her eye on a new race, as at Saginaw Valley the plan is for her to transition to middle distance and add the 800 meters to her repertoire. She ran it once as a junior, and will try it a little more this season as opportunities present themselves.
“I still think (team) points wise, I’m going to have to run the 200,” Hanson said. “But I’ll definitely run (the 800) more than last year. I’ll be able to run it more because my sister (Juliana) is here now, and she’s fast, too, so she’ll be able to take over the 100.”
Hanson is excited about the transition to middle distance, as she said the 400 has been her favorite race since she was in middle school. She’s also self aware, and said she has a better chance to get her 400 and 800 times to a level where she can compete in college, as opposed to her 100 and 200 times.
“Coming from a small town, the shorter distances I did really well in, so that’s what I did,” she said. “I talked to college coaches, and they started explaining what most 400 runners do – they go up.”
Twiss believes the potential is there for Hanson to transition to the 800 and be successful. He also believes the 400 is where she’s at her best, and that could lead to another trip to the top of the MHSAA podium in June.
“She’s like a gazelle when she gets out there and goes,” he said. “She’s such a natural middle sprinter, or like I call them, long sprints. She’s capable of running an upper 56-second (400 meters). If she does that, that will win it.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Brown City’s Alexandra Hanson pulls away from a pack of runners during a race last season. (Middle) Hanson sprints down the stretch. (Photos courtesy of the Brown City girls track & field program.)
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.)