Record Highlights Pioneer Title Chase

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 3, 2017

EAST KENTWOOD – The afternoon running finals of the Division 1 Girls Track & Field Finals needed just 13.4 seconds Saturday afternoon to become record breaking.

Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Britten Bowen won the 100-meter hurdles in 13.40 seconds, setting the meet and all-Finals records (formerly set by Pioneer star Candice Davis in 2003), edging White Lake Lakeland’s Grace Stark, who also had beaten that former record time only a week ago.

“My coach (Bryan Westfield) passed away two years ago, and I lost it indoors, and I was trying to bring it back for him,” an emotional Bowen said. “I trained really, really hard this year for this. I wanted to leave it all on the track.”

Bowen’s hurdles title was one of three championships for the Pioneers, who claimed their first MHSAA Finals team title since 2008 by edging three-time defending champion Oak Park. Pioneer finished with 69 points, four ahead of Oak Park. East Kentwood was third on its home track, finishing with 57 points. 

It was the 17th team title for the Pioneers, the previous 16 coming under Westfield.

“The kids really, really rallied, and I can’t believe we did this,” Pioneer coach Nancy Boudreau said. “We had a lot of kids that were nicked up, and we had to make substitutions at the last minute, and we still pulled it off, which is really unbelievable.”

Bowen’s record-breaking performance wasn’t Pioneer’s first of the day, as Anne Forsyth, Elizabeth Kos, Sydney Dawes and Jacalyn Overdier won the 3,200-meter relay with a time of 9:06.13 in the morning session. The Pioneers won despite having to scratch all-state 800-meter runner Alice Hill prior to the race.

Forsyth was a double winner on the day, finishing first in the 1,600 in 4:43.84.

Bowen’s race was a big boost, however, energizing the team as the main portion of the meet began. It was a much-anticipated race, as her and Stark were lined up next to each other.

“It pushed me even harder,” Bowen said of racing next to Stark. “She beat me during indoors, and that was all I was focusing on: ‘I just need to run my race. I know what I need to do. She’s going to do what she’s going to do, and it’s going to be a race.’ And that’s what it was. And that’s what people have been talking about all year, so that’s what we did: we gave them a race.”

Bowen’s record-breaking performance was one of three on the day in the girls meet. Angelica Floyd of Clinton Township Chippewa Valley set the Division 1 meet record in the long jump with a distance of 19 feet, 3¾ inches.

Kyanna Evans of Wyandotte Roosevelt set the Division 1 meet record winning the 300 hurdles in 42.64 seconds. Evans said it was her first time breaking 45 in the race.

“I didn’t think I could do it, I really didn’t,” Evans said. “I’ve been struggling to break 45 for so long. I just went out and sprinted and did what I needed to do. I just told myself I was going to go 100 percent. It’s my last time running the 300-meter hurdles.”

Tamea McKelvy did her part for runner-up Oak Park, winning three titles, including an individual in 200 meters. She crossed the line in 24.14 seconds, and talked through tears of joy following the race.

“My first individual state championship. I’m so happy,” McKelvy said. “It was my last time wearing this uniform, and I wanted to get that fourth straight win for my team. I’ve been thinking about this since last season when I lost.”

McKelvy joined Janae Barksdale and Aasia Laurencin on both the 400 and 800 relay teams. Kirin Tate joined that trio on the winning 400 relay (46.69), while Carlita Taylor was the fourth member of the 800 relay (1:38.38). 

Oak Park’s 1,600 relay also brought home the gold, as Taylor, Drew Coleman, Makayla Gate and Miyah Brooks won in 3:49.73.

Flushing’s Breanna Perry won her second MHSAA title in three months by taking first in the high jump at 5-foot-7. Perry was a crucial part of Flushing’s Class A girls basketball championship team.

“It was really fun to win with my team, but I just wanted to be able to go home and be like, ‘I worked hard on this on my own and with my coach,’” Perry said. “This is something I can call mine. This is my championship, so it feels pretty good.”

Greenville’s Landon Kemp repeated in the pole vault, clearing 13-3, one inch shy of her record-setting performance from a year ago. 

Corrine Jemison of East Kentwood won the discus with a throw of 151 feet, while Aniya Davis of Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills won the shot put with a throw of 40-10½.

Anavia Battle of Wayne Memorial won the 100 meters in 11.95. Taylor Manson of East Lansing won the 400 meters in 53.21. Mallory Barrett of Milford won the 800 in 2:11.06. Maggie Farrell of Battle Creek Lakeview won the 3,200 meters in 10:19.99.

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PHOTO: Ann Arbor Pioneer's Britten Bowen, center, sets an MHSAA hurdles record Saturday while pushed by a strong field including Lakeland's Grace Stark, right. (Photo by Carter Sherline/ 

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe 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."

East Kentwood soccerLeon 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).]