KINGSFORD — The Marquette girls upheld a proud tradition Saturday, earning their seventh consecutive Upper Peninsula Division 1 track & field championship with 118 points.
Runner-up Negaunee scored 91 and Kingsford placed third at 70.
“Our depth came through,” said Marquette coach Natalie Messano. “We did what we needed to do. We came a long way this year. The team really came together and peaked at the right time. We have a strong tradition.”
Marquette sophomore Ahnika Puskala won the 100-meter hurdles in 16.32 seconds, followed by Iron Mountain’s Olivia Berutti (16.34) and Marquette senior Jacquie Cammarata (16.43).
Cammarata won the 300 hurdles (48.52), followed by classmate Hannah Detmers (49.16) and Escanaba sophomore Courtney Boyle (49.81).
Marquette senior Izzie Peterson added a first in the 100 (12.85) and helped the Redettes take the 400 and 800 relays.
“Delaney (Sall) ran strong today,” said Messano. “I think every one of our girls scored some points, which is huge. We have some seniors whom we’ll miss, but we have a lot of talented girls coming back.”
Sall placed second in the 400 (1:01.16), thrid in the 800 (2:25.73) and anchored the Redettes’ 1,600 relay to a second-place finish (4:23.11).
Negaunee, paced by junior Clara Johnson and freshman Emily Paupore, showed its strength in the distances.
They helped the Miners take the 3,200 relay (10:06.41), and Johnson captured the 800 (2:23.46), 1,600 (5:27.73) and 3,200 (12:02.08).
“Our teammates always give us motivation,” said Johnson. “Every girl on our team helps each other get going. It really got hot for the 3,200 (about 80 degrees). In the beginning you’re layered up, the next thing you know the sun comes out and it gets very warm. When it’s hot, we take a break after each race and go into the shade. We also eat light and stay hydrated.”
Paupore was runner-up in the 800 (2:24.97), 1,600 (5:31.05) and 3,200 (12:05.36).
“Winning the 3,200 relay definitely gets you going,” said Paupore. “It’s a good way to start the day. Everybody on our team is supportive of each other. We just go out as hard as we can. Everybody has to run in the same conditions.”
Kingsford sophomore Olivia Allen finished first in the 200 (26.53) and 400 (59.53) and anchored the winning 1,600 relay (4:12.67).
“I think things went pretty well,” said Allen. “I think we did a good job running our races as if they were our last. I’m still learning how to use my blocks and finish races. This is a motivator for next year. We wanted to push our seniors this year so they could also have good performances in their last meet.”
Escanaba senior Jen Brandt captured her third straight discus title at 123 feet, 6 inches, and was second in shot put (32-3¼), both personal bests.
“I definitely felt the pressure, being a senior,” said Brandt, who will be playing basketball at Alma College next winter. “I threw a personal-best (116-8) in the GNC (Great Northern Conference) meet in Menominee (May 25). At that point, I felt I could threw farther. Coach (Dan DeLong) told me it would be nice if I could get that done. He told me nobody had done that while he has been coaching.
“I think track has really prepared me for college basketball, getting that adrenalin rush and performing on a stage.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette’s Ahnika Puskala, right, and Jacqueline Cammarata charge ahead in the 100 hurdles final; Puskala won the race and Cammarata came in third. (Middle) Negaunee teammates Clara Johnson, front, and Emily Paupore round a corner on the way to taking the top two places in the 1,600. (Photos 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
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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).]