By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Sami Michell knows her starts could be better. And she's sure she can improve her arm position when she’s going over hurdles.
The Reed City junior is a self-admitted perfectionist. And she’s already thinking about next season.
The rest of Michigan should watch out.
Michell established herself as one of the top hurdlers in MHSAA history at Saturday’s Division 3 Final while becoming the first in Lower Peninsula girls history to win four events at a championship meet since Mason County Eastern’s Maria Shoup in 1979. And she’s got a few more goals she’d like to achieve before moving on to a future that's looking brighter with every stride.
"I'm always thinking about next year and what I want to do, the times I want to run -- even after I won four events Saturday," Michell said. "I want to run a faster 200 and get the Division 3 record, and I want to get the all-division record in the 100-meter hurdles. It's just not hard for me to think about it. I know there are things I don't do perfectly."
Michell gets a Second Half High 5 this week as arguably the brightest of an incredible group of stars who combined to break 19 meet records during Saturday's Finals.
She set Division 3 milestones in three events at Comstock Park – the 100 hurdles (13.84 seconds), 300 hurdles (42.23) and long jump (18-6.5). Her 300 hurdles time also broke the all-Finals record set by Benton Harbor’s Carolyn Ferguson in 1984.
The four championships gave her eight total with a season left to compete. She just missed winning four in 2011 as well – she finished runner-up in the 200, five hundredths of a second back. But her mom Vikki, also Reed City’s girls track and field coach, knew something special was coming long before Sami’s first high school competition.
At a youth meet when Michell was 10 or 11, she won the long jump – despite being so much smaller than her opponents that when she climbed to the top step of the medal stand, she still stood shorter than the runner-up next to her but a level below.
Soon after, Michell began pulling out her smaller 12-inch hurdles during her parents’ practices – dad Brent is the Reed City boys coach – and during seventh grade, she was able to switch from four-step to three-step hurdling. That step was a significant one in helping her go from good to great.
In her first high school race, Michell broke her mom’s school record in the 100 hurdles that had stood since 1987.
“She had made the finals (as a youth) but never won sprints. But I knew as a coach, if I could get her to love hurdles, with her speed, if she perfected her hurdling form, she’d go a long way,” said Vikki Michell, who also ran at Ferris State. “I never honestly dreamed she’d go (this far).”
In some key ways, Michell is a natural for hurdles and jumps. She’s 5-foot-8, but with more than half of her height in her legs. She’s pushing 30 inches in the vertical jump, good enough to touch the metal that connects the rim to the backboard on a basketball hoop. She’s been her volleyball team’s setter since freshman year, and this fall also began playing middle blocker.
But her rise to elite didn’t come without work to back up that talent – fueled by that aforementioned attention to detail.
Reed City is about two hours drive from the nearest indoor track facility, so Michell spends winters running the 75-meter straightaway of her school’s main hallway. The uncharacteristic warm winter allowed her to continue training on the school’s track into January, but often she competes in winter indoor meets to also take advantage of a rare opportunity to practice hurdles and long jump.
She’s also doing some heavy lifting, literally, taking a class daily and focusing on squats and other lifts that have increased her leg strength significantly over the last two years.
“She’s a dedicated person. She doesn’t do anything halfway, I can say, as both her coach and her mom,” Vikki said.
As a child, If Sami made any kind of mis-mark on a math assignment, she’d tear it up and start over – but got over that after realizing how much extra homework she was doing. She's ranked first academically in her class, with a 4.0, and for a long time she did everything she could extra to get 100 percent in every class. These days, she's decided she'll be good with a 95, as long as it still gets her an A.
She'll work on track skills with both parents, but does plenty of research on her own watching YouTube videos of the best from her sport.
Michell likes winning, like anyone else. But she's possibly more driven by distaste for losing.
"I get frustrated. Kinda disappointed and mad at the same time," she said.
"I guess I just hate losing when other people just think they're fast. It's so much fun to just beat them."
And she can do so in more ways than what she showed Saturday. Michell also is the fastest in school history in the 400 with a time of 56.83. She ran the 800 only once, in 2:24.9, and she’s run the 100 three times, the fastest in 12.39. Those 400 and 100 times also would've been good enough for first place at this Division 3 Final.
Clemson, Michigan State and Stanford are among those showing the most early interest in her post-high school plans, and she'll likely hear from many more when college coaches can contact her later this summer.
Click to read more about Michell's track family connection and future plans.
PHOTO: Reed City's Sami Michell (center) edged Bridgeport's Kimberly Balls (left) in the 200-meter race at the Division 3 Final at Comstock Park. (Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com.)
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.)