Reeths-Puffers' Depies Rewrites Records

May 11, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

The Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet began in 1954, within days of Roger Bannister busting through the 4-minute mile barrier. So breaking a meet record is a big deal.

That perspective is necessary to truly appreciate what Muskegon Reeths-Puffer junior distance runner Maryssa Depies accomplished Friday at the 63rd annual meet at Holton High School.

Depies broke not one, not two, not three, but four meet records that evening – and since individuals are limited to competing in four events, it’s a performance which will never be surpassed. Depies powered the Rockets’ girls team to its 11th city championship over the past 12 years.

“I guess it proved to me what I can do when I’m mentally prepared,” said Depies, who ran the anchor leg of R-P’s winning 3,200-meter relay, then won three straight individual events – the 1,600, 800 and 3,200.

“It was a perfect night, perfect weather. The records just kind of built on each other – once I got one, I figured I should go after another one.”

Reeths-Puffer girls track coach Gary Niklasch knew his team was a safe bet to win the meet (R-P ended up 88 points ahead of second-place Whitehall), so he felt it was a good time to see how his standout junior could handle doing the four longest events in a single meet.

“It was first time we really turned her loose in all four events,” Niklasch said.

Her big day started by anchoring the Rockets’ wide victory in the 3,200 relay, where she joined with teammates Lilah Parker, Jayme Brantsen and Kendra Irvine to win in 9:36.23, breaking an 18-year-old record by a whopping 18 seconds.

The relay wins are the most special for Depies, because they are part of a team effort with her friends and the culmination of all the hard work they put in with Reeths-Puffer distance coach Dee Richardson, who is also the school’s cross country coach.

“He is like a second dad to me,” said Depies, the daughter of Grant and Laree Depies. “He plants the seed in all of us, letting us know all of the things we can accomplish. Then it’s up to us to go out and do it.”

Her first individual race that day was the 1,600, which she has never considered her best distance. But after posting one of the state’s best times this season (5:03.06), Depies and her coaches are starting to wonder whether the mile might be her ideal race for the upcoming Regional and MHSAA Finals meets.

Next came the 800 meters, where her time of 2:19.51 broke the oldest girls city meet record, the yard-converted time of 2:20.8 recorded by Amy Laswell of Mona Shores in 1977.

By the time the meet reached the 3,200-meter run, the second-to-last event, any drama surrounding the battle for the team title was long gone and the crowd was aware that individual history was about to be made.

Depies appreciated the cheers from spectators from all of the area schools, and really appreciated that the announcer knew how to say her last name correctly (pronounced Depp-pis).

Despite already winning three long events, and having a quick turnaround after the 800 meters, Depies dug deep and fed off the crowd to break the meet record she had set one year ago by more than 10 seconds, winning in 11:04.72.

“Maryssa only does things one way and that’s all-in,” said Niklasch. “She has made steady improvement since her freshman year. She has built up her strength, and that is why she was able to break all four records.”

Bigger challenges await the 17-year-old, starting Thursday with the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black meet at Reeths-Puffer. The featured race will be the 1,600, where Depies is expected to race her friend Madison Goen of Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills in a matchup of two of the state’s top milers.

Area track fans do not have to go far to watch Depies compete in any of her remaining big meets. Her Division 1 Regional is May 20 at Grand Haven, the Meijer West Michigan Invitational is May 25 at Reeths-Puffer and the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals are June 4 at Hudsonville.

Depies and her coaches are eager to see how she will match up against the top runners from around the state.

Depies is something of a late bloomer on the state distance-running scene. She first started running near the end of elementary school in the “Girls on the Run” program, and says it wasn’t until her sophomore year of cross country, when she first dipped under 19 minutes, that “a light bulb kind of switched on” and she realized she could be really good.

Niklasch hopes her record-setting performance at the city meet is another defining moment for Depies, and will propel her to new heights at the regional and state level.

Depies said she is just enjoying having fun and having success doing something she loves.

“Everyone has their escape in life, and for me, it’s running,” she said. “When I’m sitting in school all day, I’m like a big wad of energy just waiting to be released.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Reeths-Puffer junior Maryssa Depies competes at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Track Meet on Friday, May 6, at Holton High School. Depies won four events and set city meet records in all four - 800 meters, 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and anchoring the winning 3,200-meter relay. (Middle) Depies (third from left) poses with teammates after winning four events. The Reeths-Puffer girls won the city title for the 11th time in the past 12 years. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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).]