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 [email protected] 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.)
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.)