HUDSONVILLE —The Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart girls track & field team was looking forward to a fun hour-and-a-half trek back home after the Irish claimed their first MHSAA Finals championship in their sport Saturday in Hudsonville.
Sacred Heart finished the day with 51 points, beating out Hillsdale Academy by six. Coach Adam Grifka was holding back tears after he realized what his team had just accomplished. He said it was an uphill climb all season, but they got it done at the right time.
“At the beginning of the season, we had a really low turnout. I thought there was no way,” Grifka said. “We just had everyone do so good today. The biggest thing I told them was to show up and compete no matter what.”
They did just that, earning an individual when junior Nicole Olivieri came out on top in the 400 meters with a time of 57.47, a new personal record. And then the Irish just chipped away, claiming points in eight events total.
Olivieri was the catalyst for her team in the sprints. Not only did she earn the individual title, but she ran the anchor leg in the 800 and 1,600 relays. Sacred Heart won both events with times of 1:49.04 and 4:10.74, respectively, both setting school records.
“I started out the season with a 64-second 400, so dropping it to a 57 is just crazy,” Olivieri said. “I never thought I would be running these times; it’s insane to me.”
She wasn’t the only athlete to put together an impressive day. Lilly Bilbey from Alcona earned two individual titles, in the 100 and 200 with times of 12.51 and 26.58, respectively. Tess VanDyk from Kalamazoo Christian also earned two individual titles, sweeping the throwing events.
Saugatuck senior Jillian Johnson had a solid day as well, capturing her first individual title. She finished atop the podium in the long jump and shattered her own school record, breaking the 17-foot barrier for the first time with a leap of 17-00.75, just a quarter of an inch more than the second-place finisher.
“It was crazy,” Johnson said. “When it was over 17 feet, it was just insane. ... Right when (the eventual runner-up) hit the board on her final attempt, she stuttered a little bit, so I knew I was going to take it at that point.”
The Trailblazers also saw an impressive day from junior Aerin Baker. Though she didn’t come away with any event victories, she helped keep her team in contention all day scoring in three events, including a third-place finish in the long jump behind Johnson.
But when all was said and done, the history went to Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. Olivieri said that even though it didn’t seem realistic at some points this season, she couldn’t be more proud of the way her team competed for every single second to come away as the best track team in its division.
“It’s pretty cool to be the first,” Olivieri said. “Everyone had to do their best today and give it all that they can, and they did. Everybody worked so hard. … It’s such a good feeling.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Nicole Olivieri races toward one of her scoring finishes Saturday. (Middle) Saugatuck’s Aerin Baker leaps one of the hurdles during the 100 race. (Below) Sacred Heart celebrates its first track & field championship. (Photos by Will Kennedy.)
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.)