KENTWOOD – There was no mistaking the marquee event at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Girls Track and Field Final.
With three of the top girls distance runners in the entire country competing, the 1,600-meter final had the undivided attention of a huge throng at windy, but sunny, East Kentwood High School.
Hannah Meier of Grosse Pointe South ran a Finals record time of 4:39.23, outdueling her identical twin sister, Haley Meier (4:42.43), and Erin Finn of West Bloomfield (4:45.37), in a race that was a three-way dead heat with one lap to go.
“I saw them coming up on me with 400 meters to go, and I knew I had to pick it up even a little more,” said Hannah Meier, who will run next year at Duke University, along with her sister. “They pushed me and I finally broke 4:40. I’ve been wanting to break that for a long time now.”
The winning time was announced as the sixth-fastest 1,600 meters ever run by a high school girl in the United States.
The epic victory in the 1,600 was one of her four firsts on Saturday for Meier, which powered Grosse Pointe South and Coach Steve Zaranek to their third-consecutive team championship. Meier also won the 800 meters and ran legs on South’s winning 3,200-meter and 1,600-meter relay teams.
The Blue Devils won with 76 points, followed by Saline with 55, host East Kentwood (47), Rochester Adams (42) and Macomb Dakota (32).
Saline posted its best-ever Finals finish behind junior Quenee Dale, who won the 100-meter hurdles and also ran a leg on the Hornets’ winning 400-meter relay team.
The final showdown between the Meier twins and Finn, who have dominated Michigan girls track and cross country since bursting onto the scene in the fall of 2009, was certainly the main storyline of Saturday’s Division 1 meet. But while fans were saying goodbye to those three distance legends, they got to know a new sprinting sensation.
Sekayi Bracey, a 15-year-old freshman, almost single-handedly delivered East Kentwood its third-place finish by winning the 100 meters (12.18), 200 meters (24.82) and placing third in the long jump (18 feet, 5.25 inches).
“I was very confident coming in, and I just tried to visualize each race in my head,” said Bracey just moments after winning her final race of the day, the 200 meters, on her home track. “I feel tired right now, but it was worth it.”
Bracey certainly didn’t run away from the field, having to hold off major challenges from second place Dominique Funchess of Detroit Renaissance in the 100 and Anna Jefferson of Oak Park in the 200.
The third-place Falcons also received an individual first place from senior Mariah Davis in the shot put.
Finn continued her dominance of the longer-distance races by putting on a show in her final high school race, the 3,200 meters. Finn, who will run next year at Michigan, won the race by a whopping 34 seconds – setting an all-division Finals record with a time of 10:08.23.
Finn acknowledged afterward that she was hoping to go sub-10 minutes.
“I went out there with the goal of the 10-minute barrier,” said Finn. “But that’s OK. I set really high goals and try to get close to them.”
Cierra Pryor of Jackson broke her own meet record from a year ago, winning the long jump with a leap of 19-0.5, a half-inch better than the year before.
The Meiers closed out the meet and their storied prep careers in fitting style, powering the Blue Devils to victory in the 1,600-meter relay.
“The most important thing for us today was to win another team state championship for South,” said Haley Meier. “I didn’t feel that great today, but I had to give it all I had for my team. This is a great way to go out.”
Earlier in the day, the Meiers opened the running portion of Saturday’s finals by each running a leg on the winning 3,200-meter relay team in 9:01.98. The other members on that winning team were Ersula Farrow and Christina Firl.
That impressive time was still 13 seconds slower than South’s 2012 winning time of 8:48.29, which is a National Federation of State High School Associations record. That team featured the Meier twins, Farrow and Kelsie Schwartz.
Winning the two sprint relays were Saline (400-meter relay) and Detroit Renaissance (800-meter relay).
Other individual champions were Jae’vyn Wortham of Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse (discus), Kerri McMahon of Novi (high jump), Jane McCurry of Plymouth (pole vault), Anna Jefferson of Oak Park (400 meters) and Breanna Luba of Southgate Anderson (300-meter hurdles).
PHOTOS: (Top) Hurdlers leap in stride Saturday at East Kentwood. (Middle) The Grosse Pointe South team poses on the medal stand after clinching the LP Division 1 championship. (Below) West Bloomfield's Erin Finn finished her high school career with an all-Finals record in the 3,200. (Photos by John Brabbs. Click to see more photo coverage from 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.)