HUDSONVILLE – Nabbing seven individual event victories Saturday at Hudsonville, the Fowler girls track & field team racked up 87 points to win its fourth Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals championship in dominant fashion.
Pittsford took second place with 55.50 points, followed by Southfield Christian with 37. The title was the Eagles' second in three seasons and came after they finished runner-up to Southfield Christian a year ago.
“It’s a great feeling, said 11-year Fowler coach Jill Feldpausch, a former standout for the Eagles during the 1980s. “We had 30 points coming out of the morning (session) with a first place in high jump, a first place in pole vault and the 3,200-meter relay. That was pretty awesome.”
The 3,200 relay team of Josie Koenigsknecht, Taryn Schafer, Grace Boak and Morgan Goerge turned in a time of 9:51.85 to get things rolling in the right direction for the Eagles. Combined with Ciera Weber’s height of 10 feet, 3 inches in the pole vault, and Alyssa Vandegriff’s top effort and school record of 5-5 in the high jump, Fowler had a good cushion with some of its best events remaining.
The Eagles plowed through the rest of the relays, with Shannon Schmitz, McKenzie Koenigsknecht, Sidney Horak and Kaitlyn Langin winning the 800 in 1:46.28, and McKenzie Koenigsknecht, Langin, Weber and Horak clocked a 50.61 to win the 400. The 1,600 relay crew of McKenzie Koenigsknecht, Josie Koenigsknecht, Boak and Goerge put a bow on the meet with a victory in 4:05.99.
Vandegriff added a win in the 100 hurdles in 15.56 seconds and a fourth-place finish in the 300 hurdles (47.02). She led a trio of Eagles to make the finals in the 100 hurdles. Ciera Weber secured fourth in 16.41 and Sadie Weber was sixth in 16.76. Goerge also scored with a fifth-place run in the 800 (2:24.83).
“Our goal was to win all four relays, and I don’t think that’s been done at Fowler before,” Feldpausch said. “In the 100 hurdles, for three of them to make the finals? They are constantly being challenged, and it’s something to be proud of.”
“Everyone on the team has worked so hard to win a state championship,” Vandegriff added. “We all pushed each other at practices and worked our tails off.”
A couple of future University of Michigan runners capped their prep careers in style Saturday as Concord distance dynamo Samantha Saenz pulled off a hat trick and sprinting star Chika Amene nearly did the same, settling for two victories and a runner-up effort by the closest of margins.
Closing out a phenomenal four years, Saenz, who boasts three all-state performances in cross country, including a Division 4 title this past fall, entered Saturday’s meet as the two-time reigning champion in the 1,600 and a 2017 all-state performer in the 800 and the 3,200. She swept all three events this time around.
The first Saturday in June continues to be bittersweet for Saenz. It was just two years ago that her older sister, Saren, passed away due to complications from a combination of physical and mental disabilities the evening of Samantha’s first 1,600 title.
“I just wanted to go out there and do it one last time for my family, for my friends and for my sister,” Saenz said. “I just run for her. It’s a great feeling.”
Saenz took a conservative approach in the 1,600 (5:00.46) in an effort to leave some in the tank for her other two events. It paid off as she ran a personal-record time of 2:16.31 in the 800. She finished the 3,200 in 11:15.51.
“It never loses its excitement,” she said. “Every time I cross the finish line, it’s so meaningful to me because my sister couldn’t walk or talk. Just the fact that I get to have that gift, it’s just a good feeling.”
For Amene, winning championships has become standard operating procedure, but she certainly hasn’t taken them for granted. She captured victories in all three sprints and was part of Southfield Christian’s winning 1,600-meter relay last June and followed that up with wins in the 100 (12.44) and the 200 (25.33) in her final prep appearance Saturday.
As proud of those wins as she is, the second-place effort to Beal City freshman Angela Kotecki (57.53) in a photo finish at the line in the 400 stung.
“I didn’t get out to a great start in the 100, but I was able to run the girl down,” she said. “The 400 really didn’t go as planned. But the most exciting part was that I was able to PR in two events (100 finals and 200 prelims) and then have a season best in one. The loss in the 400 was painful, but my time was really good.”
So were the performances of several others who came away from Hudsonville with championships. Reading’s Baleigh Irelan was the top performer of the day in the 300 hurdles (45.85), Litchfield’s Allie Vanous notched victories in both the discus (132-10) and shot put (40-4) and Hillsdale Academy’s Katie Vanhavel claimed a title in the long jump (17-3¾).
PHOTOS: (Top) Fowler’s Alyssa Vandegriff clears a hurdle during her team’s championship run Saturday. (Middle) Concord’s Samantha Saenz sprints the straightaway during one of her three victories. (Click for more 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.)