KENT CITY – If the expression “Tradition never graduates” holds any validity, then girls track & field teams competing in MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 were put on notice again by Hart’s squad Saturday at Kent City High School.
Hart captured its second-straight LPD3 Finals championship and third in six years. And the Pirates did it with a pair of sophomores leading the way in Jessica Jazwinski and Addi Hovey.
Hart totaled 64 points to hold off runner-up Olivet (56.5). Lansing Catholic was third (46), Hillsdale fourth (46) and Jackson Lumen Christi fifth (31).
“This one was more nerve-racking (than last year) because the expectations were a little more there. Last year was more maybe a bit of a surprise,” said Hart coach Calvin Ackley, whose 2022 team scored 63 points and cleared the rest of the field by 24.
“They did great. They knew how to be champions because they were last year. I remember telling them last year halfway through the season that if they look around the room, this is probably the best team in the state and none of them told me they didn’t believe it at that time. This year I didn’t say anything because I think they just knew they were right up there.”
Hovey and Jazwinski are two of those athletes with said quiet confidence.
In Ackley’s words, Hovey was “great” as an all-around athlete and point-scorer, while Jazwinski was “honestly the linchpin” with her distance races.
The 5-foot-10 Hovey took first in high jump with a leap of 5 feet, 4 inches, and she placed third in the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.53 seconds.
The Associated Press Division 3 first-team all-state basketball player, who helped Hart reach the hoops Semifinals in March, also ran on the Pirates’ third-place 400 relay (50.78) and seventh-place 800 relay (1:49.32) Saturday.
“It was fun,” Hovey said. “A lot of our older teammates put all the effort into (this season), and in the end I think it really paid off for how hard we worked this season. I’m really proud of us.
“I mean, I wish I did a little better in the high jump, but it’s really hot out so that has its side effects, but overall I’m pretty happy with how I did perform,” added Hovey, who established a personal best of 5-11 in the high jump this season, which ranked her fifth nationally in the event.
Jazwinski, a New Balance All-American runner who was the MHSAA LP Division 3 individual cross country champion last fall, earned all-state honors in four events Saturday.
She finished first in the 3,200 run (10:57.99), second in the 1,600 (4:58.86) and third in the 800 (2:16.22). Jazwinski also helped Hart score valuable points on the fourth-place 3,200 relay team along with Lexie Beth Nienhuis, Abigail Pretty and Alyson Enns.
“I’m super excited just because, like, I know all the girls so well and we’re all such good friends. To see everybody, like, working so hard at practices and improving … . This year, we actually have so many girls qualified for state that have never qualified before and just to see everybody improving, it’s so amazing.
“Just to contribute to that, I’m super excited about that.”
Other big winners Saturday included Almont senior Devin Johnston and Onsted sophomore Emmry Ross.
Johnston, a dual-sport athlete who also plays softball, raced to first-place finishes in the 100 (personal-record 12.14 seconds) and 200 (24.98 PR). She also anchored her team’s fourth-place 400 relay (50.92).
An Eastern Illinois signee for track, it was tough for Johnston not to be there for her softball team in Saturday’s District tournament. But track is her primary sport, and the decision certainly paid off for her.
“I’m glad that I finished out strong,” Johnston said. “Being a senior, it’s a lot of emotions but I’m glad I finished with the best I could do. I mean, I’m sad that it’s over, but I’m glad with how it went and how I performed.
“(Almont’s softball team) lost in Districts today, but I came here. My sophomore year, my primary was softball and I had to choose so I went to softball Districts that year instead of (track) states. Junior year, I picked (track) states and then this year I picked (track) states. I mean, it’s hard but going into two sports I kind of know it’s going to happen unless (the softball opponent) agrees to move (the game) and they didn’t this year.”
Ross, meanwhile, has a couple more years to perform at the track Finals. On Saturday, she won individual championships in the 400 (56.48) and 800 (2:11.25 PR).
Ross was all-state in a third event, running a leg on Onsted’s fifth-place 3,200 relay (9:48.46), and she just missed all-state distinction as her team’s 800 relay quartet finished ninth.
Like Hart’s Jazwinski alluded, Ross said that a key to performing well on the steamy afternoon was managing the heat.
“I was trying to keep in a very good headspace – it was the same for everybody, so I didn’t want to let it get me down. It was the same for everybody – not one person was running in any cooler temperature,” Ross said. “I just went out there and did the best I could, and I think I did very well.”
Other champions Saturday included: Lumen Christi’s Madison Osterberg in the 1,600 (4:55.02), Hillsdale’s Mia Hinz in the 100 hurdles (15.89), Olivet’s Emma Peters in the 300 hurdles (46.09 PR), Olivet’s Payton Otto in shot put (39-4½), Quincy’s Sophia Snellenberger in discus (141-5), Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Ally Olszewski in pole vault (11-3), Napoleon’s Alyssa Budd in long jump (17-11.5 PR), Olivet’s 400 relay (McKenzie Speer, Megan Neitzel, Alyssa Kennedy, Celina Sinclair; 50.30), West Catholic’s 800 relay (Ally Olszewski, Alexis Patterson, Aislynn Sweedyk, Claire Arends; 1:46.36), Olivet’s 1,600 relay (Emily Peters, Sophia Pell, Olivea Gessner, Cassie Coleman; 4:06.68) and Lansing Catholic's 3,200 relay (Tessa Roe, Frances Melinn, CC Jones, Hannah Pricco; 9:23.82).
Running tradition has been strong at Hart for a number of years. The Pirates’ girls cross country program won five straight MHSAA LP Division 3 titles (2017-2021) and placed fourth in the fall of 2022.
Expectations are high across Hart’s cross country and track programs. Even though athletes graduate each season, the next group comes in prepared to carry on that tradition.
“I mean, after last year, you kind of look at, ‘We’re missing Kendall Williamson, we’re going to miss Lauren VanderLaan,’ and think, ‘How are we going to fill those gaps?’” Ackley said.
“But I remember watching Addi Hain (now a Hart freshman) – I go to the middle-school meet, I watched her run and I’m like, ‘That girl’s going to help us next year,’ and sure enough, she did. So that’s a good feeling. … We’re going to miss (seniors) Savanna (Owens) and Aspen Boutell and I know I am missing some other girls that are scorers for us, but there will be girls that will step up and take those spots hopefully. We’ll see.”
PHOTOS (Top) Hart’s Addi Hovey, center, sprints alongside Comstock’s Ti’Anna Murphy-Ryan, left, and Almont’s Devin Johnston. (Middle) Jessica Jazwinski leads a race by a large margin for the Pirates. (Photos by Carter Sherline/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.)