GRAND RAPIDS – Southfield Christian may not have a track, but it has a trophy case.
And after Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals at Grand Rapids’ Houseman Field, the Eagles have a new piece of hardware to put in it.
With great efficiency, a squad of six athletes collected 62 points for the team title to beat out nearest competitors Fowler (52) and Springport (45). It’s the first track & field championship in school history (the Eagles were second in 2007), and junior Chika Amene left her fingerprints all over it.
Amene won three individual events and ran a leg on the first-place 1,600-meter relay team that set a school record with a time of 4 minutes, 7.37 seconds.
“It’s all so surreal,” she said. “I’m speechless, and it’s shocking.”
In the 100 prelims, Amene stumbled out of the blocks but still managed to win her heat. She ran a time of 12.71 seconds in the finals to edge Springport’s Katelynn Creger by four hundredths of a second.
In the 200, Amene clocked a 26.07 to hold off Custer Mason County Eastern’s Jordan Goodman, who ran a personal-record of 26.13.
Finally, Amene claimed her third sprint title when she crossed the finish in 58.83 in the 400. She helped solidify the team championship along with Rebekah Wilson, Kaelin Ray and Shelby Goodson with a convincing win in the 1,600 relay.
“This year I became more focused, and I became more serious,” Amene said. “I became more eager to win and have more of a fight than I did last year. I started training last summer and the indoor season really helped me improve. I want to do it again next year, defend my titles and improve my times.”
Ray turned in a school record 45.98 to win the 300-meter hurdles, and she placed third in the 100 hurdles with a time of 15.61. The Eagles’ 800 relay of Goodson, Grace Sanders, Ray and Grace McFerrin was third overall in 1:49.10.
“We weren’t expecting anything close to this,” Amene said. “I know people back at home are very happy.”
Mendon’s Mary Leighton was expecting nothing short of a championship in the 100 hurdles after setting a meet record in her win as a junior in 2016. Not only did she repeat as a senior, her time of 14.89 was again the best performance in Division 4 history. Leighton also had a runner-up finish in the 300 hurdles with a time of 47.52.
“I like warm weather, so I felt good going over the hurdles,” Leighton said. “I’m happy that I got my (personal record) on my last race of my high school career. As for the 300s, I knew that it was going to be a really close race. I’m still proud of my performance. It’s nice to finish strong before I go into collegiate competition (for Indiana Tech). I will always cherish the memories made from track, and I’m proud to say I ran for Mendon.”
Erika Lechner of Harbor Springs ended her prep career on the highest of notes with a Division 4 meet record toss of 44 feet, 1½ inches. She bested Jade Madison’s mark of 43-8¼ set by the former New Buffalo standout in 2014.
The rest of the meet was a free-for-all as Fowler was one of two other teams to win multiple events. Its 400 relay team of McKenzie Feldpausch, Ciera Weber, McKenzie Koenigsknecht and Sidney Horak grabbed the top spot in 51.49 seconds, and teammate Allyssa Vandegriff cleared 5-4 to win the high jump by two inches.
Pittsford senior Maddie Clark crushed the field by over 15 feet with a distance of 137-6 in the discus, and the Wildcats nabbed another title when Katie Clement went 10-6 for a nine-inch victory in the pole vault.
PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian's Kaelin Ray clears a hurdle during her winning 300 performance. (Middle) Mendon's Mary Leighton powers through her first-place finish in the 100 hurdles. (Photos by Dave McCauley/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.)