Southfield Christian '6' Claim 1st Track Title

By Wes Morgan
Special for

June 3, 2017

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.

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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/

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for

August 8, 2022

Maia Perez and Gabriela Leon saw it coming.

In fact, the two 2017 East Kentwood all-staters each predicted remarkable post-high school success for each other long before graduation.

Perez was a four-year letterwinner as a soccer goalkeeper who led the Falcons to the Division 1 Semifinals as a sophomore and now plays professionally in Los Angeles. Leon, an all-state pole vaulter in high school, recently became University of Louisville's first NCAA champion in that event.

The two say the success doesn't come as a surprise to either, that part of that success can be explained because they continually pushed each other athletically at East Kentwood.

"Obviously there are a lot of good athletes at East Kentwood, and she was one of those amazing athletes," Perez said of Leon. "When she accomplished something, I wanted to do something big, too. I was all-state in soccer, she was all-state in track, and it was nice to have someone push you, even on days when you didn't feel like being pushed."

Leon credits Perez for helping her grasp the difference between toiling as an ordinary athlete and rising to an elite status as early as the ninth grade.

"When you see high-caliber athletes in the state finals, I think you see the struggles that others don't see," Leon said. "I saw what she was doing, and I learned from that. I learned, and I think she did too, that you have to work hard to be good, to achieve your goals. There is definitely mutual respect between us."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe two met as freshmen and quickly became friends. They originally had soccer in common as both played junior varsity as freshmen before Perez was promoted to varsity later that spring. The teammates began hanging out together off the field, be it at the beach or while taking the school's advanced physical education class together. By the time they were sophomores, however, it had become apparent that Perez's future – despite being a good basketball player – would remain in soccer, while Leon – who had also lettered in volleyball and cross country – narrowed her focus to track.

Both excelled after leaving East Kentwood. Leon had earned her first top-eight MHSAA Finals places as a sophomore, and as a senior placed fourth in pole vault, third in long jump and ran on the fourth-place 400 relay and third-place 1,600 relay as East Kentwood finished third in Lower Peninsula Division 1. Her high school personal records were 13 feet in pole vault and 18-11 in long jump (with a wind-aided 19-7). She broke Louisville's indoor and outdoor records in the pole vault as a sophomore and never looked back. She won the 2022 NCAA outdoor championship in June with a jump of 15-feet, one inch (4.6 meters) while becoming just the fourth collegian ever to amass three clearances over 4.6 meters.

Perez was a three-time Ottawa-Kent Conference Red soccer pick in high school who helped the Falcons in 2015 to their best postseason finish, when they lost to 1-0 in a Semifinal to eventual Division 1 champ Saline. She went on to play at University of Hartford after attracting interest from other programs including Western Michigan, Coastal Carolina and Pittsburgh. She wound up playing every minute of all 37 of her starts as a sophomore and junior while missing just 45 minutes over 19 games as a freshman. COVID-19 wiped out the program's season when Perez was a senior. Still, she is eighth on the school's all-time saves list with 206 while ranking 10th in shutouts with 12.

Following college, Perez was signed by the Los Angeles-based Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. While she wasn't drafted by any NWSL club, Perez impressed coaches enough during a tryout to land a spot on the team's "Discovery List" as the youngest of three goalkeepers.

"Things have been going real well for me there," Perez said. "I feel like I've improved a ton."

While Perez credits Leon with pushing her as an athlete, she said the two didn't necessarily dwell on what they accomplished in high school. They did, however, compare notes on the similarities it took for both to succeed, both physically and mentally.

"We didn't necessarily talk about (honors) a lot," Perez said. "We both knew what each other accomplished, and I don't think we need to talk about it. But I just knew one day she would be really good in track."

East Kentwood soccerLeon said the trait which stuck out about Perez in high school was her competitive drive. She hated to lose, Leon said.

"She was always a very impressive athlete," Leon noted. "She always had (success) in her because she was a real hard worker. Going into high school you could see her work ethic. We had a mutual friendship, and I saw what a work ethic and being humble could do for you."

As for herself, Leon, like many athletes, explored playing many sports. But she always came back to track.

"I always wanted to be the best athlete I could be," she said. "I was never just satisfied with just doing something. I always had this deep desire to perform to the best of my ability."

Perez remembers the first sport which interested her was skateboarding. In fact, the first time Perez met then-East Kentwood coach John Conlon, she told him she was only marginally interested in soccer. Conlon, who led East Kentwood’s girls and boys programs to a combined 654 wins and the boys varsity to five Division 1 championships, quickly made a convert of Perez.

"It's funny how things work out," Perez said. "I was looking for something that I could really be a part of, and now it's my job and I'm so happy I can say I'm getting paid for something I really like."

2021-22 Made in Michigan

Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: 
Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: 
Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 
2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: 
Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14:
Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
June 30: Hrynewich's Star Continuing to Rise with Olympic, Pro Sports Arrivals - Read

PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from left, Gabriela Leon competes for the East Kentwood and University of Louisville track & field teams, and Maia Perez plays soccer for East Kentwood and trains for the NWSL's Angel City FC. (Middle) Leon holds up her NCAA championship trophy in June. (Below) Perez is one of three keepers for Angel City FC. [Photos courtesy of East Kentwood's athletic department (2017 soccer), Run Michigan (2017 track & field), the Louisville athletic department (2022 track & field) and Will Navarro/Angel City FC (2022 soccer).]