St Ignace Returns to D2 Title Height

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 4, 2017

KINGSFORD — The St. Ignace girls returned to familiar territory Saturday, earning their first Upper Peninsula Division 2 track title in three years with 110 points.

Munising took runner-up honors at 102, and two-time defending champion Ishpeming took third this time with 91.

“We have a great group of girls who work well together,” said St. Ignace coach Trudy Olsen. “They came here hungry. They wanted to regain the title. They did amazing. It’s all about them.”

Prior to 2015, the Saints were crowned champions five years in a row, including a Division 3 title in 2013.

St. Ignace junior Linnee Gustafson matched the meet record in high jump at 5 feet, 4 inches, which she shares with Nicole Vanderlin of Norway from 2011 and 2012.

Gustafson’s winning leap also set a school record, an inch higher than her previous best (5-3) from this year’s Regional meet on May 19.

“I’m excited,” she said. "Today my steps felt perfect. It was a relief to set the school record in the Regional. Now I’m mostly competing with myself.”

Sophomore teammate Emily Coveyou anchored the winning 1,600 relay, clocked at a season-best 4:23.12, and placed second in the 200 (27.86) and 400 (1:01.70)

“It feels good to get the title back.” said Coveyou. “We felt we had a pretty good chance coming in. I think this gives us motivation for next year.”

Classmate Libby Becker held off Iron River West Iron County senior Emmy Kinner for the 800 title. Becker was clocked at 2:27.19, followed by Kinner in a school-record 2:28.02.

“This is very, very, very exciting,” said Becker. “I heard her coming behind me. I was feeling a little pressure, but I turned that pressure into energy. The 800 is a very tough race. The last 200 meters is the most challenging. You get tired, but have to find a way to overcome that.”

Munising senior Michaela Peramaki, who will continue her track & field career at Central Michigan University, won pole vault (8-6), long jump (15-8¾) and the 100 (12.79), the last ahead of Kinner – who had won the 100, 200 and 400 the last two years.

“I had never beaten her (Kinner) before,” said Peramaki. “I did not expect that. I knew if I was going to beat Emmy, I needed a good start and I executed that. In long jump, I didn’t jump as far as I usually do, but it still went well. I want to thank my parents (Matt and Ann) for giving me the God-given talent and all the encouragement they gave me. They have helped me so much.”

St. Ignace senior Alysse Bentley, who was runner-up in pole vault at 8-0, described what it was like to jump with Peramaki.

“It’s good competition,” she said. “I knew I was seeded second and just wanted to finish as high as I was seeded. I was impressed with how hard she runs and her swing up. You can tell she puts a lot of time into it.”

Freshman Madeleine Peramaki (Michaela’s sister) won the 1,600 (5:38.69) and 3,200 (12:58.11) and placed third in the 800 (2:32.13). Junior teammate Alyssa Webber was runner-up in the 3,200 (13:17.80) and third in the 1,600 (5:50.41).

Ishpeming’s Marissa Maino swept the weight events, taking shot put (36-6¼) and discus (108-9½).

Kinner set a meet record in the 400 (59.18), topping the previous (1:00.30) by Kara Dale of Ishpeming in 2010. She also won the 200 (27.25) and was runner-up  in the 100 (12.87).

“This is the first time breaking a minute in the 400, and having all the competition helped me get the school record in the 800,” she said. “I was in lane 2 in the 100, which makes it tough because you’re not next to the fastest runners. Breaking a minute in the 400 is something I really wanted to do, and I had a good day for it.”

Kinner then described how her track career began.

“When I was in eighth grade, I ran track to get out of school,” she said. “Mrs. B (coach Kristi Berutti) saw me running and wanted me to run against some of the high school runners. She believed in me and convinced me to come out. At first I didn’t like it, but it grew on me.”

Newberry senior Taylor Bryant captured the 100 hurdles (16.56) and 300 (49.18), helped the Indians take second in the 800 relay (1:54.40) and placed third in the 100 dash (13.52).

“My starts were okay,” said Bryant. “It felt good coming out in the hurdles. My start could have been a little better in the 100 dash, but it still went all right.”

Ishpeming’s Katie Loman took second in the 100 hurdles (17.07) and 300 (49.33) and anchored the winning 800 relay (1:53.77).

Click for full results.

PHOTO: (Top) St. Ignace's Linnee Gustafson pushes the pace during the 800 relay. (Middle) Newberry’s Taylor Bryant breaks away on the way to winning the 100 hurdles. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

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).]