Stockford Reigns, Ithaca Earns 1st Title

June 4, 2016

By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half

COMSTOCK PARK – Last year Hailey Stockford came out of nowhere to win a pair of sprinting championships at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Track & Field Finals at Comstock Park High School.

This year, all eyes were on her.

As the reigning champion in the 100 and 200-meter dashes, the Sanford Meridian senior knew everyone at this year's Finals on Saturday, again at Comstock Park, wanted to dethrone here.

That was wishful thinking, as Stockford easily repeated in both events, winning the 100 in 12.27 seconds and the 200 in 25.29.

"It is a little harder to defend, because last year was my first year in track and no one knew who I was," said Stockford, who will be continuing her career at Saginaw Valley State University on a full scholarship. "This year I had the target on my back, and I don't know if I liked that. But I knew I was capable of dealing with it."

Those might have been the last of a long list of defenses for Stockford, but she started running track only last year as she also was a star on her school's softball team.

But her speed could not be ignored.

"In gym class, I ran the 40-yard dash and had a good time, and my coach, Mike Bilina, said I should really go out for track," Stockford said. "I played softball, but decided it was a good idea, and went out. Glad I did; it paid off."

Stockford's were two of many great performances on a perfect day for track and field. But collectively as a group, the day belonged to Ithaca, which won its first MHSAA team title in the sport with  a score of 57.5 points, 3.5 more than runner-up Adrian Madison.

"Our goal coming in was to win," Ithaca coach Gene Lebron said "We scored 38 points last year and finished in fourth, and we didn't lose anybody. I am so proud of these girls, and so proud of the work they put in."

Ithaca was led to its title by senior Erica Sheahan, who repeated in the long jump with a leap of 17-10.25.

When talking about the Bullough family of Traverse City, a word that comes to mind is toughness.

That was never so true than Saturday, as St. Francis' Holly Bullough, younger sister of Max, Byron and Riley Bullough – who all played, or are now playing, football for Michigan State University – ran with a stress fracture in her left foot.

With a foot that requires a walking boot when she is not competing, Bullough won the 1,600 with a meet record time of 4 minutes, 52.63 seconds.

She also won the 800 in a time of 2:12.22 and was a member of the Gladiators' 1,600-meter relay team that took second with a time of 4:03.07.

"When I run, it's not as bad, but it really hurts after," said Bullough, who will be joining Byron and Riley at MSU this fall. "I felt good today. I haven't had a meet in a week and a half, so I have just been cross training. Today I just needed to get back into a rhythm."

Clare's Kasey Staley had a busy 10 minutes in her Finals events, as she ran for her team's 800-meter relay team that set a new school record of 1:46.91 and took third, and then came back to win the pole vault with a vault of 12 feet, 4 inches – a new meet record.

"The adrenaline was pumping," said Staley, a junior. "I did feel nervous because I just ran in the relay and came back to the pit. I made 11-8, and then went for 12-4 and when I made it on my second jump, it was the greatest feeling in the world."

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PHOTOS: (Top) Sanford Meridian's Hailey Stockford (far left) is announced as the 100 meter champion Saturday at Comstock Park. (Middle) Ithaca's Emily Foster competes in the 300 hurdles; she finished fifth. (Click to see more from

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).]