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."
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 HighSchoolSportsScene.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.)