MARQUETTE — Most Upper Peninsula track coaches will tell anyone the weather always is perfect in the Dome.
After all, the temperature is constantly in the 70s and there’s no wind, rain or snow to contend with inside Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome. And most people agree it was better than competing outdoors last week
Engadine junior Ashtyn Buss was among a group of student-athletes to get a taste of competing in both environments during the Superior Central invitational on April 17.
Buss won girls shot put at 37 feet, 5½ inches inside the Dome, but failed to place in discus, which took place in the great outdoors against a stiff breeze with temperatures hovering near 30 degrees.
“It was pretty important to get a meet in,” she said. “It was very much a relief to be in here for shot. It’s nice and warm in here, but it was sure cold out there for disc. My shoulder tightened up, and I scratched.
“I had good distance on some of my throws, but I kept throwing out of bounds. I can learn from this.”
Cedarville sophomore Caroline Freel, who anchored the winning 1600-meter relay, also stressed the importance of her school’s team getting a meet under its belt.
“This gives us a gauge of where we’re at,” she said. “It was very much a relief to be indoors. Track season up here is known for its unpredictability.”
Although most distance runners are used to running in the cold, Chassell sophomore Lela Rautiola was also glad to be running indoors.
“It helps to get this meet in,” said Rautiola, who won the 1,600 run in 5 minutes, 59.54 seconds. “My lungs are burning from the air, but it’s better than being outdoors today.”
Bark River-Harris coach Katina Demers was mostly thankful the Broncos had a chance to compete.
“It’s so important to get something under our belts in April,” she said. “This was a good learning experience for the younger kids. We’re also very thankful this was indoors. It was very cold outside. I’m surprised they held discus today because of the elements.”
Outside temperatures warmed to the upper 40s the next day (April 18). Rain, however, developed during the course of that day.
Many spectators attending the Marquette Invitational that next day commented about the weather conditions and were glad to have the opportunity to watch track & field competition indoors.
Some distance runners, however, may have preferred to be outdoors on a day during which conditions were more favorable than 24 hours earlier.
Sault Ste. Marie senior Aaron Kinsella may have been among them after winning the 3,200 in 11:12.67.
“That was a pretty good effort by Aaron,” said Sault boys coach D.J. Baars. “He was running all alone and he ran tough. We thought his time might have been a little faster. Aaron said it was hot in here.”
The series of indoor track meets at the Dome concluded with the Ishpeming Invitational on April 19.
Although the sun made an appearance, temperatures had dropped about 10 degrees from the previous day.
Manistique senior Kelsey Dehanke enjoyed the comforts of competing indoors while winning the girls high jump at 4-foot-10.
"It’s a relief to be indoors,” said Dehanke, who plans to attend Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay after high school to major in dental hygiene. “It’s just easier on the leg muscles. I don’t like sitting around in the cold.”
This marked the second meet this season for the Newberry girls, who were runners-up in an outdoor quadrangular meet at St. Ignace the day before.
“It’s important to get meets in this early, but the wind was so cold at St. Ignace,” said Newberry sophomore Madison Grigg, who led off the winning 800 relay. “It’s much better being in here.”
The Ishpeming boys and Munising girls were crowned champions among the Division 2 schools competing in the finale at NMU.
Marquette swept both ends of its invitational, which featured Division 1 schools, and the Bessemer boys and Lake Linden-Hubbell girls earned top honors among the Division 3 schools in the Superior Central Invite.
“Getting meets in early is huge, especially where we’re located,” said Bessemer coach Mark Mazzone. “We often don’t get outside until late April or early May."
PHOTO: Upper Peninsula athletes compete during an April meet at Northern Michigan University's Superior Dome during the start of the 2016 season. (Photo by Paul Gerard.)
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.)