It was cold and rainy on April 29, 2016, and Grand Blanc’s Quiara Wheeler was scared.
The line to make to even have your throw measured in the discus at the Charlie Janke Track & Field Invitational in Jackson was 80 feet, farther than her personal best.
“I was really nervous, because I couldn’t throw very far,” she said. “I threw an 88-4 and was really excited. The week after that I started throwing farther in practice. (Grand Blanc throwing coach Garner Pleasant) and I figured out I was holding it wrong the whole season, then I figured out the hand placement and my footwork.”
After that, she took off.
Wheeler went from scared to be short of the minimum measurement to MHSAA champion in a little more than 30 days, throwing 136 feet, 2 inches on June 4 to win the Lower Peninsula Division 1 title.
“Sometimes they will get a big improvement in the disc because all of the sudden it just clicks,” Grand Blanc girls track & field coach Andy Taylor said. “But it usually takes at least a year or more to do that. To improve 50 feet from the end of April to the state meet, I’ve never heard of that.”
Wheeler improving her personal best by more than 60 feet in one season, and her quick ascension to the top of the state’s pecking order in the discus are actually easier to explain than you would guess.
It was a simple formula: extraordinary talent meets proper form – or close to it, anyway.
“What God has put in her, I can’t put in her,” Pleasant said. “She’s an athlete.”
Wheeler doesn’t just throw for the Bobcats, she also long jumps, with a personal best of 16 feet, and has been on the sprint relays.
She holds a third-degree black belt in martial arts, and her coaches feel that background has helped her to quickly pick things up on the track.
“She’s used to putting in the work and having discipline,” Taylor said. “At the state meet, as she was throwing, I happened to look right in her eyes, and you could tell that she was totally focused.”
While her improvement was lightning fast, it was also gradual, and not without some bumps in the road. In early May, her throws crept into the low 100s – 100-4, 102-1, 113-11 – from May 3 to 10.
Before the Kensington Lakes Activities Association meet, Pleasant decided to add a full spin to Wheeler’s arsenal. She faulted three times, however, and did not record a throw.
“I told her, ‘Forget about it, put it behind you,’” Pleasant said. “When we get ready for the Regional, we’re going to do the South African (technique). At the Regional, she throws the discus 120 feet with a legal South African, and that had to go about 150 feet straight in the air and dropped.
“We had two weeks before the state meet, so all we did is work on the full rotation. That’s all we did for two full weeks.”
The new technique helped Wheeler reach 132 feet in the preliminary rounds of the Division 1 meet, easily putting her into the Finals.
Still, the newcomer to the big stage felt the nerves.
“When it came to the Finals, I was by myself and I was trying to calm myself down the whole time,” Wheeler said. “It was kind of overwhelming at first because all of the girls were so good and I was like, ‘How did I make it to the Finals?’”
Wheeler won by five feet, with no one else topping even her preliminary throw.
Her rapid rise caught the eyes of college coaches, and she said she has scholarship offers from Western Michigan University and Heidelberg University in Ohio. Taylor said college coaches are excited about how much more she can grow.
“I actually never really thought about (throwing in college),” she said. “This was before I was good. When the season was going on, I realized maybe I can do this. But I definitely want to continue this in college.”
Pleasant and Taylor both feel Wheeler is only beginning to tap into her potential as a thrower. She’s dedicated her offseason to getting better in the discus, which doesn’t bode well for those trying to catch her.
“I’ve just been training every day, pretty much since October – I also trained in the summer,” she said. “I’ve been lifting weights, and I’m definitely stronger than I was last year. I work out with two other boys, and they push me because they’re stronger than me. I go in and watch videos, footage of me sometimes and how bad my form was. Coming into the season, I’m hoping to be more consistent with my throws.”
Wheeler doesn’t seem worried that she’ll now have a target on her back as the returning Finals champion. In fact, she’s excited to beat her previous achievements, which is what drew her to track in the first place.
Pleasant has her aiming for the stars.
“I told her, ‘You should be setting your sights on the best marks in the state,’” Pleasant said. “That’s what we’re shooting for, having the best marks in the state. It’s not about state, it’s about going out and trying to have some of the best marks in the nation if you can.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Blanc’s Quiara Wheeler tosses the discus during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Wheeler enjoys a moment away from the throwing circle. (Photos by John Brabbs/RunMichigan.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.)