Tie Nets P-W Girls Repeat, Grass Lake's 1st Title Since 1978
By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com
June 6, 2021
JENISON — Grass Lake coach Anthony Cole and Pewamo-Westphalia mentor Scott Werner had a dilemma after their teams tied for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 team championship Saturday.
It boiled down to this: Co-champions, but only one trophy available.
They settled it in a classic fashion: Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Even though there was a bit of orientation, first “We had to figure out how to do it,” Werner said. “We had to get into sync first, and it came down to best two out of three. And, fittingly, it came down to the last one.”
In this case, Werner’s paper covered Cole’s rock, and the Pirates went home with the trophy.
It was about the only disappointment the Grass Lake team suffered on the day as the Warriors also won the boys title.
Pewamo-Westphalia led most of Saturday, but the Warriors forged the tie when its 1,600 relay team, anchored by Lexie Bargesser, finished second in that event.
It was Grass Lake’s first MHSAA title in girls track & field since winning back-to-back Class D championships in 1977 and 1978, while it was the second in a row for the Pirates, who won the team title in 2019.
“We’re so happy to be back,” Werner said. “We had a team we thought was good enough to win it last year, too.”
It was the fifth girls title overall for Pewamo-Westphalia, which has finished first or second at five of the last eight Division 3 state meets.
“We like being on that podium,” Werner said, grinning.
Depth played a role for the Pirates.
Senior Sophie Thelen finished third in the 100, second in the 200, third in the pole vault and was on the 800 relay that finished fourth. Freshman Saige Martin had a big day, taking second in the 100 hurdles and third in the 300 hurdles.
“We also scored in some relays,” Werner said. “It was all over the board. Everyone stepped up."
Cole was pleased and a little surprised by his team’s performance.
“If you had told me (Friday) that we would do this today and our kids would perform the way they did, I would have probably laughed,” Cole said. “It was a nice surprise. We knew it would be close. The girls took care of business all day, and sure enough, we were there. Co-champs isn’t bad."
The Warriors were happy to share, and Bargesser played a key role Saturday, winning the 100, 200, and the 400 (in record time) while also anchoring the 1,600 relay that finished second.
Kailee Sandoval also had a big day,
“She ran an outstanding 800 in this heat, and ran a great leg to start the 4x400 relay,” Cole said. “She ran her butt off. It was her senior meet, and she left it all out there. I’m so happy for her.”
Byron finished third on the strength of record-setting performances by senior Sarah Marvin and a strong performance by fraternal twin Becky, both in the throwing events.
Sarah Marvin set a Lower Peninsula Division 3 mark in the discus at 160 feet even and set an all-Finals record in the shot put with a throw of 50 feet, 9½ inches, making her the first high school girl in Michigan to throw for 50 or more feet at the state meet. She missed setting an all-meet record in the discus by 3 feet, 9 inches.
“I would have liked to have broken the MHSAA record,” she said. “But I’m so happy to have (the Division 3) record.”
She was just as happy for her sister, who had personal bests in the shot and discus.
“She wanted a second (place) and a second, but all you can do is be better than yourself, and she did that in both events,” Sarah Marvin said of her twin. “I think it was a fantastic day for her.”
It also was a fantastic day for Ithaca junior Lani Bloom, who won the 800 in 2:13.67 and the 1,600 in a meet record 4:48.89. Mason County Central's Nyah Tyron swept the hurdles races with a 15.36 in the 100 and 45.01 in the 300.
But as for regrets, Cole had one on what was a pretty good day for his team.
“I’m pretty hyper-competitive,” he said, grinning. “I should not have thrown rock that third time. I’m usually a scissors guy, but I went rock and (Werner) threw paper for the third time. I just couldn’t believe it.”
And then he joined his team, beaming at their accomplishment.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grass Lake's Lexie Bargesser crosses first with Pewamo-Westphalia's Sophie Thelen right behind in one of their races together Saturday. (Middle) Byron's Becky and Sarah Marvin show their medals after dominating the throws. (Photos by Tim Robinson.)
East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper
By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com
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."
The 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."
Leon 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."
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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).]