VanderKooi & Friends Deliver Western Michigan Christian's 1st Track Title

By Drew Ellis
Special for Second Half

June 4, 2022

HUDSONVILLE – Abby VanderKooi just needed a little help from her friends.

The Muskegon Western Michigan Christian senior distance runner convinced her friends, volleyball standouts Kyla and Maddie Wiersema, to join the track team in their senior year to give WMC an added boost at the end of the season.

At Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals, Kyla scored in three events, while Maddie scored in two. That, combined with VanderKooi scoring in four of her own, gave the Warriors the lift they needed to win their first track & field Finals title, posting 52 points to finish just ahead of 2021 champ Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, which scored 48.

“They’ve been friends since they were little kids, so they decided to come out this year,” WMC coach Greg Gould said of the Wiersema twins and VanderKooi. “We knew they were super talented and just added a lot to this team. To see them perform so well (Saturday) and help this small team of athletes win a state title is pretty incredible.”

VanderKooi herself had a big day, setting an LPD4 Finals record in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:49.25. It was her third time winning a Finals title in the event to go with four cross country state titles as well.

She also finished second in the 1,600, fourth in the 800, and was part of the 3,200 relay team that finished second.

“Today wasn’t about me, it was about what I could do for my team,” VanderKooi said. “I’m really happy with my performances, but I’m most excited about what we’ve been able to do as a team.”

The Irish had a big performance from senior Nicole Olivieri, who won the 200 in a time of 26.37, then set an LPD4 Finals record in the 400 with a time of 56.01. She was also the anchor leg of the winning 800 relay team (1:49.21) and the runner-up 1,600 relay squad.

“I was pretty tired after that 400, but I knew my team was depending on me for points in the 200, so that gave me a little more push,” Olivieri said. “(The 400 record) has been my goal since missing it by 0.18 seconds last year. That .01 was tough, but I can’t be mad. It’s an amazing accomplishment for me.”

Frankfort trackOlivieri’s teammate, Anna Plum, came away with the championship in the 300 hurdles with a personal-record time of 47.03.

Frankfort finished third on the day with 39 points, thanks largely to senior Tara Townsend.

Townsend collected her third pole vault state title with a leap of 11-6. She attempted to set an LPD4 Finals record of 12-1, but just couldn’t quite get over the bar.

“It was a little disappointing because I went 12 last year and I wanted to go higher, but I can’t really be too disappointed,” Townsend said of her vault performance. “I just took a deep breath on the last one and gave all I had.”

Townsend followed up her pole vault title by winning the 100 dash championship in a time of 12.79. She also was the anchor leg of the winning 400-meter relay team (51.87), while placing third in the 200 dash. Not bad while dealing with a hamstring injury in the process.

Buckley sophomore Aiden Harrand had an impressive day, as she took home titles in the 800 and 1,600 runs. In the 800, Harrand had a PR of 2:19.25, while she finished the 1,600 in a PR of 4:56.38.

Fowler won the 1,600-meter relay with a time of 4:10.11 to close out the meet. The Eagles came in fourth as a team with 35 points. Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest won the 3,200 relay with a time of 9:59.16.

Brynn Mericle won the 100 hurdles with a PR time of 15.93 to spark East Jackson to a fifth-place finish as a team.

In the field events, Morrice senior Emma Valentine repeated as the LPD4 high jump champion with a leap of 5-6.

“It was very nerve-wracking, because I wanted to repeat but I wasn’t sure how the day would pan out,” Valentine said. “I was very excited to be able to clear (5-6) again. It was great to be able to show up and perform well.”

Hillsdale Academy’s Anna Roberts took home the long jump title with a jump of 16-5.5. Gobles’ Elli Stender won the discus with a PR toss of 122-9. Kalamazoo Christian’s Tess VanDyk repeated as champion of the shot put with a throw of 41-7.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Muskegon Western Michigan Christian's Abby VanderKooi runs her leg of the 3,200 relay Saturday at Baldwin Middle School. (Middle) Frankfort's Tara Townsend, middle, wins the 100. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/Run Michigan.)


Blissfield's Miller Set for Senior Success After 3 Junior-Year Finals Trips

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

August 15, 2023

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. 

Southeast & BorderAs 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.” 

Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run.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 DonnellyDoug 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.)