Warriors Continue Decade of Dominance

May 25, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Remus Chippewa Hills girls track coach Sally Schafer tells her athletes that each season is a chapter of one book that is the Warriors’ program.

For the last decade, it’s been an award winner – and a best seller as class after class has kept going one of the state’s most impressive runs in any sport.

Chippewa Hills – despite just one senior and seven upperclassmen total – won its 10th-straight league meet last week by once again dominating the Central State Activities Association field. The Warriors also this season pushed their dual meet winning streak to 68, their last loss all the way back on April 25, 2002. And they added a Division 2 Regional championship last week, edging Mount Pleasant by 1.5 points despite being the smallest school in the division.

Track and field can be a sport of highs and lows, especially for a school of Chippewa Hills’ size and the massive effect one or two elite athletes can have. But the Warriors’ consistency makes the run more incredible – over that decade, they competed in four leagues against some schools that were smaller but also many that were much bigger.

“We’ve seen it all,” Schafer said. “We’ve seen Ludington; I remember seem them show up when I was starting coaching, and we hated seeing them getting off the bus, 80 of them. They’d clean you up, get on the bus and leave. And finally, one of the things I said was, 'What are we going to do? What do we need to do to beat them?'

“We were at Regionals one year, and I said we’ve got to figure out how this is done. I was tired of being in the middle of the pack, or on the low end. We sat down and said we have to develop everything across the board – not just be a distance school, or a sprints school. We need to have it all.”

She and her staff have built that machine – which also has allowed the program to annually plug in parts even in seasons like this one.

Most of Schafer’s athletes this spring were still waiting to start kindergarten when the winning streaks began. Of 37 competitors total, there are 26 freshmen. The team also graduated seven significant contributors off last season’s team, including two now competing at the college level.

Still, Chippewa Hills – recipient of this week's Second Half team High 5 – won six events at the Regional. Sophomore Megan O’Neil took first in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs. Junior Corey Robison won the discus, and sophomore Erin Drouillard won the pole vault. And O’Neil, and freshmen Emily Starck, Kylie Schafer and Larissa Umbleby won the 3,200 relay by a healthy seven seconds.

The Regional title was the team's fourth in the last five seasons.

“Winning breeds itself, but losing does too. (So) every year we try to continue tradition. We just reload,” Schafer said. “A lot of times we go year to year, but we look at ourselves more as a program. We know what we have coming.”

This season’s success is atypical of a freshman-dominated squad because Warriors freshmen are atypical. While a talented bunch, Chippewa Hills freshmen generally join the high school program with an advanced knowledge of the sport after competing through full junior high schedules and working out alongside and with mentoring from the older athletes during those seventh and eighth grade seasons.

And the veteran coaching staff keeps the gears turning smoothly. Sally Schafer’s father, Don Foreman, was the boys track coach for 28 years, and Sally was a senior on the first girls Regional champion in 1985. She joined the coaching staff in 1993 and took over in 1999, and the coaches from junior high up have mostly remained the same throughout her tenure.

“The boys coaches, the girls coaches, the boys team, the girls team; we really are like one. We work out together sometimes, and it’s a family,” Schafer said. “The kids come in, and they’re not sure what to expect. But by the end, my goal as a coach is to have them only wanting more.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Chippewa Hills freshman Kylie Schafer runs during this season's Alma Invitational. (Middle) Warriors sophomore Megan O'Neil takes a hand-off from teammate Emonee Anderson during the CSAA championship meet at Hesperia. (Below) The Warriors celebrate their 10th-straight league meet championship. (Top and middle photos courtesy of Vickie Starck.)

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."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe 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."

East Kentwood soccerLeon 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."

2021-22 Made in Michigan

Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: 
Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: 
Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 
2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: 
Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14:
Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
June 30: Hrynewich's Star Continuing to Rise with Olympic, Pro Sports Arrivals - Read

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).]