ZEELAND – Quite possibly the most diminutive athlete at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Track & Field Finals on Saturday, sophomore Kayla Windemuller of Holland Christian twice fell to the track at Zeeland Stadium and twice got back on her feet, kept her composure and finished the 3,200-meter run before anyone else.
About an hour earlier, Windemuller won her first individual MHSAA championship, in the 1,600 run.
Nikole Sargent of Flint Powers Catholic also was a double winner taking first in the shot put and the discus. Sargent won the shot put last season as a junior, but said going into this meet that the discus event was a priority. Sargent failed to place in the discus a year ago, fueling her motivation.
Although Tra’chele Roberts of Lansing Waverly took home only one individual first-place medal, her performances helped her team earn the school’s first MHSAA Finals team championship, as it edged second-place Powers, 42 points to 40. Romulus was third with 31 points, followed by Grand Rapids South Christian with 26 and Zeeland East with 24.
Roberts won the 100 dash (12.55) and ran anchor on the winning 400 and 800 relay teams. The 400 relay set a school record with a time of 48.7.
Warriors coach Rex Wilkes, a Waverly graduate, is in his second season running the program and said he kept Roberts, one of three sophomores on the relay teams, out of the 200 dash in an attempt to save her for the relays.
“We didn’t expect this,” Wilkes said. “I was hoping to come out with some fast times. We got some unexpected points in the shot put. Tra’chele can score points on her own. The others can score in the Regionals and run in the relays.”
The other three athletes on the relay teams were sophomores Jazlynn Wilcox and Maya Garrett, and junior Teaghan Thomas.
“It’s very exciting,” Thomas said. “I’ve been at states three times. We’ve been together since the seventh grade. The same girls ran on the relays, and in the same order.”
Thomas led off, followed by Wilcox, Garrett and Roberts.
Last season Waverly also took first in the 400 relay, but no individual placed among the top eight in the 100 dash.
To Wilkes’ point, another factor in the Warriors; breakthrough took place in the field events. Sophomore Malin Smith was sixth after the preliminaries, then moved up to second with a final put of 42 feet. Smith also took fifth in the discus, an event in which she was seeded seventh.
Windemuller was seeded first and third, respectively, in the 1,600 and 3,200 runs, so it’s not surprising she ran well Saturday. She did place seventh in the 3,200 and eighth in the 1,600 last season, so there was some valuable experience gained there.
No one could predict the events that took place and the circumstances that led to her taking first in both this time.
Windemuller, who said she’s 5-foot-1, won the 1,600 (4:58.9) in rather mundane fashion, at least in comparison to her 3,200 trip. She held off a late charge by junior Christina Sawyer of Tecumseh (5:00.2) in a tight race indeed – and Windemuller had to work for it.
“”It made me super nervous knowing she was close by,” Windemuller said. “I was very tired. I gave it everything I had.”
That was small potatoes compared to her extraordinary effort in the 3,200. With approximately two laps remaining Windemuller, Sawyer and junior Erika Freyhof of Hamilton were bunched together at the front. Suddenly, all three fell.
“I got up as quickly as I could,” Windemuller said. “I was still tired from running the (1,600). … I felt so bad. It was like dominos.”
The second spill took place with just over a lap remaining.
“I was in front,” Windemuller said. “When you go down you have to get yourself back up. It was a great learning experience.
“I’m small, but I’m feisty.”
Her time was 10:59.52.
Courageous athletes dotted the green artificial surface, home to both football teams at Zeeland East and Zeeland West. One competitor, in particular, is a multi-sport athlete who played four years of varsity basketball and was a two-sport athlete during the spring season.
Haley Hoogenraad of Zeeland West is one of the state’s top softball players. She will play for coach Carol Hutchins next year at University of Michigan. Hoogenraad competed in the 3,200 relay Saturday morning, then changed uniforms in a car as she was driven to Holland Christian to play in a Division 2 District Semifinal. West lost that noon game to Hudsonville Unity Christian, 12-4, allowing Hoogenraad to get back in a car to be driven back to Zeeland for the 800 run.
Hoogenraad was not just a qualifier in the event. She was seeded first, and as the race unfolded she moved up from fifth place to second with 200 meters left. Hoogenraad grew tired and placed fourth.
“I slid a few times and dove for a few balls,” Hoogenraad said of her time on the softball diamond. “I was dirty. I’m sad of the outcomes, but I tried. I tried to make my move (in the 800) and I said, oh, I can’t. I’m glad I had the opportunity to support my team.”
That would be teams.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lansing Waverly's Tra’chele Roberts runs a relay anchor leg for the Warriors, who went on to win the LP Division 2 championship. (Middle) Holland Christian's Kayla Windemuller. (Photos by Dave McCauley/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.)