West Iron County Claims 1st MHSAA Crown
By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com
June 2, 2013
KINGSFORD — It was a historical day for the West Iron County girls at Saturday's Upper Peninsula Track Finals as they were crowned champions for the first time.
The Wykons topped the Division 2 standings with 144 points. Manistique brought home its first runner-up trophy with 99 and Newberry placed third at 84.
"We were down by 12 points at one point during the meet, but I knew we could make up the points," said West Iron coach Kristi Berutti. "The girls were so awesome. They literally did better than they were ranked. This (U.P. title) was our goal from the beginning. We had only two seniors, but they were great leaders. We'll be strong again next year."
West Iron junior Cassilyn Pellizzer won the 300-meter hurdles in a school-record 48.7 seconds, was runner-up in the 100 hurdles (17.41), took third in high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches and helped the winning 1,600 relay.
"I usually get tired on the home stretch and hit the last two hurdles," said Pellizzer, who appeared smooth going over the final two hurdles this time. "I was so nervous before and kind of transferred that energy to the race. The U.P. title was icing on the cake."
The Wykons, who won three relays, also got firsts from Carli Johnson in the 200 (28.3), Alexis Golfis in long jump (14-3¾) and Megan Miatech in shot put (34-10).
Freshman Holly Blowers took the 800 (2:29.56) for Manistique, which also won the 400 relay.
"We're very happy with being runners-up," said Manistique coach Chris Marana. "This is a big accomplishment for us. Hopefully, this will jumpstart us next year. We're losing some good seniors who will be hard to replace. But we have some good kids coming back. We knew we had to be at our A-plus game to beat West Iron. Our girls definitely competed hard, but West Iron was on top of its game today.”
Newberry freshman Natalie Beaulieu won the 1,600 in a personal-best 5:34.37 and also the 3,200 (12:12.55).
"I'm pretty happy with that," Beaulieu said. "I wanted to try to keep a steady pace. But with this being the U.P. Finals, I found that I went out a little harder. Although, this wasn't anything unexpected. I felt good in the 3,200 relay and 1,600 and was able to get into a rhythm.”
Iron Mountain senior Hailey LaFleur was a double winner, taking the 100 (13.49) and 400 (1:03.02).
PHOTOS: (Top) West Iron County's Cassilyn Pellizzer clears a hurdle en route to winning the 300 race and setting a school record of 48.7 seconds. (Middle) Iron Mountain senior Hailey LaFleur won two championships Saturday. (Photo by Paul Gerard. Click to see more photo coverage from RunMichigan.com.)
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).]