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.)
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.)