By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
WESTPHALIA – This past March, fewer than 2 minutes remained in Pewamo-Westphalia's Class C Regional Semifinal basketball loss to Ypsilanti Arbor Prep when junior Brenna Wirth heard a pop in her right ankle.
She fell to the floor in pain, unaware if her upcoming track and field season would be in jeopardy.
“That was one of my main concerns when it happened because I didn’t know how bad it was at first,” Wirth said. “It hurt a lot, and I heard a pop when it happened. I think I came down on a girl’s ankle and I was pretty worried.”
Wirth’s anxiety was eased by the good news that awaited her after the game. It turned out to be only a badly sprained ankle. Nothing worse.
“I got lucky I guess,” Wirth said. “But it has motivated me to push myself a little harder to get back to where I want to be.”
Wirth, one of the elite sprinters in Lower Peninsula Division 3, has fully recovered from the injury and is expected to compete in Saturday’s MHSAA Track & Field Finals at Comstock Park High School.
The Pirates have won two MHSAA girls track and field championships over the past three years and will look to go back-to-back Saturday.
Wirth will be an important component in their quest.
“We have a lot of depth, and she is part of that,” P-W track and field coach Scott Werner said. “One of the first pieces we look at is where we can utilize Brenna, and then we build around her to maximize our team points.”
She is thankful the ankle injury didn’t set her back longer than a few weeks.
“It healed a lot faster than I thought it would,” Wirth said. “I slowly began walking on it again, and I went from there. I’m excited for this weekend, and I think our team has a good shot this year again.”
Werner said Wirth has made the necessary strides to make a speedy comeback.
“I consider her healthy now,” he said. “She has been building up and feeling as good as she has the whole year. Things are starting to come together, and we hope we can peak this Saturday and finish things off right.”
Wirth will take part in the 200 and 400, as well as join her teammates as a member of the top-ranked 400 and 800 relay teams.
She won both individual events at last week’s Regional and is considered among the favorites to take home an individual title Saturday.
Wirth has plenty of motivation, especially in the 400, which is her signature event. She placed runner-up at the Finals as a freshman and sophomore.
“I’ve gotten so close in the 400 these past few years, so I’m hoping this is the year,” Wirth said. “I just want to give it my best effort. I’ve worked hard all season to get to this point, so I’m just hoping to run fast for the team. My team is the end goal, everything for them.”
Wirth’s work ethic separates her from other athletes, and it has helped propel her to success on the track and in other sports.
She also competes on the cross country team and delivered a new personal record at the Finals last fall.
“She is just a real athletic kid, and every sport that she is part of she is very good at,” Werner said. “She is such a hard worker, and where she excels at the most the past few years is the 400. That’s a type of race that you have to grind through, and she’s really strong mentally. She can go in and fight through and do her thing.”
Wirth will run Saturday without her older sister, Marissa, by her side. The two shared the track and past two seasons before Marissa graduated.
They drove each other to compete at the highest level.
“We ran on the same relays, and at times I had to run against her,” Wirth said. “It’s a lot different this year, and I really do miss her. She really pushed me, and I think I helped push her a lot. We kept each other going.”
Wirth made her presence known early on in her high school career, emerging as one of the top sprinters on a team chock-full of talented runners.
“She immediately came in and was among our best sprinters of what I would consider a pretty strong sprint program the past few years,” Werner said. “She was an instant-impact-type kid. She has a real positive attitude and sets a really great tone. She’s a good leader, and she’s a part of the strong culture that we have here.”
PHOTO: Pewamo-Westphalia's Brenna Wirth (left) crosses just before Hart's Jennie Gottardo to finish second in the 400 at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final. (Photo by Jamie Geysbeek/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.)