Wirth Shows Worth Again for D3 Power

June 2, 2016

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.) 

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: 
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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).]