Zeeland East Claims Neighborly Title Tilt
June 2, 2018
By Dan D’Addona
Special for Second Half
ZEELAND — It was a battle of familiar opponents in a familiar place with the Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls track & field title on the line.
Zeeland East went toe-to-toe with Ottawa-Kent Conference Green rival Holland Christian on Saturday at Zeeland Stadium — and every point counted.
Led by strong field events and hurdles, the Chix held off the runner-up Maroons by just two points, 64-62.
“Coming into the season, we knew it was a possibility with how close it was. We didn’t think we were losing that many points, and we had Maleigh (Vanderbeek) get hurt and Lia (Maggini) get hurt and Kianna Em transferred, and we had to work for it. But our girls never took it for granted,” Zeeland East coach Josh Vork said. “They knew they had to come out and work. Every day at practice you could see it. They wanted this to be special.”
Detroit Country Day was third (42), followed by Lansing Catholic (40), Dearborn Divine Child (35.5), St. Clair Shores South Lake (23), Corunna (21), Bridgeport (20), Adrian (19) and Battle Creek Harper Creek (19) among the top 10.
It was a strong day for Zeeland East’s Suenomi Norinh. The senior won three events and finished second in a fourth.
Norinh won the high jump at 5-8, edging Divine Child’s Avery Budz (5-7). Zeeland East teammate Sophie Riemersma took fifth (5-5).
Norinh also won the long jump (18-1¾) and the 100-meter hurdles (14.63), taking second in the 300 hurdles (44.91).
“This means the world to us. We have been working so hard for this,” Norinh said. “I am so proud of my teammates. I was going to be really upset if we lost, and I am really, really happy that we won — going out with a bang.”
Divine Child’s Allie Filiatraut won the discus in 136-0, edging the Zeeland East duo of Taylor Waterway (135-0) and Aliyah Boeve (134-1). In the shot put, Whitehall’s Brianna Copley won with a throw of 42-5, holding off Boeve (40-9).
With just five athletes scoring, Holland Christian kept it close until the end of the meet, winning the final relay to close within two points of the Chix.
Holland Christian’s Kayla Windemuller won the 1,600-meter run in a Division 2 meet-record time of 4:49.55.
Windemuller, Mady Vander Zwaag, Michelle Kuipers and Elizabeth Bruxvoort won the 3,200 relay in 9:10.01. Kuipers, Dolly Slenk, Bruxvoort and Vander Zwaag won the 1,600 relay (4:00.09).
Kuipers won the 800 (2:13.49), and Windemuller was fourth (2:14.68).
“Running with these girls, it is just like, ‘We got this.’” Kuipers said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Lansing Catholic sisters Olivia Theis (10:37.08) and Jaden Theis (10:48.52) went 1-2 in the 3,200, finishing ahead of Windemuller (10:58.87).
“It was all about the team,” Windemuller said. “We knew we had a chance at winning, but finishing second and getting a trophy is incredible. I am really happy I could run four events at a high level. I gave everything I had so I could score points for the team.”
Allendale’s Brianna Bredeweg set a Division 2 meet record to win the pole vault in 12-7.
Bridgeport’s Payten Williams won the 100 meters (12.06) and 200 (24.73).
Country Day’s Jasmine Powell, Taylor Aibana, Ahvon Mitchell and Alexis Officer won the 800 relay (1:45.10). The same quartet won the 400 relay in 49.14.
Ludington’s Emma Fountain won the 400 meters in 57.49.
Harper Creek’s Arabia Bacon won the 300 hurdles in 44.74, ahead of Norinh (44.91).
PHOTOS: (Top) Zeeland East's girls pose with their championship trophy Saturday after winning the LPD2 title. (Middle) Lansing Catholic's Jaden Theis (1), Olivia Theis (2) and Holland Christian's Kayla Windemuller (3) set the pace. (Photos by Janina Pollatz. Click for more 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."
2021-22 Made in Michigan
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July 14: Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
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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).]