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For Michigan High School girls, plenty of great role models

By Jeff Hollobaugh

With all the track action this weekend, I couldn’t help but noticing that our state has produced a wealth of great role models for younger athletes to look up to. On the women’s side, while some of these names have gotten plenty of attention, a number have been overlooked. Some were stars in high school; most weren’t. What they all have in common is they didn’t view their senior year in high school as the end of the road. They understood, and are proving, that there is plenty of life after high school.

Adri Sigafoose

Adri Sigafoose – At McBain Northern Michigan Christian, her PRs were 59.5, 2:21.20, and 5:29.52 when she graduated last year. Twice she had finished runner-up at the D4 finals in the 800. A 19:40 cross country runner, in four trips to the XC state finals, she finished no higher than 30th. Not many D1 recruiters came calling. Yet when I announced a meet at Aquinas this winter, I saw an athlete with perfect form, a searing kick, and national class potential. She has blossomed with Dave Woods’ coaching, and finished 4th in the NAIA Indoor Nationals in the 800, clocking a 2:11.81. Definitely a runner to keep an eye on.

Kyra Jefferson

Kyra Jefferson was one of our high school superstars, with bests of 11.72 and 23.53 for Detroit Cass Tech. Heavily recruited, she ended up at Florida. Now a junior, she has captured her first national championship. Last night at the NCAA D1 Championships in Fayetteville, she upended favorite Jenna Prandini and won 200 in 22.63, a time bettered by only 25 women in world history. Earlier this season, she ran her first-ever open 400 in 52.28.

Emily Oren

Emily Oren – Graduated from Hamilton in 2012, and seemed an odd hybrid. She had definite distance skills (5:23.00 as a senior, 11:45.4 as a freshman), but often concentrated on shorter distances. Her senior year, she competed in the 200/400 at the D2 finals, finishing 10th and 6th. Pretty odd for a four-time all-stater in cross country with a best of 18:35. Hillsdale’s coaches had her leave the sprints behind and focus on distance. The improvement has been steady: she placed 5th last year in the D2 steeplechase. This year, however, she has exploded. So far her junior season has brought her 12th at NCAA D2 cross country nationals. She won the GLIAC indoor mile at 4:49.02. At Division II Nationals this weekend, she anchored the winning distance medley with a 4:40, and came back to crush the 3000 field with her 9:16.81, beaking a 30-year-old meet record.

Jamie Roberts

Jamie Roberts was the best vaulter the UP has ever produced while at Kingsford, clearing 12-feet at the UP state finals back in 2010. She spent several years at Northern Michigan, where she reached 12-8.75, which placed her third at D2 Nationals back in 2011. Now at Grand Valley she has made another breakthrough, clearing 13-1.5 to grab 3rd at this year’s indoor nationals.

Rachele Schulist

Rachele Schulist ran 4:56.22 for Zeeland West in 2012. Since then, she has steadily developed under Walt Drenth’s coaching at Michigan State. Suddenly this year, the rest of the world is noticing her ina big way. She placed 4th at the NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships. Indoors, she has clocked oversized marks of 4:42.53 and 9:01.25. Last night, she led the NCAA 3000 for until the last half mile. She faded at the end, but still managed 9th in 9:09.78, the second-best 200m track time ever by a Michigander.

Bridgette Owens

Bridgette Owens co-holds our indoor high school record for the 60 hurdles at 8.35. Outdoors, she ran 13.74 for Southfield High, which ranks her No. 4 ever. As a high school junior, she won bronze at the World Youth Championships. She went on to Clemson, where she ran 12.71 and placed 3rd in the NCAA before making the semis of the Olympic Trials. Now at Florida, she is trying to put that form together again. She appears to be on target. She produced two lifetime bests at this weekend’s NCAA meet, finishing second in the final by just a hair with her 7.88. That makes her the second-fastest Michigander ever, after Olympian Tiffany Ofili Porter.

Brittany Mann

Brittany Mann threw 44-7 and 165-2 for Detroit Country Day. In all, she captured four D2 state titles while a high schooler. For college, she moved to Oregon, and her steady development there has been inspirational. Last year, she threw 56-0 for 7th at the NCAA meet. She has put in a great off-season, and showed what she can really do this weekend, placing 3rd at NCAA Indoors with a huge PR of 57-1.

Leah O'Connor

Leah O’Connor went to Croswell-Lexington HS, where she starred. However, if you look at the 122 names on the Michtrack all-time list for the 1600, you won’t find her . Though she twice won the 800/1600 double at the Division 2 state finals, she never broke 5:00. Her high school PRs were 2:15.08 and 5:01.99. She’s another who has blossomed under the coaching of Walt Drenth. Last year, she surprised many by winning the NCAA steeplechase in 9:36.43. Indoors, she has been spectacular, and last night she showed the world a thing or two about our state. An underdog according to the experts, she took the lead at the start of the NCAA mile and never looked back, winning handily in a meet record 4:27.18. Only jenny Simpson has run faster among collegians. Now O’Connor is the No. 27 performer in world history. Only three women on the planet have run faster this winter; one is U.S. champ Shannon Rowbury, the other two are Ethiopians.