By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There will be some who arrive for the MHSAA Class C and D Semifinals on Thursday already quite familiar with the Breslin Center.
Reigning Class D champion St. Ignace is back, this time in Class C. The reigning runner-up from that class, Saginaw Nouvel, also returns. So too does Athens, a Class D Semifinalist a year ago as well.
But the most discussed player will be the one preparing to make herself most at home. Crystal Falls Forest Park is back for the second time in three seasons and features Miss Basketball winner Alexis Gussert, who has signed with Michigan State University for next season.
All four Class C and D Semifinals will be played Thursday, with all four championship games Saturday.
Semifinals - Thursday
Saginaw Nouvel (20-4) vs. Gobles (26-0), 1 p.m.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (20-3) vs. St. Ignace (23-2), 2:50 p.m.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (20-5) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (19-5), 6 p.m.
Crystal Falls Forest Park (25-0) vs. Athens (22-3), 7:50 p.m.
Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6 pm
Class C - 4 pm
Class D - 10 am
Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit, the Class D and A title games on FOX Sports Detroit's primary channel and the Class C and B games on FOX Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
And now, a look at the Semifinalists in Class C and D.
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 6
League finish: First in Southwest Athletic Conference North
Coach: John Curtis, 12th season (183-91)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 49-40 (Quarterfinal) and 39-35 over honorable mention Mendon, 56-52 over New Buffalo in Regional Final, 44-40 over Otsego.
Players to watch: Michaela DeKilder, 5-10 sr. F (15.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.2 spg); Ellen Doyle, 5-10 soph. G (12 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.3 apg).
Outlook: Gobles is making its first trip to the MHSAA Semifinals after its second Quarterfinal ever Tuesday. The Tigers dominated the SAC North, winning all of their league games by double digits. Gobles is 46-3 combined over the last two seasons, and DeKilder has been a force throughout. But she has plenty of help – all five starters average at least seven points per game.
GROSSE POINTE WOODS UNIVERSITY LIGGETT
Record/rank: 20-3, unranked
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Omar Ahart, second season (42-6)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 2012 and 2011.
Best wins: 50-47 over No. 1 Blissfield in Quarterfinal, 48-25 over Class D No. 8 Birmingham Roeper.
Players to watch: Jessica Rotzoll, 5-8 jr. F (13.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Nia Ahart, 5-7 fr. G (11.6 ppg, 4.6 apg); Lauren Ristovski, 5-9 jr. G (9.8 ppg, 3.9 apg).
Outlook: Three starters return to Breslin after also playing on the 2012 team that finished runner-up, including the team’s lone senior, guard Angelina Evangelista. Sophomore forward Kendall McConico adds another 10.6 points per game to make this lineup full of scoring threats, especially from the perimeter as only one player is taller than 5-9. Rotzoll also had made 40 3-pointers heading into this week.
Record/rank: 23-2, No. 9
League finish: First in Straits Area Conference
Coach: Dorene Ingalls, 15th season (314-59)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 54-37 over honorable mention McBain in Quarterfinal, 68-34 over Class D No. 10 Brimley, 58-52 over Detroit Renaissance.
Players to watch: Kelley Wright, 5-10 sr. G (16.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.2 apg, 6.7 spg); Abbey Ostman, 5-9 soph. F (12.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 spg).
Outlook: The Saints are making their fifth straight trip to Breslin Center and are back in Class C after a one-season hiatus to Class D – where St. Ignace won last season’s championship. Wright was a starter the last two trips to East Lansing as well, and Ostman and senior guards Emily Hinsman (9.1 ppg) and Morgan LaVake (5.3 ppg) also started in that 2013 title game win. Wright is a returning all-stater.
Record/rank: 20-4, No. 10
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Mary Jo Skiendziel, first season (8-0)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 49-43 and 51-40 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 3 Reese, 47-35 over No. 5 Sandusky in Regional Final, 47-40 over honorable mention St. Louis in Quarterfinal, 57-37 over Class B No. 5 Clare, 53-47 over Class B No. 8 Flint Powers Catholic.
Players to watch: Rachel McInerny, 6-2 sr. C (11.7 ppg), Laurel Jacqmain, 5-7 soph. G (12.4 ppg)
Outlook: There have been some big changes in the Nouvel program since its last trip to Breslin, but plenty has stayed the same as well. Assistant coach Skiendziel was promoted to head coach last month and has kept the team rolling with three starters back from last season’s five-point loss to Manchester in the championship game. McInerney can be a force in the post, while Jacqmain and junior forward Nicole Buckingham also played big parts as starters during last season’s run.
Record/rank: 22-3, No. 5
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Calvin Quist, ninth season (166-53)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2012.
Best wins: 42-39 over honorable mention St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic in Regional Semifinal, 38-20 over honorable mention Wyoming Potter’s House Christian in Regional Final, 38-30 over Concord.
Players to watch: Audrey Oswalt, 5-9 sr. F (12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.6 spg); Allison Fuller, 5-7 jr. G (13.5 ppg, 3.5 spg).
Outlook: Athens has become a regular at Finals weekend, with this its third straight trip emerging from a competitive Big 8 Conference. Fuller was named an all-state honorable mention Tuesday. Senior guard Allysha Beal (9.3 ppg) joined Oswalt and Fuller in the starting lineup for last season’s Semifinal loss to Waterford Our Lady, and all three were among that team’s top scorers as well.
CRYSTAL FALLS FOREST PARK
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Skyline Conference
Coach: Jeff Syrjanen, ninth season (169-37)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1995.
Best wins: 69-56 over No. 2 Posen in Quarterfinal, 69-52 over No. 4 Eben Junction Superior Central in Regional Final, 56-21 over honorable mention Dollar Bay in Regional Semifinal, 82-38 (District Semifinal) and 61-28 over honorable mention Watersmeet.
Players to watch: Alexis Gussert, 6-0 sr. F (29.4 ppg, 7.7 apg, 11.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 4.0 spg); Maria Stankewicz, 5-5 soph. G (7.6 ppg, 2.8 apg).
Outlook: Forest Park is making one more run at its first MHSAA championship with one of the leading scorers in MHSAA history in Gussert, who was named Associated Press Class D Player of the Year on Monday. Gussert – who also led the Trojans to the Semifinals as a sophomore – broke a single-season MHSAA record with her 101st 3-pointer in the Quarterfinal. Senior center Kendra Campbell and junior guard Sierra Robarge join Stankewicz in adding 7.5 points per game.
MARINE CITY CARDINAL MOONEY
Record/rank: 19-5, No. 9
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League East
Coach: Susan Everhart, 26th season (record N/A).
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2009.
Best wins: 39-20 over honorable mention Kingston in Regional Final, 43-34, 53-51 and 43-36 (Quarterfinal) over Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 49-34 over Class B No. 6 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Players to watch: Katie Theut, 5-10 sr. G (20.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.4 bpg); Madison Southers, 6-0 sr. C (11 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 5.2 bpg).
Outlook: Cardinal Mooney is back at Breslin for the first time since that runner-up season of 2009 and with a starting lineup featuring four seniors. Theut was named all-state Tuesday and Southers received an honorable mention. The Cardinals feature further frontcourt strength with 5-9 senior forward Lauren Higgins, who averages 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Cardinal Mooney played a host of Class A, B and C schools as well, with four losses coming to those more sizable programs.
MOUNT PLEASANT SACRED HEART
Record/rank: 20-5, unranked
League finish: Tied for first in Mid-State Activities Conference
Coach: Damon Brown, sixth season (107-33)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2008.
Best wins: 49-35 over No. 3 Frankfort in Quarterfinal, 55-40 and 46-34 (District Final) over honorable mention Big Rapids Crossroads Academy, 34-23 over Class C No. 8 Carson City-Crystal.
Players to watch: Sara Hansen, 5-6 sr. G (19.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 5.4 spg); Averi Gamble, 6-3 soph. C (12.7 ppg 8.0 rpg, 2.3 bpg).
Outlook: The Irish were stopped in the Quarterfinals two of the last four seasons, but broke through with an upset Tuesday. Still, it can’t be considered a huge surprise, given Sacred Heart’s losses – one to Class C Quarterfinalist Saginaw Nouvel, another to Class C No. 8 Carson City Crystal and a third to Class B No. 5 Clare. Hansen is the lone senior, but gets additional help in the backcourt from junior Riley Terwilliger (9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg.).
PHOTO: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart's Sara Hansen (2) will lead the Irish in its first MHSAA Semifinal since 2008.
Traverse City has had a few head football coaches named Kanitz.
But Mike Kanitz has no interest in becoming a head football coach. In fact, no interest in being a head coach of any sport.
So far he’s worked for nine head coaches. He’s seen what it takes to be a head varsity coach and he’ll stay where he is, which is pretty much anywhere there is a high school sporting event.
Kanitz spends his days and nights dedicated to the Traverse City St. Francis student-athletes, staff, administration and Gladiators community. He is the junior varsity girls basketball coach, volleyball game manager, volleyball announcer and volleyball scorekeeper, football press box manager, and the Glads’ soccer game manager. Additionally, as director of basketball operations at St. Francis, he finds himself at the scorer’s table for boys basketball games.
The volleyball, soccer and football duties are performed at every home game. He doesn’t take a paycheck for any of it. If the school does pay for his services, he promptly donates the funds to the source.
The soft-spoken and renowned St. Francis supporter is not the slightest bit interested in getting any recognition for his efforts.
Tonight he’ll run the Thirlby Field press box as the Gladiators host Ogemaw Heights. And, he’s ready for the Glads’ first home volleyball match Sept. 8.
“He is one of those unique people that shies away from the spotlight — he is a pure servant, said Aaron Biggar, St. Francis’ athletic director. “He doesn’t want any accolades or anything like that.”
Kanitz’ father, Hugo Kanitz – who also went by Mike all his life – was the head football coach of Traverse City St. Francis during the 1960s. Another Kanitz, Dutch — not related to the father-son combo —was at the helm of the Traverse City Central High School football program.
Mike Kanitz finds himself regularly receiving phone calls and letters from former players intended for the Kanitz coaches. He has to explain he’s not the deceased Central coach, nor his father. And he’s glad he gets to pass on positive feedback to his father, also a former athletic director for St. Francis.
“My grandmother said, ‘Never call him Hugo – his name is Mike,’” Kanitz said. “Don’t ask me where it came from, but he was Mike his whole life.
“I am junior in most people’s minds,” Kanitz went on. “Traverse City was a small town back then; to have two Coach Kanitz was confusing.”
His father now lives in Traverse City after retiring as a teacher and professor. The son enjoys picking his brain.
“I am blessed to still be able to run stuff by him (because) that’s really where I got my coaching start,” he said. “I used to get calls after coming back to Traverse City and the callers would say, ‘Is this Coach Kanitz?’ and I started to catch on that these were his former students.
“I don’t think my dad ever knew the impact he was having on kids,” Kanitz continued. “I don’t think coaches really know what an impact they have on kids.”
Hearing from his father’s former players helped shape his coaching.
“It made me realize as a coach you have the ability every time you open your mouth to either hurt a kid or help a kid,” he said. “So helping a kid is my desire.”
Officials, media and visiting coaches for many sports have noted Kanitz’ demeanor and contributions. They also know he’ll do anything to make sure they have a good experience at St. Francis.
Among other things, Mike reportedly once became a makeshift tailor when a basketball official showed up without his referee pants. Mostly using safety pins, a borrowed pair of pants went from 2XL to large in time for tip-off.
“Mike Kanitz should have a name tag that says, ‘Nicest Man on the Planet,’” said former St. Francis AD Tom Hardy. “Mike is the perfect representative that you can have for any event at school.
“He greets every team, official, and spectator with such grace and compassion, which leads to a very positive experience for all involved,” Hardy continued. “Mike has volunteered too many hours to count at basketball and soccer games as a game manager and coach.”
Hardy believes all sports fans need to follow Kanitz’ lead.
“Mike Kanitz is the example of how people should treat each other at any athletic event,” he said. “You truly would have to look long and hard to find a more compassionate and caring individual, and I would challenge anyone to find a person that has a negative thing to say about him.”
Barb Becket, a longtime MHSAA official and assignor, has similar views of Kanitz. She’s worked with him while he’s served as a coach, game manager and during community activities through her role with the Grand Traverse YMCA.
“Mike is the go-to guy,” she said. “He is a servant in the true sense of the word.
“Besides being the go-to guy for coaches, admin, and players, Mike also acts as the liaison between the sports officials and the sports participants,” she continued. “Mike handles his responsibilities with grace, humility, common sense, and accountability.”
Kanitz’ favorite sport to play is baseball, but his favorite sport to coach is basketball. After graduating from Alma College where he competed in track & field, he was thrilled to move back to Traverse City to start a family with his wife Marcy, a Traverse City obstetrician.
The couple’s three children graduated from St. Francis, and Kanitz first focused on elementary baseball. He was able to step away from his pharmaceutical career to step in and fill pretty much any need the St. Francis community had.
Kanitz points to his wife’s passion for caring for women as a motivator for him to get more girls involved in sports and receiving the benefits they provide.
“Marcy spent her whole life taking care of women,” he said. “So she sees the side effects of women not being given opportunities.
“So we’ve got to correct that stuff.”
Kanitz’s first job was as a water boy, along with his siblings born to Hugo and Margo Kanitz. If he ever can’t coach or serve in other capacities for the Gladiators, he hopes to return to the very first job he had as a preschooler.
“I am sincere when I say I started as a water boy, and I am going to finish as a water boy,” Kanitz said. “I am very blessed and I am thankful for the life I’ve had here in Traverse City.
“I am thankful for the school allowing me to be a part of it.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Mike Kanitz fills many roles for Traverse City St. Francis including girls junior varsity basketball coach and game manager for a variety of sports including volleyball. (Middle) Kanitz walks the sideline during one of his games leading the JV Gladiators. (Below) Mike Kanitz enjoys his daughter Delin’s Senior Night game with wife Marcy Verplank-Kanitz. (Top photo by Mike Spencer; middle and below photos by Julie English.)