D2 Preview: Past Powers, New Hopefuls Bring Stories to Breslin

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 16, 2022

This weekend’s Division 2 Finals bracket might have the most pre-packaged storylines of any of the four divisions that will celebrate girls champions this weekend at Breslin Center.

Detroit Edison returns after the last two seasons were cut short, seeking to add a fourth title in six years with another Miss Basketball leading the way. Detroit Country Day owns the most Finals championships in girls basketball history and is seeking its first since 2018.

Grand Rapids West Catholic hopes to follow the Miss Basketball runner-up to its first championship in more than three decades. And Ludington, making its first appearance at Finals weekend, is looking to add more firsts to a historic run.  

DIVISON 2 Semifinals – Friday
Grand Rapids West Catholic (24-1) vs. Detroit Country Day (14-7), 5:30 p.m.
Detroit Edison (17-3) vs. Ludington (20-5), 7:30 p.m.
FINAL – Saturday – 6:15 p.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.

Here’s a look at the four Division 2 semifinals (with rankings by MPR and statistics through Regional Finals):

DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 13-7, No. 28
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Jerica Williams, second season (28-10)
Championship history: Thirteen MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 59-55 over Marysville in Quarterfinal, 54-39 over St. Clair Shores Lakeview, 47-45 over Division 4 No. 11 Allen Park Inter-City Baptist.
Players to watch: Jaidyn Elam, soph F (13.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.2 spg); Emma Arico, soph. G (8.9 ppg, 3.4 apg); Ari’Yana Wiggins, fr. F (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Outlook: Four starters are back from the team that made last season’s Semifinals, with Elam and Arico joined by junior guard Aysia Yokely (8.6 ppg) and sophomore forward Peja Liles (4.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg). The Yellowjackets have all of that experience and still no seniors, with Elam also having made the all-state second team last season and Arico earning an honorable mention. Country Day saw its share of tough opponents, with six of its seven losses coming against teams that ended up with 14 or more wins.

DETROIT EDISON
Record/rank: 17-3, No. 1
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Monique Brown, 10th season (177-40)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2019).
Best wins: 53-35 over No. 3 Portland in Quarterfinal, 85-43 over No. 2 Redford Westfield Prep, 67-44 over Division 1 No. 3 Farmington Hills Mercy, 60-32 over Division 1 No. 13 Bloomfield Hills Marian, 60-47 over Division 1 No. 11 Parma Western, 68-30 over Division 1 No. 14 East Lansing, 67-48 over Division 1 No. 1 Hudsonville, 60-52 over Division 3 No. 1 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Players to watch: Ruby Whitehorn, 6-0 sr. G (23.9 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 4.5 spg, 2.1 bpg); NaKiya Bonner, 5-6 soph. G (8.2 ppg, 5.5 apg); Madisen Wardell, 6-1 sr. F (13.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg).  
Outlook: After last season’s undefeated team was sidelined during Districts by COVID-19, Edison is back looking to add to its three straight Finals championships won from 2017-19. Whitehorn, who has signed with Clemson, gave her program its fourth-straight Miss Basketball Award winner earlier this week, and Wardell will continue her career at DePaul. Edison’s only losses were to Division 1 semifinalist West Bloomfield, Indiana state champion South Bend Washington and Illinois power Joliet West. All but one of the Pioneers’ in-state opponents finished with a winning record this winter.

GRAND RAPIDS WEST CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 8
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue
Coach: Jill VanderEnde, eighth season (119-69)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1990), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 82-27 over No. 6 Edwardsburg in Quarterfinal, 55-29 over No. 20 Newaygo in Regional Final, 55-43 over Grand Rapids Christian in Regional Semifinal, 64-29 over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in District Final, 63-23 over No. 13 Sparta.
Players to watch: Abbey Kimball, 5-10 sr. G (25.1 ppg, 97 3-pointers, 3.0 apg, 4.4 spg); Cadence Dykstra, 5-9 jr. G (8.2 ppg, 4.5 apg); Elisha Dykstra, 5-10 fr. F (8.3 ppg).  
Outlook: West Catholic is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 1995, when it finished Class B runner-up. Kimball was the Miss Basketball runner-up and added three more 3-pointers Tuesday – the Michigan State signee’s 100 are tied for second-most in a single season in MHSAA history and five off the record. Freshman guard Anna Ignatoski adds 7.8 points off the bench and was the team’s leading scorer in the Quarterfinal win over the Eddies. The team’s only loss was Dec. 23 to Division 1 semifinalist Rockford.

LUDINGTON
Record/rank: 20-5, No. 45
League finish: Tied for first in the Lakes 8 Activities Conference.
Coach: Warren Stowe, second season (34-10)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 30-27 over No. 5 Frankenmuth in Quarterfinal, 34-31 over Negaunee in Regional Final, 54-36 over Standish-Sterling in Regional Semifinal, 38-33 over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Players to watch: Keelyn Laird, 6-3 jr. F (10.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.2 apg); RyAnn Rohrer, 5-10 sr. F (10.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 3.3 spg); Abi Bandstra, 5-9 sr. G (4.5 ppg, 2.8 spg).
Outlook: Ludington will be playing in its first Semifinal since 2004 and has won 17 of its last 18 games. The Orioles avenged an early defeat to league rival WMC and also got good early prep in losses to eventual Division 1 semifinalists Hartland and West Bloomfield, and Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. Only one opponent has put up more than 40 points during the 18-game run – Cadillac, which scored 47 in handing Ludington the lone loss over that stretch. Junior forward Olivia Lynn adds 7.5 points off the bench.

PHOTO Detroit Country Day’s Jaidyn Elam brings the ball upcourt during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Livonia Clarenceville. (Photo by Douglas Bargerstock.)

'Go-To Guy' Kanitz Sets Selfless Example in Helping Make St. Francis Sports Go

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

August 26, 2022

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.

Kanitz walks the sideline during one of his games leading the JV Gladiators. 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.

Mike Kanitz enjoys his daughter Delin’s Senior Night game with wife Marcy Verplank-Kanitz. “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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)