4 Years of Work Paying Off as Senior-Led Linden Heads to Finals

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

October 13, 2021

Ask any member of the Linden girls golf team if she thought three years ago that the current level of success the team is enjoying was possible, and they quickly say no.

It’s tough to blame them. In 2018, the varsity team was made up of five freshmen and two sophomores, and the Eagles were struggling to be competitive, shooting a 467 in the Regional and coming in 10th out of 10 teams.

But that didn’t stop them from buying all the way in, and now the Eagles – led by those five freshmen who are now seniors – are headed to the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals with all of their season goals already accomplished.

“I would tell them then, ‘Three years from now, if you keep working, maybe you might have a chance to do something,’” Linden coach Jon Hamilton said. “I was talking to their parents about this, but how many kids will keep going when you tell them that if they work for something for three years, that maybe you’ll accomplish something? They did.”

Linden placed third in this year’s Region 10 tournament, shooting a 364 to qualify for the Finals, which will be played Friday and Saturday at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek. All four scorers for the Eagles – Ella LaMothe, Cate Draper, Kaitlyn Straub and Emma Lurvey – are seniors, as is Brooke Goll, who was the No. 5 on that day. All five were on the team in 2018.

“During freshman year, I wouldn’t have seen myself going to states,” LaMothe said. “I would have seen us as a team being a lot better, and maybe having a chance in the Metro League and the Regionals. But it’s taken a lot of hard work – four years of practicing every day in the fall and on our own during the summer. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Linden golfIt’s the first time in the nine years Hamilton has been coaching that he will take a team to the Finals, and that wasn’t the only first for the program under his guidance this season.

The Eagles won the Flint Metro League title, edging rivals Fenton and Goodrich in the league tournament. They also earned a head-to-head victory against Fenton.

After that win, Hamilton dug into his archives to pull out the scores from the 2018 showdown between the programs. Back then, Fenton won 179-257. This year, Fenton was again at 179, but Linden shot a school-record 165.

“After beating Fenton it was like, ‘Wow, we’re actually at the top of our league at the moment,’” Straub said. “It just feels amazing that we were able, as a team, to get better. It wasn’t just one singular girl getting better, it was all five of us from the beginning of freshman year to now getting better.”

LaMothe, Straub and Draper – who missed most of her freshman year with an eye injury – had played some golf before they joined the varsity squad. Lurvey said she had been on a course “a few times” but that freshman year was truly when she started. Goll was basically brand new.

“I was friends with the girls, so I figured why not try?” she said. “I had some kids clubs that I used to use to just hit some whiffle balls in my hard. I had to get a new set and everything, because those were really small.”

Linden golfWhile they’ve made up the majority of the scoring for Linden during each of the past four years, they haven’t been completely alone. Hanna Baldwin and Cassie Most were the sophomores on that 2018 team, and Emma Most has contributed this season.

But the core has been the Class of 2022, which believed enough in itself, even when times were tough, to work toward bigger goals.

“I think that it’s super amazing,” Lurvey said. “We all didn’t really expect this at all, and this year we really just kicked it in. It’s a big accomplishment for all of us.”

The season isn’t over, of course, with the trip to Bedford Valley still to come. But while there are some admitted nerves heading into the biggest tournament of their careers, the Eagles are rolling into Battle Creek without any pressure as they’ve already accomplished all they had set out to do this season – and much more than anyone believed they were capable of just a few years ago.

“I’d say it’s probably icing on the cake,” Draper said. “We want to go in and compete, shoot a low score and place. But we’re going to go and have fun and work together as a team. I don’t really feel pressure to be the best in the state in our division. I think we’re just going in to have fun.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Linden’s Ella LaMothe, Emma Lurvey and Kaitlyn Straub convene during the Flint Metro League Tournament, won by the Eagles. (Middle) The team’s five seniors, including also Cate Draper and Brooke Goll, have played varsity together since they were freshmen in 2018. (Below) The five seniors stand together during one last Regional, from left: Lurvey, Draper, Straub, Goll and LaMothe. (Photos courtesy of the Linden girls golf program.)

Michigan Leaders in 3 Sports Earn National Honors from NFHS Coaches Association

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 16, 2024

Detroit Cass Tech boys basketball coach Steve Hall, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and East Grand Rapids girls swimming & diving coach Butch Briggs and have been named a 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in their respective sports by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

They were selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bios include an excerpts from each honoree’s coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Steve Hall headshotSteve Hall guided Detroit Cass Tech to its first MHSAA Finals championship last season as the Technicians capped a 28-1 run. He’s 160-30 in his eighth season directing Cass Tech, with his team 9-0 this winter, and he has a career high school record of 370-103 having also coached at Detroit Rogers (1996-97 through 2004-05) and Detroit Northwestern (2005-06 through 2007-08). He led Rogers to three straight Class D championships from 2003-05, led Northwestern to its first Detroit Public School League championship in 30 years and Cass Tech to its first in the PSL in 19 seasons. He also coached collegiately as an assistant at Duquesne University (2008-09 through 2011-12) and Youngstown State University (2011-12 through 2014-15) before taking over at Cass Tech for the 2015-16 season. He has received multiple state Coach of the Year awards during his tenures at Rogers and Cass Tech, and also serves the latter as athletic director and boys cross country coach.   

“My coaching philosophy is ‘Learning Life Skills Through Basketball.’ I have encountered many youngsters that value basketball more than anything. Therefore, I use basketball as a carrot to dangle to help them acquire life skills and other necessities that can benefit them in their lives. Ultimately, when the ball stops bouncing they may be quality fathers, husbands, principals, CEOs, etc., and positive contributors to society. My motto is, “Be better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today.” My athletic philosophy is scholarships and championships in that order! We love to win. But winning is not only on the scoreboard but also in life. Accountability, Reliability, Dependability and Responsibility. “Do what you are supposed to do, be where you are supposed to be, every play and every day.” God has blessed me with high morals, values and unmatched energy to leave my student athletes better than I found them.”

Vicky Kowalski headshotVicky Kowalski completed her 46th season this fall coaching Farmington Hills Mercy’s girls golf team, and led the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. Her teams also have won seven Regional and 21 league championships and were 220-50 in matches entering the season. She has received several coaching awards over the years including statewide awards from the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association (MIGCA) and Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA). Kowalski also is in her 22nd season as Mercy’s girls bowling coach and has coached multiple subvarsity seasons of basketball and volleyball as well. She’s been inducted into Halls of Fame by both MIGCA and the Michigan High School Interscholastic Bowling Coaches Association (MHSIBCA).

“I have always believed in participation. On all the teams I have coached, everyone plays – no one sits the bench. All my athletes have their opportunities to grow in the sport. I have always preached dedication and sportsmanship. The athletes practice well to perform well. They encourage teammates as well as competitors. I enjoy interaction with other coaches. We share coaching techniques and ideas for improving team performance.”

Milton “Butch” Briggs has led the East Grand Rapids girls swimming & diving team to a record 26 MHSAA Finals team championships, the first in 1978 and including six straight from 1981-86 and the program’s current three-year title streak. His girls program also has celebrated 105 individual or relay Finals champions and clinched 33 league team titles. Briggs has received several coaching awards, including nationally for his sport (girls and boys combined) from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) in 2000 and the NFHS Coaches Association for boys swimming & diving in 2011. He entered this past fall season with a dual meet record of 522-65-1 over his career, which has spanned 49 years total, and his boys teams have won 12 MHSAA Finals. Briggs also has served as an assistant track coach at multiple schools and as MISCA president, and is in the MHSCA Hall of Fame.

“My coaching philosophy has been, and continues to be, a work in progress. I have formed relationships with hundreds of amazing young people. They have taught me life lessons in real time and real situations. As a neophyte coach, the experience revolved around winning. We worked together as a team, supported each other in and out of the pool, and won often. Thankfully, I became aware of the value within each athlete. Today, I attempt to interact with each athlete at every team activity and follow their progress in non-swimming endeavors. In short, when I removed my ego from the team's expectations and outcomes, the entire atmosphere was much more enjoyable and productive. And we are still capable of being successful. The Lord has put me in the right place at the right time.”

Six more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Stefanie Kerska was honored in boys swimming & diving after leading Ann Arbor Pioneer to its third-straight Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals title under her leadership, and Asa Kelly was recognized in boys track & field after leading Benzie Central to the LPD3 Finals championship. Mt. Morris volleyball coach James Pender was honored after leading his team to the Division 2 Quarterfinals in 2022, when he also eclipsed 1,000 career coaching wins in the sport, and Traverse City St. Francis’ Julie Duffing was awarded in cross country after leading her program to the 2022 LPD3 Finals championship, the program’s second under her leadership. Haslett/Williamston girls lacrosse coach Chad Pastor was honored after leading his team to the Division 2 Semifinals last spring, and Hartland competitive cheer coach Candace Fahr was recognized after leading her team to the MHSAA Finals for the fourth time in her six seasons guiding the program.

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.