HARRIS TOWNSHIP — The Menominee girls had been the frontrunners in the Great Northern Conference throughout this golf season.
They came in first again Thursday, retaining their Upper Peninsula Division 1 title with 373 strokes at Sage Run Golf Course, followed by Ishpeming Westwood with 424 and Marquette with 436.
“We have five real good athletes,” said Menominee coach Tony Hofer, who also coached the Maroons to the 2019 championship before last season was canceled due to COVID-19. “They had to figure out the short game at first. Although when you play every day for a month, you get better. The girls were a little worried going into this course, but they made the course very playable for the kids. This is a very nice course.”
Menominee senior Josie Hofer was medalist at 81, including 39 on the back nine on a partly sunny and warm day.
“I started off with an eight and six on the front nine,” said Hofer, who will be playing at Wisconsin-Oshkosh next season. “I just needed to get the ball on the green. My chipping hadn’t been that good, although it went pretty well today. My driver was a little off, but it’s different every day. That was my best nine-hole score in an 18-hole tournament.
“I’ll probably do some weight training and work on my game this summer. I really need to work on my short game.”
Hofer’s best score in a nine-hole tourney (38) took place early this season at Riverside Country Club in Menominee.
Negaunee sophomore Rachel Niskanen was runner-up at 84, including 38 on the back nine.
“I think my short game was probably a little better on the back nine,” said Niskanen, who birdied on No. 15 and 16. “The front nine may have been a little more challenging, although we weren’t warmed up yet. Once I started to par some holes, I became more confident. There were a lot of hills out there, and I got a little tired going up the hills. It was a nice course, though. I’m happy with my score. I’ve been working on my game a lot. Everything is going okay, but there’s room for improvement all the way around.”
Niskanen, the two-time reigning Marquette County Junior Golf Association champion, was followed by Menominee junior Maddy Derusha with an 86 and senior Jenna Nolde at 97.
“I just played it safe everywhere,” said Derusha. “I had to stay focused and not worry about other scores. My short game went real well, and my driver was pretty good, too.
“I think this is even a little better than winning two years ago. I’m happy for the seniors. It was nice to send them off with a U.P. Championship.”
Nolde, also a Wisconsin-Oshkosh tennis recruit, said her game wasn’t quite as good as usual, but she was happy to place fourth and go out on a U.P. championship team.
“I had a couple rough holes,” she added. “It was a tough course. The fairways were long. Although, my drives and putting were pretty good. It feels really good to win as a team and end my career as U.P. champions.”
Marquette’s Morgan Rhodes and Houghton’s Keegan Leonard shared fifth place at 98.
PHOTOS: (Top) Menominee’s Josie Hofer lines up a putt during Thursday’s UPD1 Final. (Middle) Rachel Niskanen finds her line on the green. (Photos by Justin St. Ours.)
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 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 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.