Already in Select Company, South Lyon's Tapp Has Chance to Chase Finals History

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

September 1, 2022

SOUTH LYON – Nobody could’ve blamed anyone at the 2019 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Girls Golf Final if they looked at the scoreboard and thought, “Where did THAT come from?”

Greater DetroitIt’s hard enough for anyone to win an individual state title, but South Lyon’s Gabby Tapp managed to do so.

It’s even harder to win one as a freshman, but Tapp did just that.

If only the story had stopped there.

Tapp won as a freshman, only a few months after playing a full 18-hole round of golf for the first time.

Yes, the first time in her life.

“I would just go to the range and I got lessons, so I would work on my swing,” she said. “But I didn’t really play a whole lot.”

All of which made that Finals title as a freshman even more stunning.

“At that time, we didn’t have the online scoring, so I didn’t know how I was doing compared to everyone else,” Tapp said. “I remember getting off that 18th green and my coach came up to me and said, ‘You won.’ I was like, ‘What?’ That’s when I kind of realized I could go somewhere with (golf).”

Indeed, since that improbable triumph as a freshman, all Tapp has done is prove that it was no fluke.

Tapp tied for sixth at the LPD2 Final as a sophomore, and then won her second individual Finals title last year as a junior by shooting a two-day score of 144 (70-74) at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley.

Tapp was named to the all-state Super Team following last year and enters this fall as a legitimate Miss Golf Award candidate.

Despite two Finals individual titles, three top-10 finishes and contributing to a Finals team championship, everything did not come as easily as it may have seemed.

Tapp putts during her 2019 championship run at Forest Akers East. Her sophomore season in 2020 included that team championship and a top-10 individual finish, but also some difficulties.

“I felt like I was getting in trouble anywhere possible and I didn’t really know my swing,” she said. “But I felt like I had to go through that to get where I’m at now. Now I know what it’s like to struggle like that and come out of it stronger.”

Tapp did come out those struggles stronger, rebounding with a junior year that ended with her returning to the top of her division.

In October, she’ll try to join rare company by winning a third individual Finals title. Only 13 have accomplished the feat, and only six in Lower Peninsula competition.

Tapp figures to be a favorite again because she has gotten only better as her high school career has progressed, particularly with the driver.

“I have gotten a lot better off of the tee,” she said. “Driver was never really a strong suit of mine. I wasn’t sure which direction I was going to go. I’ve definitely improved that. Length and accuracy. I would say that’s helped me a lot because now I can reach par-5s in two a lot and have irons coming into those.”

South Lyon coach Dan Skatzka said that in addition to Tapp’s driving, her short game has also gotten better, which has complemented the mental fortitude she has always possessed.

This fall, Tapp broke the school record for a 9-hole score when she shot a 31, adding to her decorated career. Last season, she shot back-to-back rounds of 67 and 66 to twice break the school record for lowest 18-hole score.

“We’ve had a lot of great players at South Lyon,” Skatzka said. “About one-third of the seniors we’ve had here have gone on to play college golf. Gabby holds all the records. She basically has broken all the records.”

Tapp is still figuring out her college future, but she does want to play golf at the next level.

One thing is certain: After a great high school career, Tapp definitely can go somewhere in the game of golf.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) South Lyon’s Gabriella Tapp blasts through a drive during last season’s LPD2 Final at Bedford Valley. (Middle) Tapp putts during her 2019 championship run at Forest Akers East. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.