Brighton Golf Finds Championship Mix

October 15, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BRIGHTON – When Paul Parsell considers what each of his players brings to the Brighton girls golf program, he can’t help but think about the food.

The Bulldogs’ moms have fed the team incredibly well this season, and that contribution isn’t lost on the sixth-year coach.

The right ingredients make the difference – and it just so happens these moms are fueling what could end up the most accomplished team in Brighton golf’s storied history.

This season’s team is an interesting mix of veterans, newcomers, phenoms and self-made standouts. And the Bulldogs hope it’s a winner as they try to cook up their first MHSAA championship beginning Friday with the first round of the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.

Brighton has never finished among the top two at an MHSAA Final, but enters this weekend having won all but two of its events and ranked No. 3 in the final LP Division 1 coaches poll.  

“It was very fun to see it all come together," said Allie Erkkila, the lineup’s lone senior. 

"Our skills are up to par. It's just up to our mental game. Our team is very close, and I think that if we keep a level mindset, we can do our personal best."

Erkkila’s perspective is a unique one on a team filled with them. Start with the top seven players.

There’s the veteran: Brighton finished fifth in Division 1 in 2012 and 12th in 2013, but didn't make last year's MHSAA Final. Erkkila is the only member of the team who has played in the final tournament of the high school season – she was in the lineup for the first round in 2013.

And the athlete: Now-sophomore Heather Fortushniak joined the lineup last season and shot the team’s second-lowest regional core. She’s the team’s best all-around athlete; she played hockey and tackle football growing up and also plays basketball at Brighton. This fall she’s become a more polished golfer, giving the team a strong third player behind a top two that can match any in the state.

The next in line: Freshman Annie Pietila is the middle daughter of five of what could be considered Brighton’s first family of golf. Her older sisters Hannah and Emmie both play at the University of Tennessee and were regulars among the top 10 at their MHSAA Finals. In Annie’s high school debut, at the Traverse City Central Invitational in August, she set Brighton’s school record for 18 holes with a 68.

The standout who gave high school a try: Pietila’s score was tied a week later by a player also making her high school debut. Junior Julia Dean was a veteran of the American Junior Golf Association and already has committed to play collegiately at the University of Baylor. She said she’d always wanted to play on the high school team too, but couldn’t make it work with her schedule. This fall, she could – and joined the team a week in, shooting her 68 to win Brighton’s Coach Miller Invitational.

The elite gymnast: Freshman Autumn Blaney had ascended to Level 10 as a club gymnast before deciding to give golf a try, and that competitiveness has transferred over to a sport she’s played for only six months. Blaney has improved so quickly the Bulldogs used her 84 at their Regional.

And don’t forget 6 and 7: Sophomores Sophia Lowe and Emme Darkowski came to tryouts a year ago shooting in the 120s. Their averages have fallen into the low 90s and they’re pushing hard enough to make the lineup that Blaney had to defeat them in a nine-hole match last week to earn the fifth spot at the Regional.

They lead the way: Parsell has four children ages 6 down to 1 who easily could’ve been reasons for him to step away from the program – if he didn’t consider the team an extension of his family and his oldest hadn't been hanging out at practices since he was 18 months old. A major help has been the addition of assistant Jimmy Dewling, a former Brighton standout who played at Michigan State and returned to coach last fall. During matches they focus on golf-related things like course management. But just as important is the team bonding they foster to make the blend just right.

Dean averages 71 strokes for 18 holes, Pietila 79 and Fortushniak 84. Although maybe not this formidable, the Bulldogs have had similar strength at the top in the past – along with the older Pietilas, Jennica Long is a freshman playing at Florida Atlantic and Nicole Meyer plays at Hope College and three days ago was named Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Women’s Golfer of the Week.

But the biggest difference in this title hunt could be the players carding the fourth and fifth scores.

“What’s shown up for us is the growth of our program. We have really seven golfers that can play, and our five, six, seven probably could be top five for a lot of teams,” Parsell said. “I know a lot of teams out there struggle at four and five, and even three. To have that on our team makes it more competitive. They’re battling for position. You usually do that in college. We’re doing that here.”

And doing so together, which makes this a different and worthwhile experience for players like Dean and Pietila who were used to golf as an entirely individual sport. 

“It’s been cool to have that camaraderie with the team and travel with the team, and everything is more of a team effort, which I really like and enjoy,” Dean said. “It’s different in golf; you’re not out there helping your own team. But it just motivates you to do that much better because you’re playing for your team.”

Brighton finished sixth at that Traverse City Central tournament before she joined. But the Bulldogs then won all of their matches and tournaments until the Oct. 1 Kensington Lakes Activities Association final at Pontiac Country Club, where they shot 345 to finish third – seven strokes back of No. 7 Plymouth and one back of Division 2 No. 4 South Lyon. Brighton came back a week later and won its Regional with a 317, 10 strokes better than No. 4 Novi.

The late Bill Miller laid much of the program's foundation during 28 seasons before he died in 2009. Parsell said he's worked to build on Miller's work, taking a top-10 team to one that can contend annually among the top three. 

The Bulldogs made runs at the top with Annie Pietila's older sisters, who have visited practices twice this season and continue to cheer on the team as it goes for the ultimate accomplishment. 

“They still love the team and they love the coach. They didn’t have a season quite like this, but they had good seasons too,” Annie Pietila said. “They think it’s great I get to experience this.”

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Brighton’s varsity golfers, from left, Autumn Blaney, Heather Fortushniak, Annie Pietila, Julia Dean, Allie Erkkila, Sophia Lowe, Sydnee Ellingson and Emme Darkowski. (Middle) The players pose with their regional trophy, coaches Jimmy Dewling (left) and Paul Parsell (right). (Photos courtesy of Brighton girls golf program.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1