Carras Sisters Launch Dow into Elite

September 28, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half 

MIDLAND — There are a lot of reasons why a young person from Michigan would want to head south to spend her college years.

Soaking up some sun on the beach or bidding adieu to blizzards and wind-chill factors rank high on the list of perks, but not for Stephanie and Alexis Carras of Midland Dow.

For them, better year-round weather means more quality time on the golf course. Stephanie, a senior, will compete collegiately at the University of Georgia, while Alexis, a junior, has been looking into Wofford College in South Carolina as she sorts through recruiting offers. Both destinations will offer the sisters the opportunity to play through the winter. 

Golf has become that kind of priority for the Carras sisters, who have become two of the best golfers in Michigan in a relatively short amount of time.

As members of a golfing family, they were exposed to the sport as youngsters. However, both focused primarily on basketball, while Stephanie also played volleyball. It wasn't until just before high school that they began to take golf seriously.

"I started around my eighth-grade year," Alexis said. "I started doing tournaments then. Then my whole life basically became golf."

Stephanie's freshman year was the senior year of older sister Kharissa, who came out for golf that season for the first time after three years on the volleyball team. That combination elevated a Dow team that was eighth in its Regional the previous year to a third-place finish in the 2013 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 tournament.

Stephanie finished third individually, four shots behind champion Elle Nichols of Okemos. Kharrisa tied for 10th place.

It was an eye-opening experience for Stephanie.

"It was actually after the state tournament my freshman year that I decided I would just go all-in and practice really hard in golf," Stephanie said. "When I went to that tournament, it was the first tournament that was a big deal. There was a lot of pressure, and I loved it. I loved the competitiveness. I loved the pressure."

Stephanie Carras has thrived in the pressure of the MHSAA Finals in her first three years of high school, finishing among the top four individually each time. After taking third as a freshman, she was fourth in 2014 and second by two shots in 2015. Alexis tied for third last season, three shots behind champion Karina VanDuinen of Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.

Their efforts led Dow to the best finish in school history, a second-place showing behind Birmingham Seaholm. The Chargers, ranked No. 1 coming into the tournament, were two shots behind Seaholm after the first round, but shot 340 in the second; Seaholm shot 329.

"We were just a little off, but Seaholm played well," Dow coach Doug Bradford said. "It wasn't like we really tanked the second day. We didn't play quite as well and Seaholm played well. The kids were disappointed, of course. By the time we got someplace to eat, they realized second in the state is a great accomplishment; that was the best in school history. To be one of the top two teams in your division, what a nice accomplishment it was; it was a real successful year."

Before 2013, Dow wasn't a factor on the state golf scene.

The Chargers qualified for the Finals only four times during the first 41 years that the MHSAA sponsored the sport. They made the top 10 only once, taking eighth in 1982. The last three years have been the best in school history, as the Chargers took third in 2013, fifth in 2014 and second in 2015.

Another high finish is expected this season for Dow, which is ranked No. 1 in Division 2. The Chargers have won four of the nine tournaments they've entered and finished second in two others. They've taken on elite Division 1 competition at the Bob Lober Invitational (second by three shots to Novi), the Troy Invitational (fourth) and the Ann Arbor Pioneer Invitational (fourth).

"They want to play with those good teams," Bradford said. "A few years ago, before we got to this, the kids were intimidated if we went down and said, 'We're playing Rochester today,' They would've had a really hard time with that. That would not have been fun. They wanted to play schools similar to them. Now the girls look forward to that challenge, hoping we play with the better teams in the tournament. I explain to them that usually we do. That's an honor thing. People setting up the tournaments recognize we're a strong team, so they're putting us with other strong teams."

Having two strong golfers at the top of the lineup is a great start, but is meaningless if there isn't enough depth to propel a team high in the standings.

The Chargers have a group of players behind the Carras sisters who post consistently solid scores and have experience playing in big tournaments.

Mina Fabiano averages 87.5, shooting in the 90s only once in eight 18-hole rounds. Grace Baillargeon averages 89.8, Caroline Szabo 90.4, Morgan Deiters 90.9 and Tatum Matthews 93.8. The Chargers have eight players who have shot 87 or lower at least once this season.

"Our whole team is doing so well," Stephanie Carras said. "It's incredible. We always know we can lean on each other. It's a very fun team to be part of. It's more fun when you're with a team, because you're happy when other teammates do well. Even if you have an off day, someone else will come in with a low score who can make it better and pick you up."

Stephanie Carras averages 72.8 for 18 holes, winning five of her seven tournaments. Her 69 in the Frank Altimore Invitational tied a school record. Alexis Carras averages 75.9, winning three of her eight tournaments and taking second to her sister twice. In nine-hole play, Alexis has won three of Dow's four events. Stephanie has won two nine-hole matches, tying for first with Alexis once.

"We used to play basketball together," Stephanie said. "When we'd do summer camps, we'd be on opposite teams. We played different positions, but we always liked to guard each other.

"We're very competitive, but also happy to see the other one do well, too. If I get beat, I'd rather it be by my sister."

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and served as a correspondent the last three years for Second Half. This is his final report, as he recently accepted a position with the Livingston Daily Argus & Press. He can be reached at [email protected].

PHOTOS: (Top) Midland Dow's Stephanie Carras watches an approach during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals. (Middle) Alexis Carras follows a shot as it takes flight at Battle Creek's Bedford Valley. (Below) Stephanie, far left, and Alexis, far right, stand with Birmingham Seaholm's Jordan Michalak and the rest of the top-10 individual finishers last fall. (Click to see more from

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.