By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – Margaret Esordi says she likes to play golf in the rain, and she proved it Saturday in the MHSAA Division 4 girls golf championship meet at Bedford Valley Golf Course.
Esordi, a sophomore who has been the No. 5 player for Grosse Ile, battled the cold and rain for a 38 on her first nine holes and finished with a team-best 85 to lead the Red Devils to their second MHSAA championship in three years.
Grosse Ile held a six-stroke lead after play Friday and finished just two ahead of runner-up Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
“I was in shock when I came in,” said Esordi, who shot 94 on Friday. “I was just really focused, and I wasn’t thinking too much. I was just focused on helping my teammates, especially the seniors. I wanted to make it special for them.
“I like to play in the rain, and we knew the challenges that we faced, and we all stuck together and focused.”
Grosse Ile coach Jim Bennett was thrilled with the play of Esordi.
“She’s been No. 5 all year, and she came to life and just had a great front nine,” he said. “She just hit everything solid and started making putts.”
Senior Emily Bargardi confirmed just how special it was to win another title.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “We were state champions my sophomore year, so to have the feeling again is incredible. Since I was a sophomore then, I really didn’t know what really was going on, but being a senior makes it that much better.”
Bargardi’s two-day total of 171 led Grosse Ile, but she slipped to an 88 on Saturday after an opening 83 on Friday.
“I normally don’t play that good in bad conditions,” she said. “It was really tough for me because I was really nervous because of my previous times in the cold and rain – they haven’t been so good.
“My front nine was really bad – I had a 46 – but when I teed off on No. 10, the weather was still bad but I thought, ‘I’m definitely going to come back,’ and I did, which I’m really proud of.
“It wasn’t my best, but it was enough to win.”
Bargardi said she was re-energized when she found out how well Esordi was playing.
“Oh my gosh, I think that almost made me play better because it made me so happy,” Bargardi said. “I was so proud of her.
“I found out when I was about to tee off on No. 14, and I was just like, ‘I think I can finish strong; I think we all can finish strong.’ ”
Grosse Ile had a balanced team, and all five players finished among the top four for the team on either Friday or Saturday. In addition to Bargardi and Esordi, Katherine Kuzmiak had 88-92-180, Megan Moco had 91-96-187 and Katie Williams had 101-95-196.
“We’ve been bunched together all year,” Bennett said. “We don’t have that No. 1 player that goes out and shoots a great score, but all the girls pick up each other.”
The second-place finish by just two strokes was tough to take for Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
“Our girls are hurting al little bit right now from looking at themselves, but you can’t do that,” coach Tom Koert said. “I’ve even had to take a second and say, ‘Wait a minute. We all tried our hardest.’ Not one girl gave up one minute, and that’s the proudest you can be of a team. If they all give every minute out there, you can’t dip your head.
“We’ll fix ourselves from this, but right now it’s hard for them and me. I’m so proud of what they did.”
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian did have the most inspirational player in sophomore Jessica Zystra, who was honored at the end of the tournament for her courage to play golf after having scoliosis.
Zystra had surgery to put two metal rods in her back and she has 10 fused vertebrae, but she walked all 36 holes and finished with 104-99-195.
“The hardest part was before the surgery, deciding whether to have it or not because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do any activities like sports anymore,” Zystra said. “It’s been great the last couple of years. I’ve recovered very well, and it’s just been great.”
When asked if she could have imagined this day a few years ago, Zystra could not have given a better answer.
“Anything can happen, and today’s just a great day,” she said.
Monica Koert led Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian with 84-75-159, and third-place Flint Powers Catholic had Kristen Wolfe and Morgan Zloto each with 168 as the team finished six strokes behind Grosse Ile.
Three-time defending champion Lansing Catholic finished fourth and had the individual champion in senior Jacqueline Setas, who had a 150 total to win by nine strokes over Koert, who finished second. Setas had 77 on Friday and 73 on Saturday and seemed more pleased with the showing of her team, which lost four of its top five players from a year ago.
“I think everyone really didn’t think our team could be in the top five this year, so I think we made a bold statement,” said Setas, who plans to play golf at Michigan State University. “Just to make top four is an accomplishment.”
Lansing Catholic shot 359 on Saturday for its lowest 18-hole score all season.
“I’m feeling pretty good but a little sad for the seniors who are leaving,” coach Mary Schafer said. “It’s been a very special time.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Grosse Ile's Emily Bargardi putts during the second round of this weekend's LP Division 2 Final. (Middle) Lansing Catholic's Jacqueline Setas watches a shot Saturday on the way to winning the individual championship in her final high school event. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.