Escanaba Ends Houghton's Title Streak

June 2, 2016

By Keith Shelton
Special for Second Half

CHAMPION – For a full calendar year, the Escanaba girls golf team had a singular goal, and some lofty expectations. 

Houghton's Division 1 title streak had reached five years running, and the Gremlins were again led by sophomore Kaaren Liston, a formidable golfer who was medalist at last year's MHSAA U.P. Final at Pine Grove. Houghton shot a 416 that day, far higher than what the talented Gremlins had been averaging during the season, but still 22 strokes better than third place Escanaba. 

That was the mountain the Eskymos faced as they went into last summer's offseason. But from that point on, it was all business. 

Escanaba improved by leaps and bounds across the board through hard work and focus this season. On Thursday it all paid off, as the Eskymos were crowned U.P. Division 1 champions at Wawonowin Golf Club, breaking up the Gremlins’ long run. 

Escanaba shot 366 as a team, among the best team scores of the last decade by a girls team in the Upper Peninsula, and third at the Finals only to Houghton's 347 in 2013 and 365 in 2012.   

"I would like to know how many U.P.'s that (score) would have won in the last decade," remarked Eskymos coach Brian Robinette. “Probably all of them."

Escanaba was strong in returning talent at the beginning of the season, but it was the addition of freshman Paxton Johnson that put the Eskymos over the top. A quietly confident, focused and mentally strong golfer, Johnson's scores drew eyebrows from day one. She was medalist at her first meet of the season and continually improved as the short golf season went on. 

On Thursday, Johnson turned in a balanced effort, free of double bogeys, and was medalist with an 86. She improved by three strokes from a multi-team meet at Wawonowin earlier this season. Yet, being the competitor she is, Johnson expressed her commitment to keep working. 

"I improved by three strokes from the first time I played here, which I was pretty happy about," Johnson said. "I didn't have any doubles, but I still could have definitely played better. I still shot well enough though."

Playing in a foursome with Houghton's Liston, Menominee's Emma Hofer and Gladstone's Ashley Edwardsen, Johnson embraced the competition level. Her and Liston were all even through 17 holes, until the 18th when Liston triple bogeyed. Johnson escaped with a bogey and the title. Liston finished as runner-up with an 88, along with Ellie Hicks of Marquette. 

"It definitely helps to be neck and neck with someone," said Johnson. 

But the main philosophy the Escanaba girls subscribed to was not focusing on competition against other teams and players, but internal competition within each of them. 

"I think they were all looking at this as, not playing against Houghton or Gladstone, but playing against the shot that golf is asking me to hit," said Robinette. "They really have embraced that concept, and that's what an intelligent golfer will do. When you take all that other fluff away, and all you can control is the shot in front of you. I'd say they effectively accomplished that today."

Houghton's runner-up team score of 389 would have been good for first on a lot of days. While Gremlins coach Corey Markham was pleased with his team's play, he could only tip his hat to the play of Escanaba. 

"Our girls played very well today, like we expected. But they ran into a great Escanaba team," Markham said. "A 366 score is phenomenal. They just had a great day. You're not going to beat that score too often."

Escanaba's Megan Dagenais placed fourth with a 91, and teammate Kaitlin Cole tied for fifth with a 93 with Sydney Higgins of Marquette. Emily Hossele rounded out the Eskymos' top four with a 96, good for eighth overall. 

After Escanaba and Houghton, there was a drop-off of 22 strokes to third place Marquette with 411. Calumet was fourth with 450 and Gladstone fifth with 454. 

With Escanaba's mission accomplished and a job well done, Johnson has personal aims to continue to improve.

"It's going to be golf, all summer long," Johnson vowed.

And if the rest of the team improves, the Eskymos could be favored to repeat next season. Emily Hossele is the only top-five senior on the team. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson watches her shot on the No. 2 fairway at Wawonowin Country Club. (Middle) Houghton's Kaaren Liston hits out of a tough lie on No. 2. (Photos by Keith Shelton.)

3 Receive National Honors from NHSACA, Coaching Pair Named to Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

July 11, 2024

One of the longest-serving members of the MHSAA Representative Council and two longtime Michigan high school coaches have received highest honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Brighton athletic director John Thompson was named Athletic Director of the Year during the NHSACA’s annual conference June 26 in Bismarck, N.D. He has supervised the Bulldogs’ highly-accomplished athletic program for two decades and served on the Representative Council the last 14 years, including currently as vice president.

Thompson also this year received the Thomas Rashid Athletic Director of the Year Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Brighton was selected as an MIAAA exemplary athletic program in 2015 and as an ESPN unified champion school in 2018, the latter recognizing its statewide leadership in cultivating unified sport opportunities.

Additionally, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and Livonia Stevenson girls swimming & diving coach Greg Phil were named NHSACA National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Kowalski completed her 46th season coaching Mercy last fall by leading the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. She also in January was named the 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in her sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Hall of Fame this year for both golf and bowling.

Phil has coached girls swimming & diving since 1976, including at Stevenson since 1985. After winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, the most recent of several league championships under his leadership, Stevenson finished 16th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and previously had placed Finals runner-up twice. Phil was named to the MHSCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All three honorees were nominated for the national recognition by the MHSCA. Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff, now-retired Leland volleyball coach Laurie Glass, Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis coach Eric Gajar and Lowell wrestling coach R.J. Boudro also were National Coach of the Year finalists.

Additionally, longtime softball coaches Kay Johnson of Morenci and Kris Hubbard from Ottawa Lake Whiteford were inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. Johnson went over 1,000 career wins this spring and has led her program since 1993, including to Class C championships in 1985 and 1986. Hubbard retired after the 2019 season with an 865-380-3 record since taking over in 1974, with Class D titles in 1984, 1985 and 1987.