Johnson Joins Legends, Maroons Make Legacy

May 29, 2019

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

HARRIS – Paxton Johnson only achieved half of her goal in her final high school golf match here Wednesday, but it was a special half.

The Escanaba High School senior won her fourth straight Upper Peninsula Division 1 golf championship to join two other four-time winners. The southpaw posted a sharp 4-over-par 76 at Sweetgrass Golf Club, which next month will host its ninth straight Symetra Tour women's professional golf tourney.

Menominee High School dashed Johnson's second goal by winning the team title, ending Escanaba's three-year title reign. The Maroons shot a dazzling 385 to finish a whopping 27 strokes ahead of the Eskymos.

"I wanted the team to win so bad," said Johnson. "I can honestly say I wanted the team win more than the individual win. I tried to encourage my teammates and play as best I can and try to pull it off."

Johnson, who has received a golf scholarship to Northern Michigan University, joins Marquette golfers Kendra Palmer (1996-99) and Carley Saint Onge (2008-11) as the only four-time champions. "It is an honor. I really look up to both of them," she said.

"It is amazing. It was a really great four years," Johnson said as she relaxed outside under the best spring conditions to date, sunshine and 81 degrees.

She finished 11 strokes ahead of runner-up Emma Hofer of Menominee and knew she was the heavy favorite but pushed the pressure to win aside. "I was competing against myself. I knew if I stayed out of trouble and out of the bunkers I would be okay. I wasn't thinking of anything else, just thinking about one shot at a time," she said.

Johnson overcame a pair of consecutive short putt misses – for par and birdie – on holes 12 and 13, respectively. "I tried not to get too discouraged and tried to let it go," she said, still visibly perturbed at those miscues after the round ended. "I didn't let it get in my own head. But if I had capitalized around the green I would have played much better."

She also missed a good opportunity on the short No. 14, leaving her tee ball short-left and then chipping over a bunker to the back fringe before two-putting for par. "I'm not upset with par, but the hole should be a birdie. But pars are good. You can't get too mad at par," she said, although it was obvious she was still peeved at herself later.

Johnson, who won the Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association crown last year, stayed within herself most of the balmy day by following her primary creed. "I was kind of in a zone. I focused on my game. Swinging freely is my best thing," she said.

Escanaba coach Brian Robinette said Johnson "is fundamentally as sound as any high school player." He also said the "consistency, the way she hits the golf ball" is a key. "She is a high IQ golfer. She can regroup (from a bad stretch) and can leave the past in the past. You rarely see her follow up a bad shot with another bad shot."

He is also impressed with the way "she can compress the golf ball and works right through the bag, driver to wedge."

Two of her playing partners, Emma Hofer of Menominee and Morgan Rhodes of Marquette, copied Johnson's approach by paying attention to their own shots and were not overwhelmed by her dominance. 

"I know she is better than me. I'm totally fine with that," said Hofer, a frequent opponent the past four years. "I try to get closer to her and if I'm close to her I'm fine."

Rhodes said playing with Johnson helps her: "It makes me a better player playing with someone more advanced. I just don't compare myself to them."

Menominee has won 15 U.P. girls titles, but this was the first since 2008 and the first for coach Tony Hofer, who has two daughters (Emma and Josie) on the team. 

"All year we've had all five girls score well. Different girls step up and do something good at every meet," he said, noting four seniors have led the way as they chased Escanaba. "We were not very good four years ago, but they stuck with it. This year we knocked off a handful of strokes here and there."

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Paxton Johnson of Escanaba won her fourth straight MHSAA Finals title Wednesday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 golf tournament at Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris. Johnson, the third U.P. girl with four straight titles, posted a 4-over-par 76. Johnson tees off on the par-3 island green, No. 15, which she parred. (Middle) The Menominee Maroons won the Upper Peninsula Division 1 team title. The team includes, front row from left: Maddy Derusha and Emma Hofer; standing from left, Arikah Bellisle, Josie Hofer, coach Tony Hofer, Olivia Badker and Emma Antilla. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

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