At a certain point, the competition catches up. And that’s where the Sturgis High School varsity girls golf program — the winningest team at the school over the last decade — finds itself in 2022.
A young squad without a senior on the roster is slugging it out this fall in a Wolverine Conference that now boasts plenty of parity. But with five league titles over the last eight years, the Trojans also can appreciate being in pursuit of the crown instead of being chased.
“We know that we’re kind of on a two-year plan here to get some good things done,” Sturgis coach Ken Schau said. “Trust me, when I say two-year plan, there’s no such thing as ‘We’ll be back next year.’ No way. It’s about right now.”
When Schau took over 11 years ago, winning a conference championship wasn’t even on the first page of the to-do list. The program had stalled out and numbers were down to the point when filling out a junior varsity roster was one of the biggest chores.
Teaching at Sturgis Middle School, Schau began evangelizing for the game. Numbers improved. Scores went from respectable to impressive. The Trojans started winning league titles, claimed a Regional championship and earned MHSAA Finals berths — four over the past 10 years. Golfers like Courtney O’Brien (Spring Arbor University) and Rachel Webb (Olivet College) furthered their careers at the college level.
A tradition was formed, and today’s crop of players at Sturgis hold dear their roles in continuing that legacy.
“As far as where we are now, you can’t even compare it to Year 1,” Schau said. “We’re trying to maintain what we’re doing and go from there. It’s all a numbers game in my mind. Who’s coming up in the eighth grade? I’ve always got my eye on talent coming in. Build numbers first and have that quality get a little bit better. That’s what happened. The motivation is different after that. Now you have girls that are motivated to keep things going.”
Schau’s middle school students learn about the Trojans’ success on the course whether they want to or not. Banners are hung in the classroom, and Schau is happy to talk golf whenever there’s an opening to do so.
“There have been girls that have come through the program that the only reason they played was because I was fortunate enough to have them in class and I talked them into it,” he said. “I started talking to Courtney O’Brien in my media class, and she ends up playing. Rachel Webb was kind of the same. It wasn’t until eighth grade that she started showing some interest. I do my best to recognize golfers out there.”
This fall, it starts with captains Maddy Webb (sophomore) and Citori Kosmerick (junior), who continue to chip away at their nine-hole averages, which included a 46 for Webb and a 48 for Kosmerick at the fifth conference jamboree at Sauganash Golf Club in Three Rivers. Sturgis ended the day with a team score of 195, which was good for third place behind Plainwell (188) and Vicksburg (189).
“For (Webb and Kosmerick), their course management is starting to get a lot better,” Schau said. “You have to bulletproof your game. If you’re a girl around the 40s, make your bad round a 48 instead of a 55. They have done a really good job of understanding the strengths of their game. They understand when it’s go time, when we have to go for this flag here and we can’t mess around and lay up. They are just getting better and better.”
“I had a lot of lessons,” Webb said of her offseason work. “I bumped up to first seed, which puts a lot of pressure on me, but I feel like I do good with pressure. My teammates definitely help me a lot. I want to shoot in the high 30s. I feel like I can get there.”
For Kosmerick, she climbed ahead of some upperclassmen last year and now finds herself in a leadership role.
“It made me a lot better because there was a lot more pressure than being the sixth seed (where she started last season),” Kosmerick said. “Our biggest goal is to take the pressure off (the underclassmen) in harder matches because we know how it was our first years.”
Otsego, Plainwell and Vicksburg have been tough to beat this season in the Wolverine, and the three squads have all shared the lead thus far. Sturgis continues to hover around fourth place, within striking distance if it can keep things rolling in the right direction.
“This is the best the Wolverine Conference has been,” Schau said. “It has been a lot of fun. The goal as we progress into the postseason is more consistency and better decision making,” Schau said. Course management is huge. Even though we have some juniors, we still make some kid mistakes, so to speak. This is when we really start gearing up.”
A league outing Sept. 12 at Lake Cora in Paw Paw could be a good indication of the kind of production Sturgis is capable of down the stretch. The Trojans carded a score of 180, finishing second by a stroke to Vicksburg. It was the fifth-best score in school history with four players finishing in the 40s, including Webb’s career-best 41.
In the third spot is junior Aspen Hyska, who fired a career-best 44 at Lake Cora. Classmate Hannah Falkenstein plays as the fourth seed. Mia Martinez (sophomore) competes in the fifth slot, and freshman Piper Sterling is the Trojans’ six seed.
“Aspen Hyska worked very hard in the summertime, going from a mid-50s player to around 50,” Schau said. “Falkenstein is our little robot of the group. She hits the ball 150 yards of the tee and does it again and again. She chips and putts and throws up a 52 every time she steps on the course. Mia Martinez is another girl who did a great job over the summertime. There’s an athlete coming out in Mia. I did not know what was going to happen at the six seed and knew it was going to be an open competition. Our freshman (Sterling), a lefty, stepped up. She’s a nice surprise.”
The Trojans also claimed a victory at their inaugural Team Choice Invitational at Klinger Lake Country Club, beating out runner-up Portage Central by 14 strokes. Webb was medalist with a 94, and Kosmerick placed second one stroke back.
“It was nice for the girls to win their own Invitational,” Schau said. “Klinger Lake is always a tough course to play with very thick rough and fast greens. We like it though as we feel it makes us better later in the season."
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Sturgis’ Maddy Webb finds her putting line. (Middle) Citori Kosmerick sends an approach from the fairway. (Below) The Sturgis girls golf team, from left: Hannah Falkenstein, Piper Sterling, Mia Martinez, Aspen Hyska, Kosmerick and Webb. (Photos courtesy of the Sturgis girls golf program.)
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.