Low-Scoring Lineup Fuels Huskies' Run

October 18, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – Team depth in any sport can be an important factor in making a strong postseason run.

The Forest Hills Northern girls golf team possesses just that this fall, and the hope is an abundance of contributors help carry it to a lofty finish at this weekend’s MHSAA Finals.

The No. 2-ranked Huskies will compete in Division 2 at Bedford Valley Golf Course in Battle Creek after placing runner-up at last week’s Regional.

“Now that we have this balance, if you do have a bad day, our team can still win,” said Forest Hills Northern junior Kay Zubkus, the team’s No. 1 player. “That ultimately makes all of us perform better because there isn’t that added pressure. It’s fantastic.”

The Huskies have a mix of veterans and young talent.

Zubkus is joined by senior co-captains Maddie Goodrich and Chloe Johnson, as well as senior Gabby Mas.

Freshmen Lilia Henkel and Anna Fay round out the top six.

Forest Hills Northern’s depth was apparent throughout the season as it won the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship with all six girls being selected to the all-conference team.

“Our depth has been a strength for us all season,” Huskies coach Kent Graves said. “We were one of only two teams at Regionals to have five girls shoot under 90, and it takes a lot of the load off our No. 1 and No. 2 because if they don’t have great days they have three or four really good scores behind them.”

Forest Hills Northern entered the season with high expectations. It finished sixth at last year’s Division 2 Finals and graduated only one senior.

That created excitement for the potential of this year’s group.

“We were really anxious for this year,” Graves said. “We had the entire team back from last year minus one girl, and then we had two really super freshmen come in. We were excited about that, and our goal at the beginning of the year was a top-3 finish.”

The freshmen have played pivotal roles in the Huskies’ success.

Henkel was projected to be among the top players, but a pleasant surprise has been the improved play of Fay.

“I knew Lilia was good because I had played with her in tournaments, but we didn’t know about Anna and she has grown so much over this short season,” Zubkus said. “She came in shooting high 90s and now she is averaging high 80s, which is fantastic. We know we can rely on her, and their talent is awesome because it is going to help build the team for the next few years.”

Added Goodrich: “I knew Lilia was amazing, but Anna has really surprised me and has done super well. I’ve been impressed by her, and she has been solid the whole way through.”

Despite the range in classes, this year’s group has a tight bond.

“We’ve done a lot to become closer as a team and it’s been fun, especially since this is my senior year,” Goodrich said. “We’ve been so successful and gone to big tournaments and done well. We’ve been able to grow together as a team.”

The Huskies are aiming to end their season on a high note and improve on last year’s results.

Zubkus said the team’s dedication has put them in that position.

“A lot of hard work has been put in this year to get us where we are,” she said. “We are practicing six days a week to get us where we want to be to achieve our goals, which ultimately is winning a state championship.”

Forest Hills Northern will be among the favorites as it attempts to dethrone reigning champion and top-ranked Midland Dow.

“It’s going to take two days of really solid golf and we have to be at the top of our game, because 17 other teams want it just as bad as we do and will be shooting to win the thing also,” Graves said. “It’s two days of five girls playing the best they can play, and this tournament will be won with the third through fifth spot because at the state level everyone has really good (Nos.) 1 and 2 players.”

“We know we are capable of winning and everyone is going to have to play their best golf,” Zubkus added. “We have a very competitive division, and there is going to be no room for mis-strokes.”

The weather shouldn’t have an effect on the field, much to the liking of Graves.

“This is my 10th year and it will be the first time I’ve coached a state tournament not wearing my long underwear,” Graves joked. “I will be out there in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM and WOODTV. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) This season's Forest Hills Northern girls golf team, from left: Olivia Moran, Chloe Johnson, Kay Zubkus, Lisa Reynolds, Gabby Mas, Lilia Henkel, Anna Fay, Maddie Goodrich, Coach Kent Graves. (Middle) The Huskies stand with their O-K White championship trophy. (Top photo by Jim Hill Photo; bottom by Kathy Goodrich.)

Michigan Leaders in 3 Sports Earn National Honors from NFHS Coaches Association

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.