Montague Repeats to 'End Era,' Greenhills Freshman Begins Another in Finals Debut

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

October 17, 2021

EAST LANSING – The Lower Peninsula Division 4 Girls Golf Finals this weekend at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East featured competitions within the competition. Head-to-head battles came to a head on Saturday.

While Montague went down to the wire in edging Lansing Catholic and repeating as team champion, Ann Arbor Greenhills freshman Mia Melendez outdueled Michigan Center senior Kamryn Shannon for the individual title in a showdown that came down to the final hole.

Montague and Lansing Catholic both shot 675 over the two-day event, but the Wildcats held the upper hand by virtue of the fifth-score tie-breaker. Jackson Lumen Christi finished third (701), followed by Adrian Lenawee Christian in fourth (706) and Remus Chippewa Hills fifth (722).

The Wildcats, who ran away with the title last year in defeating runner-up Lansing Catholic by 27 shots, featured five players under 90 each of the two days this weekend.

“I can’t believe that,” Montague coach Phil Kerr said. “I’m so proud of them. I’m not surprised, but still under these conditions, you’ve got to show up and compete and these girls did.”

Shannon held a two-shot lead over Melendez following a 2-under 70 on Friday, but Melendez made several clutch putts Saturday to make her move during what amounted to a head-to-head match. Melendez chipped in for par on their final hole to wrestle away the medalist honor, while Shannon settled for bogey.

Melendez shot 71 on Saturday for a two-day total of 143, one shot better than Shannon’s 144. The newly-crowned champ called the round “intense.”

“There was a lot of, like, moments where I knew that I had to make a putt and then she had to make a putt, too, so we were just going back and forth,” Melendez said. “It was a lot, and both of us had to make a lot of big runs going next to each other.

“This particularly means a lot because it’s the state championships, and it’s always been my goal to win something like this because everybody’s going to see it and it’s a pretty big deal.”

Ann Arbor Greenhills golfLansing Catholic’s Amanda Meiling finished third at 159, followed by teammate Sailor Somerville, Lenawee Christian’s Lauren Swiggum and South Haven’s Sydney Barnes all tied for fourth (164).

Montague seniors Orianna Bylsma and Gabby Moreau, who were key contributors on last year’s title team, led the Wildcats with top-10 finishes: Bylsma in seventh (165) and Moreau 10th (168).

Traverse City St. Francis’ Grace Slocum placed eighth (166) and Brooklyn Columbia Central’s Logan Bentley ninth (167).

“I’m so proud of the seniors – it’s definitely the end of an era. Ori and Gabby have been through all of it,” Kerr said. “(Their) freshman year, we were nobody. Sophomore year, it was the biggest deal that we made state and then got fourth. They won state (last year), they backed it up (this year).

“Ori shot 79 today, Gabby shot 80 yesterday – a PR by four strokes, at state. They’re just warriors. It didn’t matter what they did all year, it didn’t matter what they did last week, I knew when we showed up that those two were going to perform.”

Six years ago, Montague did not even have a girls golf team. Before last year, the school had never won a Finals title in a girls sport.

Now, the Wildcats have two championships in as many years in girls golf.

“I didn’t even play golf five years ago. I hadn’t even touched a golf club in my life five years ago today,” Moreau said. “And if you would have told me, ‘You’re going to win a state championship,’ I would have said, ‘I don’t play football.’

“I couldn’t have even imagined this. This is so surreal.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Montague’s Orianna Bylsma follows her approach shot Saturday at Forest Akers East. (Middle) Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Mia Melendez lines up a putt during the second round. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.