By Adam Niemi
Special for Second Half
IRON RIVER — The writing was on the wall for the Munising High School girls golf team — play your best golf.
On Thursday, the Mustangs pulled through with a commanding lead to win the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 title at George Young Golf Course.
Munising coach Bette Immel said her team’s performance was another notch in the golfers’ impressive athletic resumes.
“Just had a fantastic day. We’ve had three seniors on the team that have been playing since their freshman year; great way to end their golf careers,” Immel said. “This group has done some marvelous things. They won the state championship in tennis this year, now golf, track is Saturday (U.P. Finals in Kingsford) which a few of them will participate in the top few spots there. One of the girls has four straight championships in cross country as well.
"It just couldn’t happen to a better group of girls. They’re great stewards of our community, great role models for others in the town. It’s one of these special things that doesn’t happen a lot. Just very proud of them.”
Bailey Downs was the medalist. Her 88 helped the Mustangs to a 412 team score. Crystal Falls Forest Park finished a distant second with 500 strokes. Iron River West Iron County was third at 514.
Frankie Mattson also placed among the top 10 individuals for Munising with a 105.
“I think course management was a big thing — make sure they know the smart shot, not take chances and be too aggressive, so just play smart and I think they did that,” Immel said of the team strategy.
Payton Dube led Hancock with a 91 to finish individual runner-up.
Munising, Forest Park and West Iron County were the only girls teams who fielded enough golfers to qualify a team score.
Michelle Wiegand’s 108 paced the Wykons, tying at 11th overall with Munising’s Taylor Downs. Anna Malmquist shot a 111, tying for 13th with Munising’s Marissa Immel.
Alexis Bailey’s 101 was good for a fourth-place medal for Painesdale-Jeffers.
Newberry’s Riley Burton shot a 100 to earn a third-place medal.
West Iron coach Mark Martini said the Wykons’ roster turnover to youth this year from experience last season could mean well for the future.
“Our girls are not only young for the most part, in some cases they have been holding a golf club for about 12 weeks total,” Martini said. “We have come a long way. I am just hoping they stay with it for the summer, and we will probably be a good team. We were second in the state last year; this year we’re kind of starting all over.”
Full results will be linked when available.
PHOTO: Munising's Bailey Downs watches a putt during her run to the medalist honor Thursday. (Photo by Adam Niemi.)
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.