Northville Taking Aim at Record Streak

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 2, 2020

As we collectively cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, individually we search for some semblance of normalcy.

For athletes like Katelyn Tokarz of Northville, participating in athletics has allowed, if only temporarily, for a bit of respite from the uncertainty of living in the midst of a pandemic.

Tokarz enters her fourth season as a member of Northville’s girls varsity golf team. She is relieved as well as thankful to have the opportunity to compete once again, knowing many of her classmates, and thousands of other students statewide, are not so fortunate.

“I was concerned (that) we wouldn’t play,” Tokarz said. “We were stressed out that (the season) wouldn’t happen. I’m just grateful to have a season. Anything is better than nothing.”

Tokarz has been one of coach Chris Cronin’s top players from day one, and this season she and her teammates have the opportunity to accomplish something special.

Northville won its first MHSAA Finals title two years ago by 31 strokes, and the Mustangs were dominant again in capturing their second consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship in 2019. Should Northville make it a three-peat, it would join Grand Blanc (Division 1, 2004-06) and Kalamazoo Central (Class A, 1994-96) as the only programs to win three consecutive titles in the MHSAA’s top division/classification.

Northville won last year by 32 strokes ahead of second-place Grosse Pointe South, and Cronin returns five of his top seven golfers. Tokarz, junior Megha Vallabhaneni and sophomore Samantha Coleman all are back after being named to the Division 1 all-state first team by the coaches association.

Cronin is in his fifth season as head coach; he’s also coached the boys program for the past five. But he’s hardly new to the program and athletics, in general, at Northville. He coached cross country for 23 seasons before switching to golf. He also served as an assistant golf coach and was part of the program when Wes Gates captured in the LPD1 individual title in 2009.

In Cronin’s second season with the girls golf program, the Mustangs placed fourth at the 2017 Final – giving us a glimpse of what was to come.

“The first year (2018) we won it, we seemed to consistently win tournaments throughout that season,” Cronin said. “I’m big on statistics, and our margin of victory was 15 strokes.

“We knew we had the talent. We just didn’t want to get in our own way. We had a lot of depth, which is unusual for most programs. We had girls who didn’t play who could have played for other programs.

“I got a little lucky last year. I had two seniors who hadn’t played well during the regular season. But they continued to improve, and by the time the (MHSAA) tournament came around they hit their stride.”

Those two players were Sedona Shipka, who tied for ninth individually at the 2019 Final with a 158 (79-79) and Sufna Gill, who was second on her team scoring 161.

As good as Northville was the past two seasons, Cronin said this year’s team, while not as deep, could be better. Even if this is true, Cronin said winning the title this year will be more challenging that during the past two.

“There are a number of teams that are better than they were a year ago,” he said. “Rochester Adams (seventh last season) has a lot back, and they’ve already shot 299 in a tournament. (Coach) Dan Young at Plymouth (third last season) has a solid team. When all is said and done, there are about five teams who are equal.”

Northville is off to a good start, having won two invitational tournaments (Highest Honor Invitational at Huron Meadows Metro Park and the Sentech Invitational at Kensington) with identical 306 totals.

In this undeniably unique season, Cronin said coaches must adapt and be more creative due to COVID-19 restrictions. One limitation is the number of players teams are allowed to enter in a tournament. In the past coaches could enter five, counting the top four scores. Teams are now limited to four players. Northville team dinners, a time when players bonded, are a thing of the past. And awards ceremonies have been all but eliminated to limit individual contact.

“As a coach I have a mask on all of the time,” Cronin said. “The new players have only seen my face on FaceTime.

“So many things we’ve done in the past was predicated on working closely with one another. The girls looked forward to the awards ceremonies. Now you don’t have that. They play and go home. Sometimes it takes seven hours or so before they get the results.

“That said, I feel from my heart we are fortunate to be out here. When they’re playing, that’s when they’re the most normal. They’re not thinking about COVID when they’re walking the fairways. I’ll live with the restrictions.”

Players like Tokarz are likely the least affected. Experienced players at her level compete in tournaments during the summer sponsored by the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) and others outside of school. It’s the younger players who are missing out the most.   

“We work in small groups now, and we keep the groups the same every day,” Cronin said. “In the past I’d mix up the players so the younger players could be around the older girls to watch, to see how they line up putts, for example, and just watch the way they go through their routine. Not now.”

That said, the challenges are the same for everyone. Players and coaches alike must adapt and be more creative. Northville again is well on its way.

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Northville junior Megha Vallabhaneni keeps her eyes on an approach. (Middle) Senior Katelyn Tokarz sends a putt toward the hole. (Below) Sophomore Samantha Coleman follows an iron shot. (Photos by Debbie Stein.)

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