Performance: Escanaba's Paxton Johnson

June 8, 2018

Paxton Johnson
Escanaba junior – Golf

The Eskymos’ ace became the 10th in MHSAA history to win a third Girls Golf Finals individual championship when she shot an 80 on May 31 at Escanaba Country Club to claim the Upper Peninsula Division 1 title by five strokes and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Johnson next season will attempt to join Marquette’s Kendra Palmer (1996-99) and Carley Saint-Onge (2008-11) as the only four-time Finals winners. Johnson has averaged 80 strokes for 18 holes during the first three seasons of her high school career, despite often battling tough spring conditions during the U.P. thaw, and has won 31 of 32 high school events she’s played. She’s managed her Finals success despite playing the last three seasons against Houghton’s Kaaren Liston, who won the U.P. Division 1 title in 2015 as a freshman and finished second (or tied for second) to Johnson the last three years. Last week’s championship came despite a storm that halted play and left sizable puddles on the course as golfers returned – but Johnson continued to shine and in the process also led Escanaba to its third straight UP Division 1 team championship.

In addition to starring on the course, Johnson plays volleyball during the fall and carries a 4.1 grade-point average to rank second academically in her graduating class. Her favorite subject is chemistry – “It’s fun to be able to overcome challenges,” she said – and she hopes to study after high school to become a pharmaceutical chemist while continuing her golf career at the collegiate level.

Coach Brian Robinette said: “She's had a phenomenal run for sure. Her fundamentals and golf IQ are remarkable. She is also the type that works when coaches are not looking. All this and she is the No. 2-ranked student in her class. Pax is truly driven to play at the next level.”

Performance Point: “I played pretty solid for my first nine holes, and then I had a mess-up on (No.) 10 and then we got called off the course, which helped me get my momentum back. The only places I really struggled after that were on the holes that were really soaked with water where even a casual water drop didn’t really help. So I think it went pretty well considering the weather conditions. … I didn’t really know how wet it was until we got out to that hole. I was just glad that it wasn’t still raining. It was actually kinda nice out.”

Cusp of history: I actually know Kendra Palmer; I played in the U.P. Ladies Finals with her. I just think it would be really cool to be able to have my name in that group. They’re both really good golfers. … I really started thinking about it this year. After I won the first two (MHSAA titles) and I found out the Finals were at my home course this year, I was like, ‘OK, if I can pull off the third I’ll have some momentum going into my fourth year.’”

Lead the way: “I’d really like to win another team championship, so I really want to work hard at that. That’s my main priority. I plan on asking my teammates to golf with me all summer long to get a feel for it more. We had a senior who graduated who had a lot of experience, but other than that, the rest of our team is really new. I just like being able to encourage my teammates, and congratulate them after we win as a team; that’s a great feeling. Especially after U.P.s (Finals), once we added up the scores, being able to tell whole team we did it and we pulled it off was a great feeling.”

Golfer for every season: “When the snow does melt, we do try to get out as soon as we can, as soon as the course is open. We just try to stay out as long as we can and try to make the most of the season. … I’ve played in snow before, and sleet and snow at the same time. There was one round at our (Great Northern Conference) finals where we got called off the course, but before we got called off it started downpouring and the greens were just running with water and we were still playing, so that was interesting. … (My strength) is probably being able to play and stay focused in whatever weather comes my way just because I have played in those conditions before. I see people get frustrated and just lose focus. (I’m) just trying to stay focused, focused on lies and stuff like that – it’s more defensive golf against the weather and just trying to play it safe.”

Looking up to Lexi: “I really like Lexi Thompson, just how aggressive she plays. She’s fearless on the course. I went to an LPGA event one time and actually got to meet her, and that was cool.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
May 31: Lydia Goble, Schoolcraft softball - Read
May 24: Corinne Jemison, East Kentwood track & field - Read
May 17: Reagan Wisser, Richland Gull Lake soccer - Read
May 10: Clayton Sayen, Houghton track & field - Read
May 3: Autumn Roberts, Traverse City Central tennis - Read
April 26: Thomas Robinson, Wyoming Lee track & field - Read
March 29: Carlos Johnson, Benton Harbor basketball - Read
March 22: Shine Strickland-Gills, Saginaw Heritage basketball - Read
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City West golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson watches one of her drives during last week’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Johnson putts on the way to earning her third individual championship. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

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