Potential Unleashed, Adams Pursues Title

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 30, 2020

Time will tell how the Rochester Adams girls golf team will be judged this season.

But oh, what a ride it’s been so far.

Remarkably, Adams placed first in all seven of its tournaments heading into Wednesday’s Oakland County Invitational. In two of Adams’ tournament wins (at Hartland and Midland invitationals), the Highlanders bested then top-ranked and reigning LP Division 1 champion Northville. Adams has since moved to No. 1 In Division 1 with Plymouth No. 2 and Northville No. 3 according to the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association.

To suggest that this was a fluke is bunk. It’s possible for a team, or an individual, to complete that once-in-a-lifetime 18-hole round and finish on top. But seven times? Consecutively! Remarkable indeed.

Adams coach Jeff Kutschman knew this team had potential. So did his golfers. Last season Adams won its first three tournaments and finished a more-than-respectable seventh at the MHSAA Division 1 Final. That represented Adams’ first appearance in a Final since 2011, when it placed 14th. The Highlanders also placed second in the county meet and at Regionals in 2019. And they won the Oakland Activities Association White, the program’s first league title in 20 years.

Adams graduated two of its top five in the spring, but the two freshmen who replaced them are rising stars.

“We’ve got a bunch of trophies on the kitchen counter,” Kutschman said. “I told the girls, last year when we won those first three (that) this was amazing. (After the seven tournaments) I tempered them. They’re pretty grounded. I don’t have to tell them not to have a big head.

“The girls continue to impress me. I’m amazed at what they’ve done. And they’ve worked hard. (During) practice they’re constantly working on different parts of their game. After practice I’ll leave and they’ll text me and say things like I just made 250 putts from four feet because I wasn’t happy with my putts from that range.

“They know the game. They’re students of the game.”

Kutschman, an Adams graduate and teacher at Hart Middle School in Rochester, is in his fourth season as head coach. Five of his 10 golfers are seniors, but just one – Carly Ortwine, a captain – is among the top five. The other top players are junior Alyssa Fodale, sophomore Grace Wang and the two freshmen, Laura Liu and Fodale’s sister, Katie.

Liu leads the team in scoring average; Wang is second. Each was medalist twice during those first seven tournaments, and each placed second twice.

As fierce as the competition has been in the tournaments, the rivalry, though friendly, among Liu, Wang, Ortwine, et al, has only added to this season’s theatre.

“The girls have had an internal competition, which has been good,” Kutschman said. “The girls are constantly saying I want my teammates to do better and, at the same time, they want to be the one with the best score.”

Ortwine agreed, adding, “We all want to be the best. When one of the girls will come in with a low score, we all get excited. Then another will come in with a better score, and we get even more excited.”

An example took place at the Jackson Area Invitational where Liu was medalist with a 76, Wang placed second with an 80, Ortwine was third with an 81 and Katie Fodale was next with an 83.

The competition within this group is pretty intense.

Adams has racked up the miles this season travelling to Frankenmuth (Patriot Cup at The Fortress), Hartland (Hartland Glenn Golf Course), Jackson (Cascades Golf Course) and Midland (Dow Invitational at Midland Country Club). These rather long trips give the teammates more chances to interact, bond, and opportunities to play different courses thus providing new challenges.

For her part, Ortwine has made significant strides since her freshman season. She shot 89 at the Regional as a junior, which placed her in a tie for 13th. At the Division 1 Final at Forest Akers West in East Lansing, arguably the most demanding of the four courses to host a Finals last season, Ortwine carded a two-day total of 179 (87-92) helping her team to that fine finish.

This season she opened with a 78, 78 and a 77 before slipping to an 89 at the Patriot Cup. Ortwine rebounded with an 81 at Cascades and an 84 at the challenging Katke-Cousins Golf Course at Oakland University, then came in with a disappointing 90 in Midland.

“I’ve had some downfalls in my career,” Ortwine said. “Sometimes when you play (poorly) you get frustrated. Our coach does a good job of keeping us positive. We all support each other.

“We’re definitely close. Last year we had a pool party together. It’s important to step away and talk about other things, away from golf.”   

With the MHSAA Tournament fast approaching – Adams’ Regional is scheduled to be played Oct. 7 with the Final on Oct. 16 at Forest Akers East – there’s pressure to play your best when so much is at stake.

For many years Adams has played in the shadow of city rival Rochester High. The Falcons have won four MHSAA titles, the most recent in 2016. Adams is seeking its first Finals championship, with the Highlanders’ most recent run at the top spot a runner-up finish in 1999.

Adams' 2020 tournament streak ended Wednesday, as the Highlanders finished third at Fieldstone Golf Club in Auburn Hills to Bloomfield Hills Marian and South Lyon, the top-ranked team in Lower Peninsula Division 3 and No. 2 team in LP Division 2, respectively.

Adams can start another tournament streak at Monday's league finale, and the Highlanders plan to take this season's final steps one at a time. Ortwine is optimistic with regards to her team’s chances in October, but isn’t looking past the tasks at hand. 

“”I’m definitely motivated to win a state championship,” she said. “But we’re not thinking about that right now. We’re concentrating on winning a league title, then moving on to the Regionals.”

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) Grace Wang watches a drive sail during Wednesday’s Oakland County Invitational. (Middle) Rochester’s Adams’ top five golfers, from left: Alyssa Fodale, Carly Ortwine, Wang, Katie Fodale and Laura Liu. (Photos courtesy of the Adams girls golf program.)

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.