Preview: Champs Return as Favorites

October 17, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The champs are here. But will they reign again?

All four MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals this weekend will welcome back last season’s champions – and all four of those teams also happen to be ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions by the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association.

Below is a glance at the expected contenders in all four divisions, plus individuals who appear strong candidates to figure into the final standings. Play begins at 10 a.m. both Friday and Saturday, and come back Saturday evening for coverage of all four championship tournaments on Second Half. Click for a list of all Finals qualifiers and Regional scores from last week. 

Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West

Top-ranked: 1. Northville, 2. Grosse Pointe South, 3. Plymouth.

This decade has seen seven schools win Division 1 at least once. Northville has followed up last year’s start-to-finish dominance with another memorable run as it looks to repeat as champion. Plymouth is back in the mix as well after finishing runner-up in 2018, its best at the Finals since claiming Division 1 titles back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. Grosse Pointe South is seeking its highest finish since winning the championship in 2011.

Northville: The Mustangs cleared the Finals field by 31 strokes last season and have been ranked No. 1 for the entirety of this one. Three of last season’s top five will be back this weekend – senior Sufna Gill was fifth at last year’s Final, but fourth among her teammates at this year’s Regional as all five finished among the top eight at Links of Novi. Senior Sedona Shipka, another returnee, led the 23-stroke Regional win finishing third overall, and freshman Samantha Coleman tied for fourth. Junior Katelyn Tokarz also returns and took sixth, and sophomore Megha Vallabhaneni tied for eighth as the team shot a Division 1-best 313.

Grosse Pointe South: The Blue Devils are expected to make a big jump after tying for eighth last season, with four players back from that lineup. South shot a 335 to win its Regional at Fox Creek in Livonia, with all five golfers finishing among the top 10 individuals. Junior Audrey Becker led as medalist, with senior Kaitlin Ifkovits second, sophomore Sabel Imesch fourth, senior Mia Rancilio fifth and junior Alston Smith tied for 10th. Ifkovits will be playing in her fourth Finals.

Plymouth: The Wildcats were second to Northville at Links of Novi, shooting a 336 that tied for third-lowest at a Division 1 Regional. Sophomore Bridget Boczar finished eighth at last season’s Final and took second at last week’s Regional, two strokes behind twin Grace Boczar. Senior Grace Iacopelli also is back from last season’s lineup.

More individuals of note: After Traverse City West grad Anika Dy won the last three Division 1 individual championships, this year’s race should be more wide open – and with a number of contenders capable of rising to the top. Utica Eisenhower junior Ariel Chang tied for sixth as a freshman and finished third last season. Rochester senior Savannah Haque was second as a sophomore and ninth last year. Dy’s younger sister Anci Dy, now a junior, tied with Gill for fifth a year ago and tied for sixth in 2017. Then add in Okemos sophomore Allison Cui, who tied for first in Division 2 last fall and ended up runner-up after a playoff. Dy, Chang and Cui also were Regional champs last week, and Troy junior Jennifer Liu and Rochester Adams freshman Grace Wang tied for their Regional’s medalist honor. Haque, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Amaya Melendez and Grand Blanc freshman Kate Brody also shot in the 70s during Regionals.

Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Forest Akers East

Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. Birmingham Groves, 3. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central.

Forest Hills Northern is playing for its third straight team championship, having won the last two seasons by 12 and 24 strokes, respectively. Groves will aim to break the streak with a little history – the team is playing for its first Finals title in this sport, with its highest past finish a second place in 1984. Forest Hills Central also is playing for its first girls golf title at this level, as are total eight of the top-10 ranked teams.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: Last season’s medalist Kay Zubkus graduated, but five more golfers who played at least a round during last season’s Final are back. Junior Lilia Henkel tied for third after finishing seventh as a freshman, and she took second at her Regional at Egypt Valley last week behind only junior teammate Anna Fay – who finished ninth at the 2018 Final. All five FHN golfers placed among the top 11 at the Regional – senior Rylee Walters was third, senior Ava Frost seventh and junior Baylee Walters 11th as the team shot a 326 against a field that also included Forest Hills Central.

Birmingham Groves: The Falcons have missed qualifying for the Finals as a team the last two seasons, but senior Chloe Collon will be playing in her fourth Finals after making the field individually as a sophomore and junior and when the team finished 14th in 2016. Groves edged Port Huron Northern by three strokes to win the Regional at Farmington Hills Golf Course, where Collon finished second and sophomore sister Eve Collon tied for seventh.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central: The Rangers jumped from 15th in 2017 to seventh last year and should make a run at least at their first top-two finish if not more. Three of six from last year’s Finals lineup are back, and all three finished among the top eight at Egypt Valley as the team came in second to Forest Hills Northern. Seniors Ally Ringler and Mandy Ehrlich tied for fifth and junior Maddie Knoor was eighth at the Regional. Ringler and Knoor also played at the 2017 Final.

Other individuals of note: With one top-three finisher moving to Division 1 and another to Division 3, only Forest Hills Northern’s Henkel and Fay are back from last year’s top 10. Joining Fay as Regional champions last week were Petoskey senior Ashley Lamb, Zeeland West senior Phloy Wongvilart, St. Johns’ senior Tuesday Lewis, South Lyon junior Katherine Potter and Port Huron Northern sophomore Madison Bajis. Lamb, Potter, Lewis, Wongvilart, Henkel, Fay and Pinckney junior Olivia Ohmer (in finishing second to Lewis) all broke 80 during those rounds.

Lower Peninsula Division 3 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State

Top-ranked: 1. Flint Powers Catholic, 2. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 3. Big Rapids.

Powers is the reigning champion after last year winning its first Final since 2008. But a repeat run faces a sizable obstacle in Marian, which finished fifth in Division 2 in 2018. Big Rapids has a long record of success and will try to add its first top-two Finals finish.

Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers won last fall’s championship by 32 strokes with two top-10 individual placers who both return along with a third starter. Junior Jolie Brochu ended up runner-up in 2018 after a tie-breaker hole, senior Maggie Knight finished fourth overall and sophomore Allie Sexton was the team’s fifth scorer. Knight was first, Brochu second, Sexton seventh and senior Brianna Ales eighth at last week’s Regional at Pine River in Alma. 

Bloomfield Hills Marian: The Mustangs also finished seventh in Division 2 in 2016 and second in 2017, and they are led again by junior Shannon Kennedy – who won the Final as a freshman and tied for third last season. Three others who played at least a round at last season’s championship tournament also are back: senior Marlo Hudson will be playing in her fourth Final, junior Lauren Sass her third and junior Sarah Kuredjain her second. Marian won its Regional at Raisin Valley in Tecumseh by three strokes ahead of No. 4 Detroit Country Day, with Kennedy the medalist, Hudson coming in second and junior Laura Emerson tying for 10th.

Big Rapids: The Cardinals have finished 10th, 12th and seventh, respectively, the last three seasons and enter this weekend with their top four scorers making a return trip. Senior Hope Thebo tied for 10th individually last year and will be playing in her fourth Final. Junior Lauren Posey and senior Holly McKenna joined the Finals five in 2017 and junior Avery Chaput was the team’s fourth scorer a year ago. Big Rapids won its Regional at Katke by 50 strokes with Posey the medalist, Thebo and Chaput tied for third and McKenna tied for sixth.

Other individuals of note: Brochu is the top finisher of seven from last year’s top 10 (and ties) who will play again this weekend.  Marshall senior Karlee Malone and Grand Rapids South Christian senior Maddie Wieringa tied for fifth last season and Marysville senior Madeline Blum and Carleton Airport junior Kristen Reed tied for 10th; Malone and Blum also won Regional titles last week. Grand Rapids Christian junior Ryann Breslin also is coming off a Regional title, while Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood sophomore Ashley Kong and Spring Lake senior Phoebe Saunders also broke 80 during last week’s MHSAA events. 

Lower Peninsula Division 4 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley

Top-ranked: 1. Harbor Springs, 2. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 3. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep.

Harbor Springs has won the last two Division 4 championships and is favored to run the streak to three. Hackett also has won two championships this decade, in 2014 and 2015, and NorthPointe was the runner-up in 2013 and is seeking its first title. Lansing Catholic is ranked No. 4 and seeking its first top-two finish since winning three straight titles from 2010-12.

Harbor Springs: The Rams graduated two major scorers after last season’s repeat, but seniors Mackenzie Gillett and Evie Garver and junior Jacque O’Neill are back from last year’s top five to lead this weekend’s run. Harbor Springs won its Regional at Farwell’s Eagle Glen by 89 strokes, with O’Neill first, Garver second, sophomore Taylore Wilson third and senior Maggie Bailey tied for fifth. O’Neill and Garver also were part of the lineup for the 2017 championship.

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: After finishing 10th, 13th and 10th again the last three seasons, respectively, the Mustangs are expected to make a major jump with a veteran group. Seniors Lauren Slotkke, Hannah Langerak and Elizabeth Nymeyer all will be playing in their third Final, and junior Sabrina Langerak also was part of last year’s lineup. NorthPointe edged  Hackett by eight strokes at last week’s Regional at The Mines in Grand Rapids, with Sabrina Langerak the medalist, Slotkke tied for second and Nymeyer tied for fifth. 

Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep: The Irish are regular contenders having finished third, fifth and fourth over the last three Finals. While Hackett also graduated some major contributors from that fourth-place finisher, seniors Colleen McNally and Olivia Valkner and juniors Meg Christian and Lauren Rex all played at least one Finals round in 2018. While finishing second at the Regional as a team, McNally tied for second, Valkner for fifth and Christian placed seventh.

Other individuals of note: East Jackson senior Alexis Brzezinski will play in her third Final and is the only returning top-10 finisher in Division 4 from a year ago, having tied for fourth. She won her Regional; also winning Regionals in addition to her, Sabrina Langerak and O’Neill were Frankenmuth junior Ella Smith, Onsted junior Jaime Metzger and Almont junior Brandi Kautz. O’Neill and Brzezinski both broke 80.

PHOTO: Harbor Springs' Jacque O’Neill watches the flight of one of her drives during last season's LP Division 4 Final. (Click to see more from

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