By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Five of 12 teams occupying top-three spots in this week’s Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association state polls have never won an MHSAA championship.
That fact alone sets this up to be a weekend of change. But there are other factors to consider heading into the Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals.
We’re guaranteed at least one new champion, with reigning Division 4 winner Macomb Lutheran North moving into Division 3 this fall. We’ve also had the same Division 3 winner for three straight seasons – Spring Lake – and a number of contenders will join Lutheran North in trying to put an end to that streak.
Divisions 1 and 2 feature four of the five teams noted above that have never won at this highest level. But in Division 2 at least, a returning champ is expected to reign again – Midland Dow is back as the favorite after claiming its first title just a year ago.
See below for golfers to watch at all four MHSAA Finals this weekend, 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.
LP Division 1 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University
Top-ranked: 1. Saline, 2. Brighton, 3. Northville.
Arguably the best golf in the state this fall has been played in the pocket of Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw counties home to these contenders. Now, history could follow. Saline’s last championship came in 2010, while Brighton and Northville are seeking a first MHSAA title. Saline did finish fifth a year ago, when Brighton tied for seventh at Forest Akers East, and those two have been the top-ranked teams in Division 1 for the last month.
Saline: The Hornets were third after the first round of last year’s Final and have carried that strong play through this fall. They won their Regional last week at Lake Forest in Ann Arbor by 15 strokes ahead of Northville and third-place, No. 4-ranked Plymouth. Saline’s lineup of five seniors included four who finished among the top 13, led by medalist Catherine Loftus (76), fifth-place Molly Pribble and sixth-place Sydney Page. Those three and 13th-place Stephanie Schick were the top four during last season’s Finals weekend as well.
Brighton: The Bulldogs cleared the Regional field at Oak Pointe in Brighton by 30 strokes, shooting a 309. All five players finished among the top 17 individuals, with junior Annie Pietila first at 72, senior Heather Fortushniak second at 76, junior Autumn Blaney fourth and freshman Maggie Pietila tied for fifth. Fortushniak, Pietila, Blaney and Sophie Lowe all were part of last season’s lineup as well.
Northville: As mentioned above, Northville finished second at Lake Forest last week and with two freshmen scoring after the team missed last season’s Final by only two strokes. All five Mustangs finished among the top 28 individuals this time, and only the fifth scorer is a senior. Junior Mariella Simoncini led the way in third place and freshman Nicole Whatley came in fourth against another strong field.
Other individuals of note: Traverse City West junior Anika Dy is the reigning individual champion and also finished runner-up as a freshman, and she leads a team that also could push back into contention after winning the title in 2015. Bloomfield Hills junior Mikaela Schulz was third individually last season, only two stroke back, while Novi senior Abby Livingston is back as an individual qualifier after tying for ninth in 2016. In addition to some of the other likely contenders mentioned above, a pair of freshmen broke 80 at Regionals and could be ones to watch. Utica Eisenhower’s Ariel Chang shot a 73 to win at Twin Lakes in Oakland Township, and Dy’s sister Anci followed Anika shooting a 76 to finish second at their Regional at Sunnybrook in Grandville. Schulz and Farmington Hills Mercy junior Sophie VanderWeele also were Regional medalists last week.
LP Division 2 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, 3. St. Joseph.
Midland Dow won last season’s Division 2 Final by 48 strokes – to claim the Chargers’ first MHSAA championship in this sport – and they’ve been ranked No. 1 in every poll this fall. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer steadily has climbed over the course of the season and is seeking its first championship, as is St. Joseph – they finished eighth and fourth, respectively, in 2016.
Midland Dow: Only two of last season’s five golfers are back this fall, but they have plenty of help. Senior Alexis Carras was the Finals runner-up to her older sister Stephanie last fall and finished seventh at Dow’s Regional last week at Midland’s Currie West, and senior Giacomina Fabiano also is back after shooting the team’s third-lowest score during the 2016 title run. Junior teammate Rose Hami came in sixth at this year’s Regional, senior Tatum Matthews also tied for seventh and junior Meghan Killmaster tied for 14th as all five Chargers finished among the top 23.
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer: The Rockets have blasted into the title conversation over the last month and shot the division’s lowest Regional score, 328, in winning last week at Lincoln Golf Club in Muskegon. Reeths-Puffer edged No. 5 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern by four strokes with four players finishing among the top seven – junior Karina VanDuinen was runner-up with a 79, with senior Karlee Hallberg third, junior Avery Howard tied for fourth and sophomore Abby Fansler tied for seventh. VanDuinen was the Finals champion in 2015 as an individual qualifier. Howard was eighth individually at last year’s Final as she, VanDuinen, Hallberg and junior Emma Veihl all were part of the lineup.
St. Joseph: The Bears also were Regional champions, by 15 strokes at Stonehedge North in Augusta, with all five players finishing among the top 19 individuals. Regional medalist Cailey Rooker (76) placed fourth at last season’s Final, while seniors Maddie Wright and Katie Schmidt also were part of the lineup in 2016. Wright was seventh at this year’s Regional.
Other individuals of note: Port Huron senior Megan Randolph and Grosse Pointe North junior Meghan Gallagher tied for sixth at last season’s Final, and Birmingham Seaholm junior Hailey Roovers was ninth. Gallagher and Roovers both won Regional championships last week, as did DeWitt senior Elaina DeRose, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern freshman Lilia Henkel and Alpena senior Courtney Nunneley. South Lyon senior Elizabeth Harding was 10th at the 2015 Final and missed the top 10 last season by a stroke in leading her team to a third-place finish. Bloomfield Hills Marian freshman Shannon Kennedy shot a 78 to finish second to Roovers at their Regional last week at Huron Meadows in Brighton.
LP Division 3 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Macomb Lutheran North, 3. Detroit Country Day.
Spring Lake has won the last three LPD3 championships but enters this weekend ranked only No. 8. Cranbrook Kingswood and Country Day were fifth and fourth, respectively, at last year’s Final, and this division got even stronger with reigning LPD4 champion Lutheran North joining the group this fall coming off a 36-stroke title win. Cranbrook Kingswood beat Lutheran North by a stroke in a September match.
Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes will bring back the entire lineup this weekend that finished only five strokes out of third place a year ago, including seniors Kate Cao and Carmen Chan, who placed sixth and tied for 10th individually in 2016. They tied for third and finished second, respectively, as the team won its Regional last week at West Shore in Grosse Ile. In addition, junior Katheryn Cohen tied for fifth as all five Cranbrook golfers placed among the top 14.
Lutheran North: The team’s top three Regional shooters – seniors Serena Nguyen and Grace Farquhar and junior Kaity Rittner – all were part of last season’s LPD4 championship lineup, Nguyen finishing fourth and Rittner tying for eighth individually. They’ll return to Forest Akers West, which hosted LPD4 a year ago, and after winning the Regional at Heather Hills in Romeo by four strokes ahead of No. 4 Flint Powers Catholic. Nguyen was the Regional medalist shooting a 70, and Rittner was third.
Country Day: The Yellowjackets were six strokes back of Cranbrook at West Shore with three players among the top nine and four among the top 12. Senior Lucy Liu tied for third at the Regional and junior Kristina Roberts was fifth after both competed at last season’s Final, and Liu is the only senior among the team’s top five. Liu and Roberts also were part of the lineup that finished fourth at the 2015 Final.
Other individuals of note: This is the most loaded individual field this weekend. Including returning LPD4 champion Nguyen and placer Rittner, this Final will feature eight players who were top-10 finishers in 2016. In addition to the Lutheran North pair and Cranbrook’s Cao and Chan, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep junior Danielle Staskowski won the LPD3 individual championship last season after a one-hole playoff. Grand Rapids South Christian junior Natalie Samdal was third, while Spring Lake senior Madelyn Nelson tied for eighth and junior teammate Hannah Klein tied for 10th. Klein and Nelson were first and second at their Regional last week at Katke in Big Rapids, while Samdal, Staskowski (ahead of Chan, Cao and Liu), Marshall sophomore Karlee Malone and Three Rivers senior Erin Taylor also won Regional titles.
LP Division 4 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Kalamazoo Hackett, 2. Jackson Lumen Christi, 3. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
With Lutheran North moving into Division 3, there’s sure to be a new champion – and 2014-15 back-to-back winner Hackett enters as the favorite. Last season’s runner-up Livonia Ladywood also didn’t qualify as a full team, so Hackett is the highest returning placer as well after coming in third in 2016. Lumen Christi came in sixth and NorthPointe Christian was 10th; the Titans are playing for their first girls golf title since 2004, and NorthPointe is seeking its first championship in the sport having fallen two strokes shy in 2013.
Kalamazoo Hackett: Although the Irish graduated last season’s individual co-runner-up, they return the other four golfers who played on that third-place team. Hackett won its Regional at Milham Park in Kalamazoo by 14 strokes ahead of NorthPointe Christian and 17 ahead of No. 4-ranked North Muskegon, with those four returning golfers all placing among the top nine. Junior Emily Stull led the way in second, while junior Jessie Wenzel was fourth and lone senior Molly Clark tied for fifth.
Lumen Christi: Similar to Hackett, five of six players from last season’s Finals lineup (including both who split the fifth spot) are back for this weekend. Senior Geraldine Berkemeier missed the individual top 10 last year by two strokes, but she finished second to junior teammate Hillary Ziemba at last week’s Regional at The Medalist in Marshall. The Titans won by 23 strokes ahead of a field that also advanced No. 8 East Jackson and No. 10 Napoleon.
NorthPointe Christian: The Mustangs also bring back an experienced group, with four starters from last year’s Final in the lineup and joined by a standout freshman. Four NorthPointe golfers placed between fifth and ninth at the Regional at Milham Park, with junior Annelies Kraayeveld coming in fifth and freshman Sabrina Langerak next on the team in seventh.
Other individuals of note: This could be a wide-open race. With Macomb Lutheran North moving to LPD3, Livonia Ladywood senior Gabriella Scopone is the only returning top-10 finisher from last season after she tied for eighth. In addition to Lumen Christi’s Ziemba, Scopone also won a Regional last week as did Brooklyn Columbia Central junior Alissa Fish, North Muskegon junior Abby Grevel, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart senior Ayesha Mohan and Manistee senior Alice Fink-Jensen. Stull’s 82 to follow up Grevel’s 79 at Milham Park was among the five lowest Regional scores in all of LPD4, as was Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest junior Grace VanDellen’s 82 to finish second to Scopone’s 81 at Eagle Crest in Ypsilanti. Fish shot an 80 to win at Concord Hills.
PHOTO: Macomb Lutheran North's Serena Nguyen lines up a putt during last season's LPD4 Final; her team finished first and will try to win again this season in LPD3. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.