By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A year ago, many eyes turned to the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final as Muskegon Mona Shores attempted, and completed, a quest to become the first in Lower Peninsula history to win four straight girls golf team championships.
Many will be watching Division 2 again this weekend as Okemos' Elle Nichols attempts to become only the second in the Lower Peninsula to win three consecutive individual titles.
That's obviously one of the most significant storylines heading into this weekend, but every Final has more than a few. Below are contenders to watch and the stories behind their successes so far. Play begins Friday morning and finishes Saturday afternoon. Click for more information including all qualifiers and Regional results.
Division 1 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Top ranked: No.1 Troy, No. 2 Plymouth, No. 3 Saline.
Plymouth won its first MHSAA team championship in 2012; could this weekend be Troy’s turn to do the same? The Colts have been in the hunt before but never finished among the top two at a Final. Saline’s best player now was its third-best in 2010 when her team won its most recent of three MHSAA titles.
Troy: The Colts are favored to win their first MHSAA championship after missing the Finals completely a year ago – although senior Amanda McCafferty played on the team that finished fifth in Division 1 in 2011. She and all four teammates shot 90 or better and posted the best Regional score (333 at Dearborn Country Club) in Division 1, with sophomore Naomi Kim (78) placing fifth and sophomore Jennifer Cui (79) sixth individually.
Plymouth: The reigning champ comes into the weekend with three of its top five from last season’s championship run – junior Sydney Murphy, sophomore Katie Chipman and senior Kayla Whatley – and all three finished among the top eight individuals at the Regional at the University of Michigan. The Wildcats were ranked 10th only two weeks ago, but shot the second-lowest Regional score (335) in Division 1.
Saline: The Hornets finished second to Plymouth at the U-M Regional, but by only four strokes and should be similarly dangerous this weekend. Regional medalist Emily White, a senior, tied for sixth at last season’s Finals in leading Saline to a seventh-place team finish. Sophomore Samantha Kellstrom and senior Stacy Cruze followed White as the next best shooters during that Finals run, and they finished third and 18th, respectively, at last week’s Regional.
Other individuals of note: Holt’s Pader Her finished just four strokes off the individual lead at last season's Final. She shot a 69 at her Regional last week at East Kentwood to win by seven strokes over the Falcons’ Sarah White, who tied with Saline’s White and Grosse Pointe South’s Lily Pendy for sixth at last season’s Final. Grosse Pointe South certainly could be in the hunt as a team, led by seniors Pendy and Tenley Shield, who finished first and tied for third, respectively, at the Dearborn Regional; Shield finished fifth at last season’s Final. Troy Athens senior Jennifer Yang, Ann Arbor Skyline freshman Jamie Laude and Dearborn junior Elayna Bowser joined all of those players in shooting 76 or better at Regionals.
Division 2 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East
Top ranked: No. 1 Birmingham Seaholm, No. 2 South Lyon, No. 3 Okemos.
Seaholm was the last team to win a Division 2 title before Mona Shores won the last four keyed by an incredible class that graduated in the spring. South Lyon and Okemos are ranked next, and both are seeking their first finishes among the top two at an MHSAA Final.
Reigning individual champion: Elle Nichols, Okemos.
Birmingham Seaholm: Strength throughout the lineup and consistency make Seaholm tough to catch off its game; the Maples finished fourth at the 2012 Final despite no individuals among the top 10, and four of those players will be starting again this weekend. All five from this season’s lineup finished among the top 11 at the Regional at Holly’s Heather Highlands, led by senior Megan Lam and sophomore Jordan Michalak shooting 80 and tying for third. Lam missed the individual top 10 at last season’s Final by only four strokes.
South Lyon: Two starters are back from last season’s team that tied for fifth at the Final, and they were two of the team’s top shooters as it carded a 329 to win the Regional at Ypsilanti’s Pine View Golf Course by 51 strokes. Three-year starters Caroline Harding (a junior) and Allison Ranusch (a senior) finished first and fourth, respectively, individually at the Regional, and all five in the lineup finished among the top eight (sophomore Priscilla Harding followed Caroline among the team’s best, in third place).
Okemos: With another individual win this weekend, senior Elle Nichols can join Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Katie Loy (1993-95) as the only three-time Finals champions in Lower Peninsula girls golf history. Nichols won a three-player tie-breaker to claim the title last year, when she led the Chieftains to third place as a team along with returnees Sydney Williams and Jessica Kim among others. All five of this season's starters finished among the top 20 at the Regional at Mason’s El Dorado, with champion Nichols followed by tied-for-sixth senior Carly Bullock.
Other individuals of note: One more from last season’s top 10 also will play this weekend; Fenton senior Samantha Moss finished fourth at the Final and is coming off the Regional title at Heather Highlands. Midland Dow senior Kharissa Carras shot a 75 to win her Regional at Midland’s Currie West, and Traverse City Central junior Amelia Pazetti finished only one stroke back at that tournament.
Division 3 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State
Top ranked: No. 1 Detroit Country Day, No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, No. 3 Grand Rapids South Christian.
Given its prowess in other sports, it might surprise to find out Country Day has never won an MHSAA girls golf championship – although the Yellowjackets, in tying for third, came within four strokes of earning their first last season. Runner-up Cranbrook-Kingswood was only two strokes back of champion Forest Hills Eastern, and South Christian usually is in the hunt – the Sailors have finished first or second in five of the last seven Division 3 Finals.
Detroit Country Day: The top three and fifth shooter from last season’s close Finals call all are back in the lineup this weekend, led by senior Ellie Miller – who tied for seventh individually and was runner-up at last week’s Regional at Pontiac’s Fieldstone. The other three returnees from 2012 – senior Monika Hedni, junior Nicole Junn and sophomore Simran Brar – all finished among the top 11 at the Regional as Country Day edged Cranbrook-Kingswood by a stroke.
Cranbrook-Kingswood: The Cranes obviously hope to reverse that Regional finish and also return to the Final with heavy hitters in senior Greer Clausen and junior Cordelia Chan – Chan tied for second individually last season and Clausen was sixth. Chan won the Regional at Fieldstone and Clausen was third, with all five in the lineup tying for 21st or better.
Grand Rapids South Christian: Only one starter is back from the team that finished sixth in Division 3 in 2012. But senior Megan Wierenga was the team’s low scorer last season and also was a starter on the runner-up team in 2011. She won the Regional at Byron Center’s Railside Country Club by a stroke, with senior Grace Elenbaas tying for seventh and sophomore Nicole Hoekwater tying for ninth.
Others individuals of note: Forest Hills Eastern junior Henna Singh is the lone holdover from last season’s MHSAA champion team, and she was the leader of that group coming in fifth individually. She won the Regional at Cedar Springs’ Cedar Chase by four strokes last week. Hastings senior Kylie Nemetz tied for seventh individually at the 2012 Final and is back as an individual qualifier. She and senior teammate Katie Brown both finished among the top seven at Railside.
Division 4 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top ranked: No. 1 Flint Powers Catholic, No. 2 Grosse Ile, No. 3 Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
After failing to make the Finals last season, Flint Powers is the favorite to unseat three-time reigning champion Lansing Catholic, to which the Chargers finished runner-up in 2011. Grosse Ile is playing for its third title in five seasons – the Red Devils won Division 4 in 2009 and Division 3 in 2011 – and NorthPointe is seeking its first top-two Finals finish after missing second place by three strokes last season.
Flint Powers: Senior Kristen Wolfe did make last season’s Final as an individual qualifier and missed the top 10 by two strokes. She finished second at the Regional at Bay City Country Club, with senior Morgan Zloto third and junior Reanna Barth tied for sixth. Zloto joined Wolfe in scoring for the 2011 team that finished second at the Final.
Grosse Ile: Back in Division 4 after also tying for third in Division 3 a year ago, Grosse Ile can boast three of its top five from that contender led by seniors Emily Bargardi and Katherine Kuzmiak. Bargardi finished second at the Regional at Grosse Ile’s West Shore Country Club, and Kuzmiak – who tied for seventh individually at the 2012 Division 3 Final – finished third at the Regional as all five Red Devils placed among the top eight.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: Monica Koert finished seventh individually at last season’s Division 4 Final and leads three returning starters. She finished first and juniors Molly Antor and Allison Starr finished third and seventh, respectively, at the Regional at Eastern Hills in Kalamazoo as the team beat last season’s Finals runner-up Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central by 11 strokes.
Other individuals of note: Lansing Catholic senior Jacqueline Setas will close out a career that’s included three team championships and three individual finishes of fourth or higher. She faced Muskegon Catholic Central’s Aya Johnson in a tie-breaker for first last season before finishing runner-up, and will be the heavy favorite to end her high school career with a medalist honor. Farwell junior Bria Colosky and Hanover-Horton senior Megan Klintworth were two of three who tied for ninth individually at last season’s Final, and both are coming off strong Regional finishes; Klintworth won at Jackson’s Cacades Golf Course, and Colosky finished runner-up at Manistee National to Maple City Glen Lake freshman Nicole Cox.
PHOTO: Okemos’ Elle Nichols poses with an MHSAA trophy after winning the individual championship at the 2011 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. She finished first in Division 2 last season as well. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.