Preview: Seeking to Join Champions Club

October 14, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A year after winning their first MHSAA girls golf championships, Spring Lake and Kalamazoo Hackett are expected to repeat as low scorers at their respective Finals this weekend.

But if the coaches polls are correct, Midland Dow will be the next to join the first-time title-winners club, and Brighton could jump into the mix for the first time as well.

All four Lower Peninsula Finals will tee off Friday morning and finish Saturday. See below for glances at the favored teams in each division, plus others who could make runs at individual titles as only Maple City Glen Lake junior Nichole Cox is back as a reigning champion. Click for qualifiers and Regional results from all four divisions and Finals results as they are reported, and check back Saturday evening for coverage of all four tournaments. 

LP Division 1 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University

Top-ranked: 1. Rochester, 2. Lake Orion, 3. Brighton.

Rochester is a favorite to add its first MHSAA title since winning back-to-back in 2008 and 2009, while Lake Orion last won in spring 2007 but was runner-up last season and Brighton is seeking its first championship. Plymouth, the winner in 2012 and 2013, saw its reign end a year ago but enters this weekend ranked No. 7 and shot a 320 in winning its Regional. Watch out for sixth-ranked Troy, which put three players in the 70s in shooting 309 to also win last week.

Rochester – The Falcons won their Regional at Davison Country Club with a score of 317, 16 strokes better than Lake Orion and with three individuals among the top six finishers. Juniors Veronica Haque and Erika Yang tied for third at 74 and junior Brooke Busse tied for sixth at 80; Haque was fifth at last season’s Final as an individual qualifier after the team missed making the tournament by two strokes.

Lake Orion – Although the Dragons finished second at the Regional, they do bring back three players from last season’s Final runner-up. Junior Moyea Russell was eighth individually in 2014 and tied for 10th at last week’s Regional, while senior Lauren Danielson was fifth last week at 76. Those two and senior Megan Miller also played on the team that finished 10th at the 2013 Final.

Brighton – The Bulldogs also shot 317 to win their Regional, at Hartland Glen, after missing the Final as a team last season. Junior Julia Dean, playing her first season of high school golf, won the individual regional championship with a 71 and was joined by freshman Annie Pietilla and sophomore Heather Fortushniak, who tied for 10th, while all five players finished among the top 23.

Other individuals of note: Seven of last year’s top 11 (who finished among the top 10 with ties) are back this weekend, led by third-place Lauren Ingle of Rochester Hills Stoney Creek. She won the Regional at Davison by a stroke at 72 over Cardinals junior Kamryn Johnston. The top four at the Regional at Fox Hills in Plymouth were Plymouth senior Katie Chipman at 69, Ann Arbor Skyline junior Jamie Laude at 74 and Saline senior Samantha Kellstrom and Ann Arbor Pioneer sophomore Katie-Mina Lee both at 76 – Laude tied for ninth at last season’s Final and Kellstrom was sixth. Senior Jennifer Cui, also a ninth-place finisher in 2014, led Troy’s incredible team effort with a winning 73 at Twin Lakes. East Kentwood senior Mackenzie Keenoy will be the lone representative of the reigning team champion after finishing second with a 75 at Broadoor Golf Course in Caledonia, where Traverse City West freshman Anika Dy went low with a 70. Total, 25 players broke 80 in LP Division 1 Regionals.

LP Division 2 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley

Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. Birmingham Seaholm, 3. Okemos.

Midland Dow has been ranked No. 1 in this division all season as it has pursued its first MHSAA championship after finishing fifth a year ago. But reigning champion Seaholm has been ranked No. 2 all season after winning last year’s title by an incredible 37 strokes. Okemos remains in the mix as well after finishing fourth last season; the Chiefs have been ranked no lower than No. 4 this fall and also are seeking a first championship.

Midland Dow – The top three from last season’s Finals lineup are back this weekend, led by fourth-place individual finisher Stephanie Carras. The junior won the Regional at The Emerald in St. Johns in a playoff after shooting a 74, while sophomore Alexis Carras was fifth and senior Alexie Flaminio was seventh. The team won the Regional title over No. 5 Flushing thanks to a fifth-score tie-breaker after both shot 340.

Seaholm – The Maples also have three back from last season’s Finals lineup and won their Regional at Heather Highlands in Holly by 16 strokes with a 328. Seniors Allegra Cunningham and Jordan Michalak were second and third, respectively, at the Regional, after finishing second and tied for seventh at last season’s Final. All five Seaholm golfers finished among the top 11 and shot at least 87 last week.

Okemos – The Chiefs also shot 340 to win their Regional, by 15 strokes, at Island Hills in Centreville. Four golfers from last season’s Final are back, and all four finished among the top 11 individuals at the Regional – senior Jessica Kim was third at 78, while senior Macy Dahnke was eighth, senior Kaylie Anderson was 10th and junior Lauren Kim was 11th.  Jessica Kim and Dahnke also played on the 2013 team that finished only a stroke behind champion Seaholm.

Other individuals of note: In addition to the three mentioned above, Flushing junior Kerrigan Parks (ninth) and South Lyon senior Priscilla Harding (tied for 10th) are back from last season’s top 10; Parks played Carras in the playoff last week at The Emerald, while Harding and sophomore sister Elizabeth tied for second at Pine View in Ypsilanti, two strokes behind Detroit Renaissance senior Nia Little. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer freshman Karina VanDuinen carried her team to within two strokes of qualifying while winning the individual Regional title at Thornapple Pointe in Grand Rapids by 11 strokes with a 71. Grosse Pointe North senior Liz Gallagher shot a 75 to edge the Seaholm seniors in Holly.

Division 3 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West

Top-ranked: 1. Spring Lake, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Goodrich.

The Lakers and longtime coach George Bitner celebrated their first MHSAA championship in 2014 and are favored to repeat. But providing the main obstacle again should be Cranbrook Kingswood, runner-up the last three seasons and seeking its first title since 2006. Goodrich didn’t have a team as of two seasons ago but has quickly joined the elite.

Spring Lake – Four of the team’s top five from last season, including individual runner-up Anna Kramer, will pace the lineup again this weekend after the team won last year’s Final by 18 strokes. Spring Lake won its Regional by 43 strokes with a 332 at Ada’s Egypt Valley, with junior Madelyn Nelson finishing first, senior Kayla Krueger second, junior Kramer tying for fourth and senior Emma Conroy 11th.

Cranbrook Kingswood – The Cranes graduated two-time individual champion Cordelia Chan but hope to break through for another title with three more back from last season’s team. They played well under pressure last week, winning the Regional at Holly Meadows in Capac by two strokes over Goodrich, shooting an impressive 328. This season’s returnees all finished among the top seven at the Regional – sophomore Katie Cao was third, senior Molly Wiener tied for fourth and sophomore Carmen Chan was seventh.

Goodrich – Sisters Taylor Harding and Sydni Harding tied for first at Holly Meadows (Taylor won in a playoff) and all five players finished among the top 24. Taylor Harding did make the Final last season and finished eighth, and is one of three seniors among the top five with Sydni Harding a junior.

Other individuals of note: The individual race should be intense, with seven of last year’s top 10 returning and seven players total breaking 80 at last week’s Regionals. Lake Odessa Lakewood senior Emily Barker was third at last season’s Final and shot the low Regional score in LPD3, a 73. Carleton Airport junior Olivia Reed and Warren Regina senior Kendall Graves were among four players who tied for fourth last year, and Ada Forest Hills Eastern junior Megan Skoog and Wayland senior Ali Martus followed Harding in ninth and 10th, respectively, in 2014. Detroit Country Day junior Mallika Brar finished a stroke ahead of Reed to win the Regional at Monroe Country Club, while Grand Rapids South Christian senior Nicole Hoekwater won the Regional at HawksHead in South Haven, where Holland Christian senior Abby Karsten was second and Martus was third.

LP Division 4 at Forest Akers East

Top-ranked: 1. Kalamazoo Hackett, 2. Livonia Ladywood, 3. Macomb Lutheran North.

Hackett last season became the first team not Grosse Ile or Lansing Catholic to win an LP Division 4 title in the division’s six-year history, finishing 33 strokes ahead of the field. Lutheran North was third and Ladywood was seventh, although the latter was LP Division 2 runner-up as recently as spring 2007.

Kalamazoo Hackett – Three of Hackett’s top five are back to lead the repeat attempt, including senior Elizabeth Stull, who tied for ninth individually last season. The Fighting Irish have been ranked No. 1 all fall and shot 324 to win the Regional at Eastern Hills in Kalamazoo by 38 strokes. Stull won the individual regional title, with junior Naomi Keyte second and senior Becca Radomsky fifth – both also started with Stull at last season’s Final. All five Hackett players were among the top 12 at the Regional.

Ladywood – The Blazers also shot an impressive regional score, winning at Huron Meadows in Brighton with a 327 that outpaced Lutheran North by 13 strokes. They should be poised to make a run at Hackett loaded with experience, as last season’s top four finishers at the Final all are back. Senior Carley Hall won the Regional with a 77, while junior Lydia Cranmer and sophomore Gabriella Scopone tied for third and junior Jordyn Rioux was sixth.

Lutheran North – The Mustangs have been ranked at least No. 3 all season and spent the first half at No. 2 led by three returnees from last season’s Final. Sophomore Serena Nguyen tied for seventh in 2014 and was fifth at Huron Meadows last week as all five players on her team finished among the top nine. Junior Sydney Martens was second, junior Madison Mohr seventh, freshman Kaity Rittner eighth and senior Grace McKelvey tied for ninth. Martens and McKelvey also played in last year’s Final.

Other individuals of note: Maple City Glen Lake junior Nichole Cox is one of the state’s top players regardless of division and is seeking her second straight LP Division 4 title. Frankenmuth boasts a pair of top-10 finishers from a year ago – senior Shayna Schneider was fourth and junior Megan Watkins was sixth. Manistee senior Fallon Gates finished only a stroke behind Cox with a 75 at their Regional at Grayling Country Club, while Watkins and Schneider were first and second at Glenbrier in Perry.  

PHOTO: Lakewood’s Emily Barker watches one of her shots on the way to winning last week’s Regional at Centennial Acres in Sunfield. (Click for more from 

Michigan Leaders in 3 Sports Earn National Honors from NFHS Coaches Association

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.