By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan will say good-bye to an accomplished senior class during this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals.
Competing for the last time are a pair of standouts who have combined for three individual championships, more who have finished in the hunt two and three seasons, plus a number of others who have been part of multiple team championships or had their teams in contention multiple times in the past.
See below for golfers to watch at all four MHSAA Finals this weekend. Play begins at 10 a.m. both days, and come back Saturday evening for coverage of all four championship tournaments on Second Half. Click for a list of all Finals qualifiers and all Regional scores from last week.
LP Division 1 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East
This again is forecast as a close race. The top eight teams last season finished within 15 strokes of each other. Then-unranked Traverse City West came from fourth place and five strokes back last season to win the championship over Rochester on a fifth-player tie-breaker – and most of their lineups are back for a rematch.
Top-ranked: 1. Rochester, 2. Traverse City West, 3. Brighton.
Rochester: The Falcons have to be favorites again after shooting an incredible 289 to win their Regional at Twin Oaks in Oakland Township. All five golfers finished among the top seven individuals last week – senior Brooke Busse shot a 69 to finish first and senior Veronica Haque and freshman Savannah Haque tied for second at 72 – and Busse, Veronica Haque, senior Erica Yang and junior Keri Yang made up the top four of last year’s Finals lineup. Veronica Haque tied for fifth individually at last year's Final.
Traverse City West: The Titans haven’t surprised anyone this fall, with last year’s top four Finals scorers back in the lineup and all five at last week’s Regional at The Meadows finishing among the top 10 individuals. Sophomore Anika Dy was first with a 70 and senior Hunter Kehoe was second at 76 as West shot a 309 to win the Regional, and Dy should be in the mix for the individual medal this weekend after finishing second to Brighton's Julia Dean by a stroke in 2015.
Brighton: The Bulldogs have remained elite even without reigning Miss Golf Dean topping the lineup; she was injured before the season according to a report by the Livingston Daily Argus & Press and did not return. But sophomore Annie Pietila, junior Heather Fortushniak and sophomore Autumn Blaney also were in the lineup at last season’s Final when the team finished ninth. Brighton repeated as Regional champion at Hartland Glen shooting a 314 with Pietila the individual medalist at 71 and Fortushniak third at 76 as all five players finished 14th or better. The Bulldogs finished second by a stroke to No. 8 Novi at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association tournament Monday and will have no problem playing with the best.
Other individuals of note: All but one of the 11 players who finished tied for 10th or higher are back. Lake Orion senior Moyea Russell led her team to a Regional championship at WestWynd in Oakland Township with a first-place 77, and she's coming off a tie for third at last year's Final with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Lauren Ingle, who finished fourth last week at Twin Lakes behind the three Rochester leaders. Five more top-10 finishers from 2015 also are back this weekend – North Farmington junior Alana Jones, Davison senior Kamryn Johnston and Novi senior Alexa Hatz all tied for seventh last year, and Grand Blanc senior Cammi Lucia and Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Katie Mina-Lee tied for 10th. Saline junior Catherine Loftus and Farmington Hills Mercy sophomore Mia Sooch also were Regional champions last week.
LP Division 2 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University
Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. South Lyon, 3. St. Joseph.
After finishing second to Birmingham Seaholm by 13 strokes last season – but ahead of the rest of the field by 15 – Dow is considered the favorite after another dominating season in the mid-Michigan area. South Lyon was third and St. Joseph fifth last season and they could make this a little closer than a year ago, when Seaholm led Dow by just two strokes after the first round before breaking away.
Midland Dow: This will be the final high school run for senior Stephanie Carras, who finished second individually at last year’s Final, fourth as a sophomore and third as a freshman. She finished second at the Regional at Greenville’s Bowen Lake to junior sister Alexis Carras, who shot a 70, and senior Caroline Szabo came in fifth that day. Alexis Carras tied for third at last season’s Final, and senior Morgan Deiters, 16th at the Regional last week, also played in the Finals lineup in 2015.
South Lyon: The Lions also return three players from last season’s Finals lineup, led by junior Elizabeth Harding, who finished second at the Regional at Mason’s El Dorado and 10th in Division 2 in 2015. Junior Sophie Yergin and senior Mya Price also are back from last season, and Price is the only player in the top five graduating next spring. South Lyon won its Regional by four strokes with all five players finishing among the top 21, with Yergin next best in 10th.
St. Joseph: The Bears will bring to Allendale one of the most experienced groups in any division, with five players who got in swings at the 2015 Final (senior Kaylee Sharai and junior Katie Schmidt both played one round in the fifth spot). Sophomore Cailey Rooker, junior Maddie Wright and Sharai (tied for third) took the top three places, respectively, at the Regional at Battle Creek’s Cedar Creek last week, and Rooker finished just a stroke outside the top 10 at last year’s Final.
Other individuals of note: Muskegon Reeths-Puffer sophomore Karina VanDuinen won Division 2 last season as a freshman, edging Stephanie Carras by two strokes, and is back after helping her team to a runner-up Regional finish while finishing third individually at Muskegon Country Club. Flushing senior Kerrigan Parks was first and Bloomfield Hills Marian junior Alexandra Robb tied for third at the Flint Elks Club Regional after coming in fifth and tied for sixth, respectively, at the 2015 Final. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern sophomore Kay Zubkus was the Regional medalist in Muskegon with a 79 and Walled Lake Western senior Shana Murphy won at El Dorado with a 71. Farmington senior Elle Greenlee won the Regional at Monroe Country Club with an 83.
LP Division 3 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Flint Powers Catholic, 3. Spring Lake.
Spring Lake repeated as champion last season by an incredible 70 strokes over runner-up Goodrich at Forest Akers West with a 325 first round and 336 second. But Cranbrook Kingswood finished second three straight seasons from 2012-14 and should make a run at its first title since 2006. Powers didn’t make the Final at all in 2015, but is expected to push the Cranes for a first championship since 2008.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: Juniors Kate Cao and Carmen Chan are the only returnees from last season’s Finals five, but they tied for the Regional championship at Fieldstone in Auburn Hills with 78s as all five Cranes finished among the top 12 places last week. Cao and Chan also were starters on the team that finished Division 3 runner-up in 2014.
Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers won their Regional at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc ahead of No. 4 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and No. 5 Goodrich, placing four among the top eight and all five among the top 15. Although Powers missed the Finals last fall, seniors Madison Zloto, Lizzy Marlinga and Ameila Gavulic all started for the team that finished eighth in Division 4 in 2014.
Spring Lake: A team that got a taste of winning big at last year’s Final also did so last week at the Regional at White Lake in Whitehall, finishing 56 strokes ahead of the field with senior Anna Kramer taking first, junior Madelyn Nelson and senior Jaedyn Shelton tying for second and all five golfers finishing among the top 11. Kramer is the reigning individual Division 3 Final champion, and she also took second as a sophomore and fourth as a freshman.
Other individuals of note: Four more top-10 finishers from last season will join Kramer again this weekend. Notre Dame Prep sophomore Danielle Staskowski was fourth at the 2015 Final and won the Regional last week at Warwick Hills, where she was followed in second by Goodrich senior Sydni Harding – who also followed Staskowski in fifth last season at Forest Akers West. Detroit Country Day senior Mallika Brar was eighth last season and finished third at Fieldstone, and Plainwell senior Madison Tran was ninth last year and won last week’s Regional at Marshall Country Club. Hastings senior Jackie Nevins also comes into this weekend as a Regional champion after winning by six strokes at Stonewater in Caledonia, and Adrian senior Ashley Rincon won her Regional at Hankerd Hills in Pleasant Lake by two strokes.
LP Division 4 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Macomb Lutheran North, 2. Kalamazoo Hackett, 3. Livonia Ladywood.
Hackett has claimed the last two Division 4 championships and is expected to be in the mix again this weekend – although last season’s runner-up Lutheran North is the favorite. Those two cleared the rest of the field last year by 29 strokes – Hackett by 38, winning by nine – but the standings could be closer this time with more experienced standouts returning.
Macomb Lutheran North: All three players who finished among the individual top 10 at last season’s Final are back to lead the lineup this weekend after Lutheran North won the Regional at Heather Hills in Romeo by 20 strokes over Ladywood. Senior Sydney Martens won the Regional, while junior Serena Nguyen was third and sophomore Kaity Rittner was sixth as all five players placed among the top nine. Nguyen was fourth, Martens ninth and Rittner 10th at last season’s Final at Forest Akers East.
Kalamazoo Hackett: Similar to Lutheran North, Hackett brings back a powerful trio from 2015. Senior Naomi Keyte won the Regional at Silver Lake Country Club in Rockford, with junior Molly Clark third and sophomore Emily Stull fourth. Keyte was third and Stull tied for sixth at last year’s Final, and Stull was ninth as a freshman in 2014 with Keyte joining her in that championship lineup as well.
Livonia Ladywood: The Blazers bring back four players this weekend who helped the team finish fourth a year ago – and 26 strokes ahead of third-place and No. 6-ranked Almont at the Regional last week. Seniors Jordyn Rioux (second place) and Lydia Cranmer (fourth), junior Gabriella Scopone (ninth) and sophomore Evelyn Kruger (15th) carded scores at the Regional and were in the Finals lineup last year as well, Rioux missing the individual top 10 at Forest Akers East by a stroke.
Other individuals of note: Reigning champion Nichole Cox from Maple City Glen Lake will be playing her final high school event of a career that also has included the Division 4 championship as a sophomore and a third place as a freshman. Similarly, Frankenmuth’s Meg Watkins will cap her career after finishing second last season and sixth as both a sophomore and freshman. Cox shot a 79 at Manistee Country Club last week to win that Regional by eight strokes, and Watkins won her Regional by six strokes with an 85 at Brookside in Gowen. Lansing Catholic senior Abigail Meder won her Regional at Glenbrier in Perry, and Brooklyn Columbia Central sophomore Alissa Fish was the medalist at Devil’s Lake in Manitou Beach.
PHOTO: Lansing Catholic’s Abigail Meder attempts to send her ball out of the rough on the way to winning the Alma Invitational in September. (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.