By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – Only one team could beat Spring Lake at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 girls golf tournament Saturday at Bedford Valley Golf Course.
That team was Spring Lake.
The Lakers fired a 343 on the first day to take a 13-stroke lead into the final round Saturday. In that final round, four of Spring Lake’s five players bettered their first-day score and another tied her Friday round as the Lakers sliced 24 strokes off their first-day score with a 319 to finish with a two-day total of 662.
Spring Lake’s winning margin was 35 strokes fewer than Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (697) but not nearly the rout of a year ago when the Lakers edged the runner-up team by 70 strokes.
It was the third consecutive title for Spring Lake, which became the first Division 3 team in MHSAA history to win three straight championships. The MHSAA Lower Peninsula tournament moved to four divisions from two classes in 1999, and prior to that, Grosse Ile won three in a row from 1996-98 in the Class B-C-D meet.
“Spring Lake has had only one other team win a state championship, and that was girls cross country, so to be a part of a team that won three consecutive state titles is something special,” said Spring Lake senior Anna Kramer, who tied for medalist honors but lost in a playoff to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep sophomore Danielle Staskowski.
Kramer, the reigning Division 3 individual champion, led Spring Lake with rounds of 78 and 75 for a two-day total of 153. Junior Madelyn Nelson was next with rounds of 89 and 79 for a 168 total. Her 10-shot improvement from the first day was the largest for Spring Lake.
“I think it was just first-day nerves,” Nelson said, “and my putting was a lot better (Saturday).”
Sophomore Hannah Klein, who had an eight-stroke improvement over the first round and finished 89-81 for a 170, echoed the feeling about first-day nerves.
“There were a lot of people watching, and I had to get used to it,” said Klein, the only sophomore on the team. “We were really focused on winning, and every shot counted. I felt like every shot had to be amazing to be able to pull out the win.”
Two other seniors rounded out the five players who took the course for Spring Lake. Jackie Olszewski duplicated rounds of 87 but did it in a strange fashion. She had 39 on the first nine and 48 on the second nine the first day and then flipped them on the second day with 48 on the front and 39 on the back.
“I went through a bad streak both days,” Olszewski said. “I had five or six terrible holes, and then I had to make it up. I just told myself to forget about it and do my best because I couldn’t change what had happened.”
While Olszewski’s 87 counted the first day, it wasn’t needed the second day as fellow senior Jaedyn Shelton went from 93 on Friday to 84 on Saturday.
“I’ve worked really hard over the years to get to this point, and it feels really good,” she said. “We all didn’t have great rounds on Friday, but we all improved, and that is what we were looking to do.
“For me, there were a lot of nerves, because it was my first time at states, so I was worked up, and I think that’s how everybody felt.”
Everybody, including coach George Bitner, whose extensive background brings plenty of experience while his grandfatherly nature brings comfort and confidence.
“This is like having six daughters,” said Bitner, who has coached girls golf at Spring Lake since 1980 and also coaches boys golf. He also has coached junior high football, track & field and wrestling, and he said it all adds up to 87 seasons.
“To win a state title, you have to have the talent,” Bitner said. “The results are what I like. It shows that I am getting through to them. The girls listen better than the boys, they drink more water than the boys, and they stick together and do things together. They are an unbelievable group of girls.”
Bitner calls Kramer “The Franchise” for obvious reasons.
“Anna is a practice-aholic,” he said. “She will come out of the clubhouse and go to the putting green for 30 minutes, go to the chipping area and sand for 20, go up for an hour on the driving range and then go back to the clubhouse, but first she spends another 30 or 40 minutes on the putting green. That’s her routine every day, and the other girls follow it.”
Although the Lakers won their third MHSAA Finals title, the day finished on a disappointing ending for Kramer. On the first playoff hole, Kramer ran a long putt well past the hole and three-putted as Staskowski parred the hole for the individual title.
“It’s tough to three-putt in a playoff,” Kramer said. “I read the putt fine. One of my friends came up to me after and said she had that putt Friday and you can’t tell how fast it is, and it just flew by the hole.”
Staskowski, who opened with an 80 on Friday, improved to 73 on Saturday to force the playoff. She was in the same pairing as Kramer, and they were tied after 12 holes and matched each other the rest of the way to set up the playoff on the par-5 No. 16.
“I love playoffs,” Staskowski said. “All my life when I have practice putting I will say to myself, ‘This is for the state championship,’ and then, there I was, standing over a putt that was for the state championship.”
Staskowski, who finished fourth last year, drilled the 4-foot putt right into the hole, and she said she knew she had it the moment she hit it. She chipped just short of the green with her third shot, while Kramer was on the green but was facing a very long putt.
“I felt like I could get the chip up there and then get it to the hole so I would have an easy putt,” Staskowski said. “I hit that putt maybe 50 times on the putting green, so when I stood over it, I was like, ‘You made 50 of these. You’ve got it,’ and then I hit the putt.”
Staskowski had parred the hole Friday and birdied it Saturday prior to the playoff.
“I started my round off with four bogeys (Saturday), and then I didn’t have a single bogey coming in,” she said. “I made three birdies, and once I got to the place where I felt like I was playing well, it just didn’t go away.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Spring Lake's golfers and coach hold up their third straight MHSAA championship trophy. (Middle) Plainwell's Madison Tran watches one of her approach shots. (Below) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep's Danielle Staskowski. (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.