Work Begins Again for Reigning Champ West

August 18, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Kristen Nolan is trying to avoid putting undue pressure on her Traverse City West golf team.

So talk about defending an MHSAA Division 1 championship has been kept to a minimum during the preseason.

“I don’t want my girls going into (the season) too confident because that can also be a negative,” the seventh-year coach said. “I want them focusing on individual goals instead of that full team goal of winning states again. As long as each player is working on their personal goals, the rest (will take care of itself).”

The unranked Titans pulled a surprise a year ago, edging first-day leader and tournament favorite Rochester in a tiebreaker to claim the Lower Peninsula D1 title.

Ironically, neither team had a senior in the lineup.

West returns its core group of Anika Dy, Hunter Kehoe, Grace Ellul, Madison McCall and Grace Warren. Dy, now a sophomore, finished runner-up for the individual title. She was one stroke back of medalist Julia Dean of Brighton.

Dy competed in an American Junior Golf Association tournament at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club this week and missed the Titans’ season-opening tournament, the Bob Lober Classic at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

Dy missed a couple early tournaments last year as well, but when she returned to the lineup the Titans went on a roll, cruising to Big North Conference and Regional crowns en route to the MHSAA Finals championship.

“We got into a groove,” Ellul, a senior co-captain, said. “Hopefully, we can do the same this year.”

Most of the Titans spent considerable time on the links this summer, taking lessons and playing in several tournaments, notably in the Traverse City Junior Golf Association program.

“I highly encourage it,” Nolan said. “The girls love playing in it. It’s a little more low-key, not as competitive as high school golf, but it prepares them.”

Kehoe, also a senior co-captain, agreed.

“It allows us to focus and work on our games,” she said. “It’s a huge advantage coming into the fall.”

That focus has not shifted now that the high school campaign has arrived.

“We all have personal goals” Kehoe said. “Kristen does not want us to worry about going back to states and repeating what we did. She just wants us to work on our own games each and every tournament throughout the season.”

For Kehoe, who shot the Titans’ second-lowest score at the Finals last season, that means improving her approach to the game.

“I’m working on course management, really dialing in on target control,” the 17-year-old said. “I consistently shot 80 or low 80s last year. My goal is to be consistently in the 70s this year.”

Ellul, the Titans’ third-lowest scorer at the Finals, is stressing her mental outlook on the course.

“I get down on myself, get nervous, and it can ruin my game,” she said. “I need to learn to stay positive when I’m playing, not put myself down.”

Nobody was putting the Titans down last October when they rallied to win at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.

West was in fourth place, five shots behind Rochester, after the opening day. But all five Titans golfers came back with lower rounds on the second day to give the school its first MHSAA girls golf title.

“Going into states our goal was top five,” Kehoe said. “We obviously knew there were a lot of good teams there. We did not expect to win it all. That was a huge surprise. It was amazing.”

After finishing their rounds, the Titans gathered in the clubhouse, away from the hubbub outside.

“We knew it was close,” Kehoe said. “All the parents were outside watching the scoreboard. We sat inside, too excited, too scared, to go outside and look.”

“It was nerve-wracking,” Ellul added. “We were trying to not get our hopes up, but we had to. When we found out we had won, it was crazy.”

Kehoe’s younger brother, Murphy, is the one who informed the team of its triumph.

“We walked out and immediately started crying and hugging our parents,” Kehoe recalled. “It was super surreal.”

How close was it? West and Rochester tied at 685, forcing officials to go to each team’s fifth golfer’s score over the tournament. Warren’s two-day 193 beat her rival’s to give West the title.

It kicked off a celebration that spilled over into the weekend and the following Monday at school when all of West’s sports teams held a reception for the champs in the school’s common area.

The team later custom-designed their own championship rings, which were presented at halftime of a boys basketball game.

“Thinking back on it, you forget how crazy it is to win the Division 1 state finals,” Ellul said. “Our school, and town, were so proud and supportive of us. They made it such a big deal. That was really nice.”

The Titans know they will not be able to take any team by surprise this season.

“Obviously, all eyes are on us,” Kehoe said. “We’ve been working hard this summer trying to improve our games. Our confidence is through the roof, but we’re all trying to maintain a calm, steady mindset so we don’t get too excited.”

Nolan likes what she has seen thus far.

“They definitely have that drive to try and win back-to back-state championships,” she said. “They’re definitely more eager. They’ve been putting in quite a bit of effort to get there.”

First things first, however.

“We can’t worry about an end-of-the-season result right now,” Kehoe said.

There’s work to be done.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West hoists for the first time Oct. 17 its first MHSAA girls golf championship trophy. (Middle) Anika Dy lines up a putt during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final. (Click to see 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.