By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
ROCKFORD – Lacrosse often is not a goalie’s game – and especially not when the player defending the net must stop the speedy lime-sized ball flying at her multiple times from point-blank range.
But her teammates were correct Saturday in giving Rockford goalie Katie Elwell the game ball after the top-ranked Rams’ 10-9 win over Bloomfield Hills Marian in the MHSAA Division 1 Final.
After opening up a comfortable 8-1 lead during the first half, Rockford found the net only two more times during the final 33 minutes.
Elwell – who signed as part of the first recruiting class for the new program at Central Michigan University – stopped 11 shots total and allowed only two goals over the final 20 minutes to help the Rams secure their third straight MHSAA championship.
“I don’t credit myself. Everyone stepped up at one point to help us, and especially at the end. We couldn’t have done it without every single girl on that field,” Elwell said.
“It’s hard for me to focus sometimes (while also directing the defense), and I knew I just had to focus in the moment and focus on that ball so that I could make that stop to help my team.”
Rockford is 59-14-1 over its three championship seasons, its best single-season finish of the run this spring at 21-3. Its only losses this spring were twice to Division 2 champion East Grand Rapids and Arrowhead, the top-ranked team in Wisconsin.
The Rams had gotten a look at Marian already this season as well, defeating the second-ranked Mustangs 14-7 at the end of April.
But the Marian looked like two teams over the course of Saturday’s Final.
The Mustangs took a more aggressive attack to Rockford during the second-half run, which included multiple goals by senior Caroline Forester and sophomore Claire Kelly.
Marian turned up the pressure one last time during the final two minutes, but two key plays by freshman Brooklyn Neumen and a clutch save made the final score stand.
Neumen first caused a turnover on her team’s side of the field. Marian senior Olivia Hargrave-Thomas stole the ball at 1:24 to regain possession for her team. Elwell turned away what could’ve been the game-tying shot by Forester with only 55 seconds to play. With 36 seconds left, Neumen won a jumpball to the front right of the Rockford goal and sprinted downfield to run off most of the remaining time before her teammates took care of the rest.
“Katie, we talked to her about that before the game, and I was just talking to her about that now too: ‘Let’s be the difference-maker today,’” Rockford coach Mike Emery said. “We wanted her to be the difference-maker, and she definitely was.”
Junior Grace Gunneson and senior Alexandra Vandermolen both scored three goals for Rockford, and Vandermolen also had an assist. She scored the Rams’ final goal four minutes into the second half to give them a 10-7 edge.
Senior Hannah Lievois also was up to the championship task in net, making eight saves for Marian. The Mustangs were making their second appearance in an MHSAA Final and also finished runner-up in 2009. They finished this spring 21-4.
“Once you get down by six or seven goals, against a good team, it’s very hard to make it close. We made a game of it, right to the end,” Marian coach Jamie Francek said.
“I would love to play them again, if we could,” he added. “If it wasn’t for that little period of time in the first half where they got up on us, I think we were the better team most of the game.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford goalie Katie Elwell works to deflect a shot during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Marian’s Caroline Forester splits defenders while bringing the ball upfield.
The addition of limited seeding at the Regional level of the Girls Lacrosse Tournament headlined actions taken by the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association during its Fall Meeting on Dec. 2 in East Lansing.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in winter and spring. This Fall Meeting saw the Council take only three actions, with additional discussion centered on topics expected to receive more specific consideration at MHSAA sport committee meetings this winter and the Council’s meetings in March and May.
The Council approved a Girls Lacrosse Committee proposal to seed the top two teams in every Regional, and place those top seeds on opposite sides of the bracket beginning with the 2023 season. The two teams to be seeded will be determined by using the MHSAA’s Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) formula, which takes into account success and strength of schedule and is used currently to provide seeding information in boys lacrosse, girls and boys basketball, girls and boys soccer, and ice hockey. Only the top two teams in girls lacrosse will be seeded and separated; the other teams in each Regional will be placed on their brackets by random draw.
The Council also approved a Boys Lacrosse Committee recommendation that will allow athletes to participate in up to five quarters per day between teams at multiple levels – for example, varsity and junior varsity – also beginning with the 2023 season. For boys lacrosse multi-team tournaments, if two school teams (for example, the varsity and junior varsity) are at the same event, athletes may play in no more halves or quarters than what is being played by the school’s highest-level team that day. (Example: if the varsity team is playing three 30-minute half games for a total of six halves, a player playing both varsity and JV on the same day can play in six total halves that day.) The “fifth quarter” rule, by allowing athletes to compete on two levels on the same day, is intended to help programs that are otherwise lacking enough participants to field teams at multiple levels.
Taking into account the wintery weather conditions experienced by athletes during the MHSAA alpine ski season, the Council approved a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommendation to adopt the “MHSAA Competition and Practice Guidelines for Cold Weather,” which are specific to alpine skiing. The guidelines include a windchill chart and cold standards for ambient temperature. This proposal also was supported by the Ski Committee and will go into effect for the 2022-23 season.
Remaining discussions focused on results from this fall’s Update Meeting survey completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state. The Council considered survey data including on questions related to the out-of-season travel rule. The Council also discussed results of a fall survey completed by member school athletic directors and head varsity football coaches concerning ongoing conversations about scheduling and playoff format. Following the Football Committee meeting in January 2023, an ad hoc committee comprised of members of the MHSAA staff, Representative Council, Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) and Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) will be convened for further discussion on these topics, with their report to be provided to the Council during its March 2023 meeting.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Westland John Glenn athletic director Jason Malloy for a first-two-year term to the 19-person Council, and the re-appointment of Bay City Western principal Judy Cox for a second two-year term. Malloy previously was appointed to finish a partial term as one of the two representatives of member junior high/middle schools.
The Council reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer. Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson was elected Council vice president.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.