Motivation Grows Into Momentum as Forest Hills Northern/Eastern Eyes Playoff Run

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

May 18, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS– When the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern girls lacrosse team lost to perennial powerhouse Rockford 11-10 in last year’s Division 1 Regional Semifinal, the BirdDogs vowed to come back stronger and better.

So far, they are fulfilling that promise.

FHNE has emerged as one of the top teams in the state and hopes to carry that momentum into this year’s postseason.

“After losing to Rockford last year in sudden death, we came back this year wanting it more than ever.” senior all-state defender Daniella Washburn said. “We are all best friends, on and off the field, and most of us have played together for a long time.”

The BirdDogs – Eastern’s mascot is a Hawk, and Northern’s a Huskie – are currently 16-1 on the season and won the outright Ottawa-Kent Conference Tier 1 championship.

FHNE has defeated Rockford twice, by two and then three goals.

The Rams have won eight consecutive Division 1 championships, and defeating them helped give the BirdDogs a mental lift and raised their confidence level.

“Beating Rockford twice was huge for our program, and beating them the first time made us more confident that we could keep up that momentum and play the way we did,” returning all-state performer Alayna Davis said. “It showed when we beat them a second time that we have what it takes. We just have to continue to play like we want it.”

Up until two years ago, Northern and Eastern athletes played with Forest Hills Central as Forest Hills United. But the Rangers split to form their own team beginning with the 2021 season.

This spring, the BirdDogs returned 10 of 12 starters from a year ago, including junior all-state goalie Sommar-Jo Greiser.

FHNE entered the season with heightened expectations.

“We had high hopes going into the season, and the girls have been determined to do their best every game,” BirdDogs coach Joe Curcuru said. “And so far it’s turned out pretty well. We’ve done very well all-around, but our defense has been very strong this year and we’ve combined that with some timely goals. It’s been a good formula for us so far.”

Davis, a junior, is the team’s leading scorer, but the BirdDogs possess an array of offensive weapons with seniors Carly Wittlinger, Zella Stratbrucker and Tayler Sypien.

The team has scored double-digit goals in all but one game.

Forest Hills Northern/Eastern lacrosse“Having a lot of starters back has been a great benefit because we each know how everyone plays individually, and we have previous chemistry and knowledge from years past,” Davis said. “I think the bond that our team has is what has brought us this far, and it’s only going to keep us rolling.”

The BirdDogs’ only loss occurred early in the season against last season’s Division 2 champion, East Grand Rapids.

Since then, they’ve been perfect, including besting the Pioneers 11-9 in the rematch.

However, Curcuru pointed to the pair of wins over Rockford as catalysts in their current success.

“Rockford has been the gold standard in Division 1 lacrosse, and we’re very proud of our two victories over them,” he said. “Both were close games, and there’s a good chance we will play them again. We’re excited about the position we’ve put ourselves in, and we are very pleased with where we are at.”

With the regular season behind them, the BirdDogs have turned their attention to an anticipated postseason run.

Their potential Regional run begins with a home game Friday against Jenison.

“We are excited to be conference champs, but there is still work to be done,” Washburn said. “We are focused on the playoffs and completing the goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season.”

Added Davis: “We are expecting great results in this state tournament, and we are more excited than ever with how our season has been going. We are working hard to keep that momentum going to lead us further.”

Curcuru understands the challenge ahead.

“We know there are some great teams in Division 1,” he said. “It was nice to have a little bit of rest heading into the tournament, and it will be exciting to see where we end up.”

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Forest Hills Northern/Eastern’s Alayna Davis (12) considers her options with the ball during a matchup with Rockford this season. (Middle) Daniella Washburn, right, defends against the Rams. (Photos courtesy of the FHNE girls lacrosse program.)  

Representative Council Approves Limited Regional Seeding in Girls Lacrosse at Fall Meeting

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 9, 2022

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.