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 [email protected] 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.)  

Bloomfield Hills' Semifinal Run Powered By Scoring Skill, Talent in Net

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 29, 2023

Bloomfield Hills advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals this spring with one of the highest-scoring lineups in MHSAA girls lacrosse history, and one of its most accomplished goalies.

The Black Hawks scored 325 goals – sixth-most on the list – in going 19-4. Ella Lucia, then a junior, posted 17 single-game record entries for goals, assists or points, finishing with 125 goals, 59 assists and 184 points and pushing her career numbers to 186 goals, 113 assists and 299 points over three seasons.

Teammate Ilana Watson, a senior this spring, was added eight times for single-game accomplishments and also for 71 goals, 64 assists and 135 points for the season and 102 assists and 205 points over her two-season career. Goalie Sydney Butler, now a senior, made the single-season saves list with 186 and the career list with 466 over her first three seasons. Marlee Watson, who also graduated in the spring, was added for seven goals in a game.

See below for more recent record book updates for girls lacrosse:

Girls Lacrosse

On April 25, 2022, Holland West Ottawa then-senior Ella Spooner scored 13 of her team’s 16 goals against Zeeland. Those 13 goals tied for fourth-most in one game and also placed her on the single-game points list. She is playing at Kalamazoo College.

Troy Athens’ Claire Balintfy piled up eight record book entries during her sophomore season in 2022. A goalie, she posted a career-high 22 saves to tie for eighth on the single-game list, on which she appears six more times. Her 231 saves over 18 games that season rank second on that list as well.

Lexie Springman took 12 shots and made eight in Portage’s 19-9 win over Grand Ledge on April 5. She was a senior at Portage Central and is continuing at Regis University in Colorado.

Haslett/Williamston’s Abby Russell opened her high school career March 22 with a record book-worthy performance. The Haslett now-sophomore made the single-game goals list with seven in her team’s 10-9 loss at Portage.

Okemos’ Bridget Cox was a sophomore during the 2021 season when she earned her first four record book entries. She made the single-game saves list three times with a high of 16, and totaled 157 saves over 18 games total.

Holly/Ortonville Brandon tallied three single-game entries this past season. Junior Dakota Pinson made the single-game goals list with 10 against Fenton/Linden on May 4. Junior teammate Lainey Lasky made the same list twice with seven goals both times, against Flushing on May 3 and Lake Fenton/Goodrich on May 16.

Through three seasons, Salem’s Mileena Cotter has earned 35 record book entries – including setting the single-game record with 18 goals April 6 against Saline. Her 123 goals over just 10 games this past season rank seventh, and her 257 goals over 30 career games rank ninth on that list. Her career-high 19 points on April 5 against Dexter rank second for points in a game. She’s committed to sign with Syracuse.

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep junior Emily Szalach earned a record book entry with her 11 goals against Warren Regina on May 15 during a 13-12 triple-overtime win. It was the first entry for NDP for girls lacrosse.

Lake Orion’s Quinn McElroy capped her three-season varsity career this spring with eight record book listings, including for 69 goals and 100 points over 16 games as a senior, and 172 goals and 224 points for her career. Teammate Morgan Vasquez made single-season lists with 66 goals and 81 points, as did Amelia Guccione with 50 goals. Ava Adkins joined McElroy and Vasquez with single-game qualifiers, hers for 15 saves in a game against Troy Athens on April 12. Vasquez is a senior and Guccione a junior this school year, and Adkins also graduated this spring. McElroy is playing at Grand Valley State.

A pair of Detroit Cass Tech senior standouts made single-game and season scoring lists this spring. Taylor Weston made the single-game goals list three times, with a high of eight, and for her 64 goals total over 15 games; she also earned a listing for her 53 goals as a junior in 2022. Teammate Kayla Carroll-Williams made the single-game list twice, both for scoring seven goals, and the single-season list for 62 goals over 15 games.

PHOTO Bloomfield Hills goalie Sydney Butler, center, prepares to stop a shot against Bloomfield Hills Marian on May 11. (Photo by Susan Adams Photography.)