By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
ROCKFORD – With three minutes to play in Saturday’s MHSAA Division 2 Girls Lacrosse Final, East Grand Rapids’ sideline emptied as subs and late-season call-ups all at once replaced the line-up on the field.
As the first-string group exited, Pioneers fans offered a standing ovation to a group that has become arguably the state’s elite over their four seasons.
East Grand Rapids, ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season, finished its second-straight MHSAA championship run with a 16-6 win over Livonia Ladywood at Rockford High.
A group of 11 seniors – many who have played together since fifth grade – leave the program after helping accumulate a 78-14 record during their high school careers.
“We’ve learned a lot. Our coaches have been so committed to the program, and we have to thank them for everything and the parents as well,” EGR senior Claire Ludlow said. “The year before last year (2011) was when we really wanted it. We didn’t make it to the state finals, but that was our driving force especially for last year and this year as well.”
The Pioneers improved from 13-6 to 15-6 to 28-0 and now 22-2 over the last four seasons under coach Rich Axtell, and this season’s losses came to teams from Ohio and Illinois. EGR hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent since 2011 – when it fell in double overtime in a Regional Semifinal to eventual Finals champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
East Grand Rapids beat GRCC three times this season and finished a combined 8-0 against the next three teams ranked after the Pioneers in Division 2 at the end of the regular season. They also beat six of the top 10 in Division 1, including top-ranked Rockford.
“We made ourselves a tougher schedule ... (and) really challenged the girls this year,” Axtell said. “This was one of those years where we came in with great expectations, and the girls met every single one of them.
“It’s a great way to send off 11 seniors. They’ve had one heck of a career here. They came in when this program was struggling and set a really great standard for the young ladies coming up.”
East Grand Rapids built a 6-0 lead over the first 7 minutes, 32 seconds and led 9-2 at halftime. But Axtell knew the Blazers had come back from an early deficit to beat Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood by a goal in the Semifinal, and he made a point of pointing that out.
“Recently we’ve gotten up and let the other team back in. ... We know (Ladywood) had it in them,” Axtell said. “The girls maintained their focus and basically just kept extending the lead. That sort of composure is something we’ve been preaching to the girls.”
East Grand Rapids indeed did keep a comfortable lead – although Ladywood trailed only 10-6 over the final 42 minutes.
“That’s the type of team I have. They won’t give up. They just want to keep going,” Ladywood coach Kris Sanders said. “If it’s a 10-goal differential, they’re still going to do it, which I like. I’m very proud of that.”
Eight Pioneers scored, led by Ludlow and senior Martha Bogo with three goals apiece. Bogo also had a pair of assists.
Junior Jessica Snyder scored four goals for Ladywood, which will graduate eight players but should return its top two scorers and three of its top five next spring. The Blazers also set a standard for teams to come – they finished 15-2, and Saturday’s was their first MHSAA Finals appearance in the sport.
Ladywood’s only other loss this season was to Division 1 power Birmingham Marian. The Blazers were ranked No. 8 in Division 2 entering the postseason.
“I couldn’t ask for anything else. If we’re 15-2 and get to the state final and lose the state final, that’s OK,” Sanders said. “We can’t lose sight of all the success we’ve had in the season.”
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids sophomore Katherine Golladay winds up before scoring one of her two goals Saturday. (Middle) The Pioneers' Martha Bogo (16) works to keep the ball from Ladywood's Jaclyn Snyder.
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.