By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This weekend’s MHSAA Girls Lacrosse Finals at Rockford High School will match the best from east and west – and top finishers from arguably the state's two strongest conferences for the sport.
Ottawa-Kent Conference Tier 1 champion East Grand Rapids will open the day at 2 p.m. seeking its fourth straight title, this time against Detroit Catholic League Division 1 runner-up Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood. O-K Tier 1 runner-up Rockford then will look to win its third straight Division 1 title, taking on Detroit Catholic League champion Bloomfield Hills Marian at 4:30 p.m.
Here's a brief look at the four teams vying for championships (player statistics do not include Semifinals):
BLOOMFIELD HILLS MARIAN
Record/rank: 21-3, No. 2 at end of regular season
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Division 1
Coach: Jamie Francek, eighth season, fourth of second tenure (112-49-4)
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2009.
Best wins: 19-9 and 22-2 (Semifinal) over No. 9 Ann Arbor Pioneer, 14-3 and 13-10 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 4 Bloomfield Hills, 22-12 and 21-6 (Regional Quarterfinal) over No. 10 Troy, 14-9 over No. 3 Birmingham United in the Regional Final, 14-13 over Division 2 No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.
Players to watch: Caroline Forester, sr. A (103 goals, 24 assists); Colleen Grombala, jr. A (69 goals, 31 assists); Sarah Peterson, jr. M (16 goals, 13 assists); Claire Fisher, jr. A (92 goals, 28 assists); Claire Kelly, soph. M (36 goals, 12 assists); Olivia Hargrave-Thomas, sr. D.
Outlook: Marian has won four league championships since Francek returned to in 2012, and this is its best run during his tenures. Cranbrook Kingswood included, the Mustangs also beat six of the top-10 ranked Division 2 teams. Forester is one of five players in MHSAA girls lacrosse history to score at least 100 goals in a season, and she made the all-state first team last season while Fisher, Hargrave-Thomas, Kelly and Peterson all earned honorable mentions. The offensive firepower is impressive, but the defense might be more so; Marian is giving up only 7.8 goals per game.
Record/rank: 20-3, No. 1 at end of regular season
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Tier 1
Coach: Mike Emery, eighth season (140-37-6)
Championship history: Division 1 champion in 2014, 2013 and 2010.
Best wins: 17-10 over No. 5 Hartland in the Semifinal, 15-6 over No. 9 Ann Arbor Pioneer, 20-5, 19-9 and 20-8 (Regional Final) over No. 7 Grand Rapids Forest Hills United, 14-7 over No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Marian, 11-6 over No. 3 Birmingham United, 12-2 over No. 4 Bloomfield Hills.
Players to watch: Alexandra Vandermolen, jr. M (67 goals, 28 assists); MeKenzie Vandermolen, fr. M (44 goals, 10 assists); Brooklyn Neumen, fr. M (75 goals, 21 assists); Grace Gunneson, jr. A (52 goals, 21 assists). Kelly Spehar, sr. D.
Outlook: Whereas last season’s championship run included many of the same faces, at least on offense, as in 2013, this year’s team has a bit a different look – especially with freshman Neumen the leading scorer. Alexandrea Vandermolen made the all-state second team a year ago and was the team’s second-leading scorer in the 2014 Final. The Rams didn’t lose a game against a ranked team in Division 1 – and had a win over Saturday opponent Marian – and went 6-2 against top-10 teams in Division 2. Those losses were to East Grand Rapids, including one by a goal in overtime.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS CRANBROOK KINGSWOOD
Record/rank: 18-3, No. 2 at end of regular season
League finish: Second in Detroit Catholic League Division 1
Coach: Greg Courter, first season (18-3)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 24-6 (Semifinal) and 19-2 over No. 10 Farmington Hills Mercy, 24-3 (Regional Final) and 19-5 over No. 8 Detroit Country Day, 16-13 (Regional Semifinal), 10-8 and 16-6 over No. 5 Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 16-10 over Division 1 No. 3 Birmingham United, 21-12 over Division 1 No. 10 Troy, 20-8 over Division 1 No. 9 Ann Arbor Pioneer.
Players to watch: Grace Giampetroni, jr. M (59 goals, 44 assists); Ari Vespa, sr. M (58 goals, 17 assists); Isabelle Scane, fr. M (81 goals 22 assists); Brigitte Ballard, fr. G (6.47 goals-against average).
Outlook: Cranbrook Kingswood broke through to the Final for the first time under the guidance of Courter, who formerly coached girls lacrosse in California and Colorado. The Cranes’ losses are impressive as well – by only one goal apiece to Division 1 No. 2 Marian and No. 4 Bloomfield Hills, and also by one in the third of four meetings with Academy of the Sacred Heart. Senior Maddy Weber (39 goals) and sophomore Danielle Augier (28) also provide scoring punch from the attack position, with Augier joining Scane and Ballard among an impressive group of underclassmen making contributions.
EAST GRAND RAPIDS
Record/rank: 23-1, No. 1 at end of regular season
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Tier 1
Coach: Rich Axtell, sixth season (119-17)
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 9-5 over No. 3 Okemos in the Semifinal, 9-4, 13-6 and 19-6 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 19-1, 18-5 and 18-3 (Regional Final) over No. 9 Caledonia, 18-5 over No. 5 Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 11-10 and 13-5 over Division 1 No. 1 Rockford.
Players to watch: Liza Elder, sr. A (111 goals 71 assists); Lexie Duca, jr. A (28 goals, 9 assists); Lindsay Duca, soph. A (46 goals, 46 assists); Elle O’Connell, sr. M (21 goals, 11 assists); Auden Bargar-Elliot, soph. M (54 goals, 6 assists); Jane Goodspeed, sr. D (1 goal).
Outlook: The Pioneers have only five losses over the last four seasons and none against Michigan teams since 2011 as they go for a fourth-straight MHSAA title. In addition to beating top-ranked Rockford twice, East Grand Rapids was 6-0 against other teams ranked among the top 10 in Division 1 at the end of the regular season. Elder’s 182 points heading into this week were the third-most all-time in MHSAA history for one season, and she has more than 300 points over the last two seasons. Goodspeed joined her on the all-state first team last season, while O’Connell and Lindsay Duca made the second team and Lexie Duca earned an honorable mention. Elder will continue her career at Northwestern University.
PHOTO: East Grand Rapids’ Liza Elder, middle, prepares for a face-off during last season’s Division 2 Final win against Okemos.
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.