By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND LEDGE – As the rain lifted Saturday afternoon, a third consecutive group of Rockford seniors capped their high school girls lacrosse careers with a fourth straight Division 1 championship.
And then some.
These Rams, led by seniors Brooklyn Neumen and Mekenzie Vander Molen, made their last game perhaps a bit more memorable, setting the MHSAA Finals record for goals in a 25-5 win over Brighton at Grand Ledge High School.
Sophomore Sydney Zimmerman netted her team’s 21st goal with 16:47 to play, that score breaking the record of 20 goals by Okemos in its 2010 Division 2 championship win.
And it was just another accomplishment for a Rockford program that has won six straight Division 1 titles and hasn’t lost to a Michigan opponent since 2016.
“I played with all these girls all though middle school and elementary school; it’s like family, and that’s why I think it’s extra special,” Neumen said. “Everyone on this team, there’s not one person I would say that I wouldn’t love and that I would forget, and I’d love to play with them again if I could. I think it’s kinda sad now that it’s over, but it was a good time.”
The Rams finished 20-2, their only losses to Loyola Academy and New Trier, both of Illinois. Rockford closed with 18 straight victories.
Vander Molen had seven goals and two assists and Neumen scored six and set up two Saturday to both make the list for most goals scored by one player in a Final – Vander Molen’s goals tied for second most. Zimmerman and junior Karrington Vander Molen both added four goals.
Almost more impressive was the defense. Senior Bella VanBuren’s goal 3:45 into the game kept the Bulldogs down just 3-2 – but Rockford gave up only one more score during the first half, and at one point between the end of the first and beginning of the second held Brighton scoreless for more than 17 minutes.
The Rams extended the lead to 10 to start a running clock on a Neumen goal with 12:01 to play in the first half.
“I feel like everyone on our team has that mindset where we want to win, and we want to win by a lot,” Mekenzie Vander Molen said. “We don’t want to have a close game. We just want to go out there as fast as we can, just so we can get more people goals and just have a fun time.”
She and Neumen are two of nine seniors total who played their final high school game – Vander Molen will continue next season at Ohio State University, and Neumen will play next for North Carolina. Another senior, Maggie Hammer, has been among the team’s leading scorers the last two seasons and added two more goals in this finale.
“Some of these kids have been on four championship teams, some on three. Some it was their first, and each and every one of (our championship teams) is special in their own right,” said Rockford coach Mike Emery, whose record improved to 200-43-6 over 11 seasons with the win. “They all have their own culture and their own characteristics, and we start early trying to develop that, trying to get the best out of these kids.”
He pointed to sense of family as one of this team’s special characteristics, and also to its depth throughout the lineup. “We’re going to be back here next year; at least, that’s our plan,” he added. “We’re losing two All-Americans … (but) our plan is to be back here next year because we’ve got some great talent, and we’ll move them around and we’ll find a way.”
Brighton (14-8) intends to be the opponent waiting. The Bulldogs graduate 11 players, but also steered to this championship game despite finishing the regular-season on a 4-4 string and with a coaching change that saw assistant Ashton Peters promoted with three games to go before the playoffs. She led the team to a 6-2 record over the last month.
Peters was on the 2010 Brighton team that fell to Rockford in the Division 1 Final, and also on the 2011 team that won the Division 1 title with an overtime victory over Ann Arbor Pioneer.
“The girls rallied around this coaching staff and just were pumped. They knew we could get here, and that was in our gameplan the entire season,” Peters said. “They have become so disciplined and listen so well now, and so that’s what got us here today. There’s not doubt in my mind that my girls deserved to be here.
“Yes, it was a hard game. Rockford has an incredible program. … (But) what we did to get here paid off, because we got here. Once you get here once, you come back again because you have the drive to get here. And so we’re going to come back, and we’re going to win.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford’s Brooklyn Neumen works to get past a Brighton defender during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Mekenzie Vander Molen controls the ball for the Rams.
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:
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.)