Rockford Readying for Another Title Run

April 26, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

ROCKFORD – Rockford girls lacrosse coach Mike Emery wants his team to obtain experiences they will never forget.

It’s the foundation of the program, and it has catapulted the Rams into a perennial state powerhouse over the past decade.

“We’ve tried to develop a culture of a family atmosphere,” Emery said. “We are all about making memories first, and then we move on from that.”

Rockford has made a plethora of lasting memories in the past 10 years, including nine consecutive MHSAA Division 1 Semifinal appearances and a spot in five Finals.

The Rams won their first Division 1 championship in 2010 and have added four more over the last four seasons.

Prior to that remarkable stretch, they had never won a playoff game.

A tight-knit relationship among players and coaches and dedication to the sport have factored into their decade of dominance.

“Over the years we’ve developed a culture that we have where people want to be part of the program and the kids want to play all season long,” Emery said. “Even when the Finals end, the most disappointing thing for us is that we’re not going to be together the next day.

“We have some skilled people who help with development, but a focus is having fun. We have 90 days together every (season) and we spend a lot of time in the offseason, whether it’s in the weight room, stick skills or open gyms. It’s developed over time into a year-around program.”

A standard of excellence also has been created following that string of championships.

“We all work really hard in practice and outside of practice,” said junior Brooklyn Neumen, a three-year starter who leads the Rams with 35 goals this season. “We have a really good youth program, and our coaches are really good. In the offseason we all play summer ball.”

The development of a strong youth program has paid dividends, especially this season as the Rams start three freshmen and eight of their 12 starters are freshmen and sophomores.

It’s a crucial element in the reloading process that is evident every spring.

“We have a great youth program, and our junior varsity coach spends a lot of time on skill development,” Emery said. “It’s not just the things we do, it’s why and how we do the things we do. That’s what we feel separates us from other programs.”

Rockford graduated eight seniors from last year’s team, but hasn’t missed a beat.

The Rams are 8-1, and their lone one-goal loss came against a team from of out of state, Ohio power Upper Arlington.

“They were a really fast team and had good skill work,” said junior MeKenzie Vander Molen, another three-year starter who has produced 18 goals.

“It’s good for us to play against defenses like that because it helps prepare us for other teams that we’re going to play.”

Emery said this year’s team possesses plenty of speed and the ability to not dwell on misfortunes.

“They never quit, and we’re pretty fast,” he said. “Even when they make mistakes, they are aggressive mistakes and no one hangs their head. They go after the ball again the next time. They’ve done a nice job.”

The graduation losses haven’t been noticeable in the win column as the younger girls have filled the voids admirably.

Freshmen Madelyn Yakes has been solid in the goal, while another freshman, Sydney Zimmerman, has been a staple in the offensive attack with 17 goals.

“Even though we are young we can still get the ball up the field in transition and not lose it,” Vander Molen said. “We have a good variety of girls.”

And of course, the Rams also have some significant star power back this spring. Vander Molen and sophomore sister Karrington both have committed already to continue their careers at Ohio State, and Neumen is committed to North Carolina. Senior Sisely Vongphasouk has signed with Kennesaw State (Ga.), and senior Samantha DeBoer will play next season at Alma College.

“We lost some big girls, but we have young freshmen that are really good players and we have a lot of sophomores and juniors that are stepping up,” Neumen said. “I think we have a really good team, just as we did last year.”

While the postseason is still a month away, the pursuit of a fifth straight Division 1 title is on the Rams’ minds.

They are driven to replicate past accomplishments, and refuse to see the streak end.

“We don’t have to talk about the state championships; it’s there,” Emery said. “The banners hang in our stadium and in the gym, and the girls have their championship rings. Each group feeds into that.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford’s MeKenzie Vander Molen (13) gathers the ball in traffic during last season’s Division 1 Final against Birmingham United. (Middle) Sisely Vongphasouk had a goal and an assist in the 12-9 championship game win.

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.