This Time It's Brighton's Time as Bulldogs Celebrate Championship

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

June 11, 2022

ROCKFORD – Ryan Skomial and the Brighton girls lacrosse program had experienced nothing but disappointment and heartbreak in their respective, previous MHSAA Finals trips to Rockford over the last 10 years.

That changed for both parties Saturday afternoon. The Skomial-coached Bulldogs exhibited determination in an abrupt momentum swing early in the second half, which ultimately led to elation.

Brighton erased a six-goal deficit and captured the program’s first MHSAA Division 1 girls lacrosse championship since 2011 with a 12-11 overtime victory over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern at Carlson-Munger Stadium.

It was the Bulldogs’ fourth straight Finals appearance at Rockford, with the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They lost in Finals to Rockford in the Rams’ home stadium in 2018, 2019 and 2021. 

This time, Brighton senior Ella Boose’s goal with 1:33 left in the first of two three-minute overtime periods proved the game winner. Sophomore goalkeeper Gabrielle Buckenberger helped make that tally stand. Afterwards, Buckenberger and her teammates felt “satisfaction” and “relief.”

“I saw the lane when Abbey (Burchfield) passed it to me and after I scored, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. It’s overtime. This is our chance, and we can win this game now,’” said Boose, whose team finished with a 16-4 record.

“I think at halftime we just said, ‘Who wants it more?’ We knew we could win. We’ve come back from worse, and we knew this was our last game of the season, last half. I think we just gave it all we could.”

Brighton lost its first Finals appearance in 2011 to Rockford, 19-11. The next year, the Bulldogs edged Ann Arbor Pioneer, 17-15 in overtime. Both of those matches were played at Troy Athens.

In 2012, Skomial led Hartland to the Division 1 Final at Rockford, where her team lost to Birmingham United by the same 12-11 overtime score by which her Brighton team was victorious Saturday.

Brighton lost its previous three Finals games against Rockford 25-5 in 2018, 21-6 in 2019 and 19-16 in 2021 – but the Bulldogs appeared to close the gap each time. On Saturday, they got over the hump against the Forest Hills Northern/Eastern co-op team that beat Brighton twice during the regular season, 15-7 and 11-7.

“I played here and lost in double overtime, sudden death, so as soon as that overtime happened, I was like, ‘Ooh, man, we’ve been here before,’” Skomial, a high school All-American, said while she patted her chest in relief. “I knew these girls had something different. I knew that they had the drive and the patience and the mentality to finish this. I’m so proud of them.”

FHNE seemed bound and determined to complete the season sweep against Brighton and capture the big trophy in just its second season as a program. The BirdDogs held a 7-2 lead at halftime and extended it to 8-2 in the first minute of the second half.

Brighton was not playing along anymore, however. The Bulldogs tallied seven of the next eight goals to knot the match at 9 with 10½ minutes remaining.

It was anybody’s game at that point.

Brighton/FHNE lacrosse“You know, we made some turnovers, and they got on a run,” said FHNE coach Joe Curcuru, whose squad finished with a 21-2 record. “Lacrosse is a game of runs, and they started scoring some goals and the momentum just shifted.

“We used both of our timeouts in the second half, and we tried to just settle down. But this is an exciting stage, it’s a big stage and we just couldn’t get that momentum back.”

Brighton got on the board first against FHNE on senior Amanda Granader’s tally 1:28 into the contest, but then FHNE went on a goal-scoring barrage with six in a row and seven of the next eight to enjoy a comfortable halftime lead.

Junior Alayna Davis scored 56 seconds into the second half, the third of her co-game-high four goals, to put FHNE up six. Brighton took over from there, however, as Granader scored and added two more in the half in her four-goal performance. Senior Gabriella Mainhardt scored two in a row during the Bulldogs’ surge.

FHNE senior Carly Wittlinger scored her third goal of the night with 2:06 left to put her team ahead 11-10, but Granader tied it with 1:39 remaining.

Skomial called Buckenberger’s performance “remarkable,” classifying her as one of the most talented, naturally-gifted goalies she’s seen. Buckenberger made five saves compared to eight by her FHNE counterpart, junior Sommer Grieser.

“We really just felt like this was our year. We touched the Regional trophies, we’re wearing white, we felt like it was our year and we just really wanted to win,” Buckenberger said. “It starts with the goalie feeling confident, and it just spreads, and if we have the sidelines and the crowd just cheering us on, we’ll have it, too. We just kept saying, ‘One more, one more.’

“I’ve got hives,” she said with a laugh when asked about the excitement of winning the title. “This felt great.”

Skomial said she was proud of the fact that her players never got down on themselves despite the early deficit. The Bulldogs hung in there and wrestled momentum away from the BirdDogs.

Prior to the first overtime period, cheers from the Brighton huddle on the sideline could be easily heard atop the stands on the opposite side of the field. It was more than a rah-rah speech – the Bulldogs believed it was their time.

“It’s definitely amazing. I mean, we’ve been to the state championship the last few years and we’ve lost every year, so to end my senior year like this, it’s a great feeling,” said Boose, who scored three goals in her final high school match. She will continue her academic and lacrosse pursuits at Grand Valley State University.

“This is my favorite team I’ve ever been on. We’re really a family.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Brighton celebrates its Division 1 championship Saturday at Rockford High. (Middle) The Bulldogs’ Amanda Granader (27) works to get off a shot with FHNE’s Daniella Washburn (5) and Sommer Grieser (25) defending. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.