Lowell's Byrne Siblings Speed Into Finals

February 12, 2021

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

LOWELL – Kaylee Byrne became emotional upon completion of the giant slalom course at this week’s MHSAA Division 2 Regional.

The Lowell junior skier has endured an up-and-down season, so a first-place finish was a gratifying accomplishment.

“I actually shed a few tears at the bottom of the GS course, but they were tears of joy,” Byrne said. “It was a little rocky to begin the season, so finishing like that felt really good. 

“I had high hopes and a lot of confidence going into Regionals. I knew I could ski well enough to finish like that, so I’m just glad I pulled it out.”

Byrne clocked a winning time of 52.88 seconds to win the giant slalom and also finished runner-up in the slalom (1:05.51).

She qualified as an individual for the Finals, which will take place Feb. 22 at Boyne Highlands. 

Byrne’s younger brother, Colton, also advanced to the Finals by placing second and third, respectively, in the slalom and giant slalom.

The opportunity to compete this season amid the pandemic has been a blessing for the siblings.

“It’s been great,” Kaylee Byrne said. “Skiing is a huge part of my life, so if I had missed that it would have crushed me a little bit. I was really thankful for that.”  

Skiing, non-contact and competed outdoors, was allowed to begin activity first among winter sports, on Dec. 21.

Lowell ski coach Karla Byrne was thrilled to see her children return to the sport toward which they’ve dedicated many hours.

“It’s been amazing, and we feel so lucky,” Karla Byrne said. “I know how much my kids love the sport and how detrimental they would feel not to be out there. We knew we might not have a season, and we prepped them all summer long that it might not happen and for them to be pleasantly surprised if it did.

“When we found out that we could compete, we felt so fortunate to be one of the sports allowed to be out there and we’ve taken every precaution to stay out there.” 

Kaylee Byrne has been racing competitively for the past seven years and has taken part in competitions in Colorado and the Upper Peninsula. 

She has continued to improve since she first inquired about the racing gates at Cannonsburg Ski Area at a young age.

Kayla Byrne said her daughter is a student of the sport.

“She’s extremely dedicated and she’s training year around to make herself better,” Kayla said. “She’s super knowledgeable about the sport and studies it. She’s a way better coach than I’ll ever be. She reads, she learns and she watches. She takes that all to heart, and that truly puts her over the top.”

Kaylee Byrne enjoyed the camaraderie of the sport when she was younger, as well as the thrill of victory.

“My first two years racing, I had this group of friends and we were so close,” Kaylee Byrne said. “We caused so much trouble together, and then I started winning races. I was like, ‘I like winning, that’s cool’ and it just helped to have a great community and friendships that I made.”

Colton Byrne, a sophomore, said he and his sister encourage and support each other while pushing the other to ski their best. 

“It’s a lot of sibling coaching,” Colton Byrne said. “We see each other ski so often that we know when something is off. The small things that not everyone sees, but we do because we see each other ski every day.

“It’s definitely competitive, and we go back and forth a lot. We have good days and bad days at different times. One day I’ll beat her, and the other day she will beat me.”

Added Kaylee Byrne: “We train on dual courses, and every time we race we’re both going all out trying to see who can beat the other one. It’s 50-50, and you just never know who’s going to win.”

The sibling rivalry has forged a close-knit bond.

“They really are best buddies, but there will always be a little competitiveness there,” Karla Byrne said. “If the two are out on the hill, you can bet they are trying to one-up each other a little bit, especially as Colton is growing and getting bigger and stronger.

“She certainly doesn’t ever want him to beat her, but it’s always been very friendly competition for sure.” 

Skiing has become a family affair for the Byrnes, who also have a seventh-grader, Cooper. 

The sport has allowed them to spend quality time together.

“We got wrapped up into it by chance almost, and it’s a great thing for them to do all winter long and it keeps us busy,” Karla Byrne said. “We go everywhere as a family together all winter long, which is really nice. It’s pretty unique to be able to do that.”

Kaylee Byrne, who also runs cross country and is a thrower in track & field, finished third in the giant slalom a year ago at the Finals.

She has similar aspirations this time around.

“I’m definitely gunning for top three, and I think I could potentially take first,” she said. “That’s always the goal.”

Colton Byrne, who’s been racing for the past six years, qualified for the Finals as a freshman and finished 23rd in the giant slalom. 

“I think he can be competitive up there and finish in the top 16,” Karla Byrne said. “And we are hopeful that Kaylee can be in the top spots again, hopefully in both events.”

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell’s Kaylee Byrne races past a ski gate. (Middle) Brother Colton Byrne leans into a turn. (Below) Kaylee Byrne, middle, stands with the rest of the top-10 giant slalom finishers at last season’s Division 2 Finals at Nub’s Nob. (Top and middle photo courtesy of Byrne family, bottom photo by Sports in Motion.)

Petoskey's Spence Caps Ski Career Among State's All-Time Racing Greats

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 6, 2024

Let’s be clear. Marley Spence is the most decorated racer in Petoskey High School girls skiing history.

Northern Lower PeninsulaBut her favorite memory from the sport is not winning one of her five MHSAA Finals individual championships.

It is helping the Northmen earn Division 2 runners-up honor her junior year when Petoskey had just the minimum – four skiers — in the competition won by Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Spence has to admit the odds were stacked against the Northman that day on Boyne Mountain And to top it off, it is a memory that is connected to her middle school days with senior classmate and all-stater Sydney Hoffman.

“It was me and Sydney and two other seniors, and that was our entire team,” Spence recalled this week. “We had to do everything right to place second, and we did that that day and we were super thrilled. That was the highlight of my career.”

Quite a statement for the perennial Big North, Regional and Finals champion in the slalom and giant slalom. She has been a top-10 finisher at the Finals going back to her freshman year.  

“Marley has sort of come along in an era when we have not had as many female athletes in the program,” said Ben Crockett, who with sister Jennifer Crockett coaches the Petoskey ski teams. “She should be proud of the fact that a pretty small team was able to have collective success at the state meet.”

All of the time spent on those powdery white hills since the age of 2 has certainly paid off.

She was the runner-up in slalom and 10th in giant slalom as a freshman. As a sophomore, her accomplishments ranged from Big North Conference and Regional titles in both the slalom and giant slalom to a Finals championship in the GS. She also captured runner-up in the slalom race to finish that winter.

As a junior, she won both the giant slalom and slalom at the Finals while leading Petoskey to the second-place team finish.

And this year, she did it again. Petoskey did not qualify as a team, but she and Hoffman did. Spence and Hoffman have been teammates since middle school, and they both picked up all-state honors this year. Hoffman placed in the top 10 of both the slalom and giant slalom Feb. 26 at Nub’s Nob.

“It helps to train with my teammate because we’re all on one team and we compete against each other and (are) pushing each other,” Spence said. “We watch each other and can all learn from our mistakes and watch we do well.”

This year, Spence put together a time of 51.17 in the giant slalom, then 1:12.19 in the slalom, holding off some tough competition from Cadillac's Onalee Wallace in both races. 

Spence’s performance at Nub’s Nob allowed her to tie Eric Behan for the most titles by a Petoskey skier and set the girls record at the school. Behan collected his fifth in 2005.

Spencer stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season.Spence also tied the MHSAA record for career Finals titles in Division 2, Class B or the previous open class, matching the mark of Christy Salonen of West Iron County from 1993-96. 

"From her freshman year on the team, Marley has been serious and committed to high school competition. At times, she has dominated high school racing, yet she is always respectful of her competitors. I’m very proud of her for exhibiting that character trait," said Jennifer Crockett, who similarly graduated from Petoskey in 1995 as one of the program's most accomplished skiers. "This season she had teammates who were not as experienced as Marley, and she really stepped up and took on a leadership role, helping them with course inspections and race day timeline management."

Spence had the luxury, and challenge, throughout her career of skiing against what many would consider the toughest high school competition in Michigan with Petoskey part of the BNC.

This year, Traverse City West’s girls repeated as Division 1 champions. Cadillac won the Division 2 girls team title for the second time in three seasons.

Spence intends to compete this spring in sprints for the Petoskey track team. She is thinking of attending Montana State University next fall and ski for the Bobcats. 

Recently labeled one of the best places for college skiers by POWDER magazine, MSU is recognized nationally and internationally for its snow science research.

“I might be going out to Montana State, and if I do then I’ll definitely ski,” she said. “It is very hard to ski in college – more than any other sport – because they bring in all the Europeans and they take the spots, but I am going to strive for that.”

As she wraps up her high school career, Spence reflected on the challenges of being a high school skier and noted slalom is her favorite race.

“I would say slalom because it is high tempo, and you have to think more about it,” she said. “It is more strategic.

“Sometimes it is hard to stay focused when you have so much going on with friends and other things like parents there, coaches there,” she continued. “Trying to keep a routine every race is what has helped me succeed.”

Part of that routine, as Jennifer Crockett noted, is inspecting the course as a team – something Spence will miss as it allowed her to mentor her younger teammates. But her impact on Petoskey's program, and high school skiing statewide, will not be forgotten.

“Marley has five individual state championships and there are only two other individuals in the history of skiing in Michigan to make that accomplishment,” Ben Crockett said. “Any review of the history would have to include her as one of the best to ever ski at the high school level.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey's Marley Spence skis a slalom run during the Feb. 26 Division 2 Finals at Nub's Nob. (Middle) Spence stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season. (Photo by Sarah Shepherd.)