By Andrew Rosenthal
Special for Second Half
HARBOR SPRINGS – Downstate teams winning an MHSAA alpine ski championship hasn't usually been a frequent occurrence.
But Pontiac Notre Dame Prep now has done so back-to-back years, giving downstate three of the last four titles in Division 2 girls.
Notre Dame scored 56 points Monday afternoon at Nub’s Nob to cap off one of the most dominant postseason runs possible. The Fighting Irish qualified with a perfect score at their Regional, then won Monday by a landslide. Harbor Springs earned the runner-up nod with 114.5 points, and Petoskey took third with 116.
“Our girls have fought really hard this year,” said an emotional Notre Dame coach Craig McLeod. “We've had a bunch of girls that have really worked hard together.
“They're all great students, they're all great athletes, and they're all great people.”
Within minutes of accepting the champion’s trophy, each member of the team took turns etching her name into the back of it.
“Let’s just say we brought the gold paint pen just in case,” McLeod admitted.
Soon the trophy would be a part of history. The Irish have made it to the Finals as a team 16 of the last 17 years and won the Class B-C-D championship in 2006.
Senior Meghan Kozole earned two medals for the Irish, earning a third-place finish in slalom with a time of 1:14.54 and then taking fourth in giant slalom with a time of 53.42.
Five of Notre Dame’s skiers placed in the top 16 in GS. Kozole led the pack with Delaney Flavin in ninth, Sydney Schulte in 11th, Keely McLeod in 12th and Claire Kirchner in 16th.
“It was really nerve-wracking in the beginning, but once the day got on the nerves wore off,” Kozole said. “It was really exciting to support each other, and we definitely work together as a team. If someone fell, we were like super supportive. We understood that if we wanted to do well, we had to support each other. It wasn't an individual race.”
Reagan Olli of Gaylord started off the day with an individual title in the slalom. Olli posted the best time in the first run at 35.41 seconds, then the second-best her second run at 36.95. Megan Paache of Grand Rapids Northview took second.
Olli became the ninth athlete in MHSAA history to become a two-time slalom champion. She won in 2017, her sophomore season, and battled back from a broken wrist during her junior year.
“I've been working on my slalom all year and trying to get back to it,” Olli said.
Paache edged Olli by five hundredths of a second in GS, giving the senior her first Finals title. After starting out fourth with a first run of 25.81, Paache’s second run secured the title. Her 27.09 jumped her from fourth place into first.
A four-year Finals qualifier, she was joined by Northview’s entire team this year. After the races were over, Paache said that’s what made it so special for her.
“It's been a big goal of mine since I was a freshman,” Paache said. “At some point I wanted to get one. I did it now. That's exciting for me.”
Harbor Springs’ Frannie Kelbel earned two medals with a fourth-place finish in slalom (1:15.20) and an eighth-place finish in GS (55.08).
The Rams’ boys ski team also earned the state runner-up nod.
“It feels really great to have them both go home with trophies,” Harbor Springs coach Jane Ramer said.
PHOTOS: (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep claims the Division 2 championship trophy Monday for the second-straight season. (Middle) Grand Rapids Northview’s Megan Paache races downhill for one of her two top-two individual finishes. (Click to see more from Sports in Motion.)
BOYNE FALLS — Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s girl ski team has dominated the slopes since 2016 and continued the trend Monday at Boyne Mountain.
The Irish placed first at the Division 2 Finals with a team combined score of 61. Petoskey finished runner-up with just four skiers to collect a team score of 87, and Great North Alpine finished third.
Senior Syndey Schulte was Notre Dame Prep’s top placer, finishing runner-up in slalom (1:09.19), and she was followed in that event by senior Peyton Schindler in fourth and senior Claire Kirchner in seventh. Kirchner was fourth in the giant slalom, and Schulte was seventh as the Irish placed four among the top 13.
“We had a great bunch of girls that skied well,” Norte Dame coach Craig McLeod said. “These girls show up to training every day and pay attention to what we’ve asked them, and they do it.”
Schindler has racked up tons of medals during her time at NDP, having helped the Irish win Division 2 championships during her freshmen and sophomore years before they finished sixth a year ago.
“It’s nice to have new faces, and it’s cool to see all of our hard work come into culmination of this,” Schindler said.
McLeod couldn’t be more pleased with the way his team performed at its Regional and the Finals. As he talked about his team, he was emotional knowing what this win meant to the Irish.
“The girls have won everything they touched,” McLeod said. “I have an amazing group of senior girls, and I’m proud of all the things they have done.”
Petoskey senior Marley Spence swept the giant slalom (1:14.91) and slalom (1:06.78). Spence also won giant slalom and was second in slalom as a junior, and she became the 12th skier in Finals history to win girls giant slalom at least twice.
"I cried," Spence said when she found out she won. "I ran to my parents and shed a lot of tears.
"All the emotions come in here, and it's been building out for weeks, so I'm shocked but happy," she added.
Spence was one of the four skiers who helped her team to a podium finish. Before they found out they were runners-up, Spence didn't think they'd get a team win with just four skiers – but Petoskey defeated the odds.
Cadillac senior Georgette Sake finished seconds behind Spence in the giant slalom with a combined time of 1:15.65. Cadillac as a team finished third with multiple top-10 placers in giant slalom.
"I enjoyed my four years at Cadillac," Sake said. "I don't think of skiing as a sport. I think of it as a family. The ski community is so great and cool."
PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Marley Spence speeds through one of her runs on the way to winning both individual championships Monday. (Middle) Notre Dame Prep’s Sydney Schulte caps her career with two more top-10 Finals finishes. (Click for more later this week from Sports in Motion – Division 2.)