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.)
HARBOR SPRINGS — The Cadillac girls ski team knew it couldn’t sneak up on anyone at Monday’s Division 2 Final, and rose to the challenge.
Cadillac walked away from Nub's Nob Ski Area and Resort in Harbor Springs with its second championship in three years and fourth-straight top-three finish. The Vikings finished with a combined team score of 72. Harbor Springs finished runner-up with a combined team score of 91.
Mattawan and Paw Paw placed third (107), Bloomfield Hills Marian finished fourth (168) and Norway finished fifth (171).
"A couple of years ago, we snuck up and got a ski title, but this year, we had more of a target on our backs knowing we had a pretty good team to do something special," Cadillac head coach James Netzley said. "It was a little nervous feeling today because of the start."
Netzley said his skiers made it a goal to repeat what they did in 2022 after finishing third last year.
"We said last night that it was going to take a complete team effort if we wanted to do something special today," Netzley said. "That came true, and we relied on every kid on the team."
The Vikings started shaky at the slalom with a couple of falls, but in the end, several skiers pulled through. Senior Onalee Wallis led the Vikings with second-place finishes in the slalom and giant slalom. Wallis finished the slalom with a combined time of 1:12.63 and the giant slalom with a combined time of 51.67.
Wallis's teammate, senior Avery Meyer, finished third in the slalom with a combined time of 1:16.76. Great North Alpine's Grace Rowe finished fourth with a combined time of 1:17.46.
Rochester Adams' Katie Fodale finished third in the giant slalom (52.43), Meyer placed fourth (53.39), and Emma Borgula placed fifth in the giant slalom with a combined time of 53.97.
"They are pretty special kids," Netzley said about Meyer and Wallis. "Both have been first-team all-state for four years in a row, and gotten a top-10 finish since their freshmen year. Not many kids can do that by the time they come in as freshmen and cap off their senior year with outstanding performances."
Petoskey didn't have the outing it had hoped for, but senior Marley Spence stamped herself as one of the best high school athletes in the state after walking away with her fifth-straight D2 individual Finals medal after placing first in both the slalom and giant slalom. Spence finished the slalom with a combined time of 1:12.19 and giant slalom with a combined time of 51.17.
Northmen boys coach Ben Crockett, who leads the program alongside his sister and girls coach Jennifer Crockett, found no disagreement in naming Spence as one of the best individual athletes to come out of Petoskey, let alone the state.
"We've been trying to dig into the history books in Michigan, and she is definitely at the top of her group historically of anybody who has competed in a sport," Ben Crockett said. "She is the best in Michigan, and there is no question about it."
PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Marley Spence races past a gate during the Division 2 giant slalom Monday. (Middle) Cadillac celebrates its second Finals team championship over the last three seasons. (Photos by Sarah Shepherd. Click for all photos; more will be added throughout this week.)