Notre Dame Prep Extends Reign with 3-Peat

February 23, 2021

By Andrew Rosenthal
Special for Second Half

HARBOR SPRINGS — Craig McLeod — quite literally — coaches state championship teams.

McLeod, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and the Fighting Irish girls made it a three-peat Monday afternoon at the MHSAA Division 2 Ski Finals at Boyne Highlands. The third-year ski coach won his third girls championship after helping break the program’s 13-year title hiatus with the first of this string in 2019.

Before winning three Finals titles in a row (and every divisional and Regional meet during those three seasons) Notre Dame Prep had last won a girls Finals championship in 2006.

Teams north of the 45th parallel typically dominate the alpine ski meet, but now downstate teams have claimed four of the last five Division 2 girls titles as Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central won in 2017. Notre Dame was runner-up in 2017 and 2018 before its three-peat began.

“These girls have really worked hard,” McLeod said through tears. “You think about it, they've been putting their ski boots on like six or seven days a week since Thanksgiving. That takes a lot of work and a lot of focus.”

For a school with an enrollment of roughly 635 students, McLeod said 51 athletes (girls and boys combined) on this year's team was impressive. And there’s more to come. Three of Notre Dame’s four all-state finishers Monday are sophomores including slalom champion Sydney Schulte.

Division 2 Girls Skiing Finals 2“We're drawn from our JV team and continuing to work and grow with our sophomore team,” McLeod said.

Schulte, who won slalom with a time of 1:27.14 and took fourth in giant slalom with a time of 1:00.11, said the girls she’s been around have felt more like a family than a team.

“I definitely think that there's more to come,” Schulte said. “It'll be kind of challenging that we're losing a little bit of the team, but I definitely think that there are some good people coming up on our team, and it's definitely not going to end.

“I just kind of thought about what I was working on in practice and just got rid of all the nerves and just laid it down.”

McLeod said four titles in a row is certainly a big challenge, but he knows his skiers are up for it.

“They are a bunch of great, hard-working young ladies that are really smart, get great grades and do well in every aspect of their life,” McLeod said. “It's fun to be a part of being with them and coaching them and helping them to be better people and create memories they'll have the rest of your life.”

Lowell’s Kaylee Byrne edged out Cadillac freshman Onalee Wallis for the GS title by 13 hundredths of a second after beating her in the Regional meet last week. All medalists in the GS were separated by less than a second, and that list also included fellow Vikings freshman Avery Meyer.

“She’s sneaky fast,” Cadillac coach James Netzley said of Wallis. "It's been a long, long time since we've had a Cadillac girl finish that high … so yeah, that was impressive. That was really impressive."

East Grand Rapids finished team runner-up with 115 points — a newcomer to Finals hardware in skiing. Cadillac tied Petoskey with 130 points for third place in Division 2, beating the Northmen in a tiebreaker because its fifth racer had a better finish. Last year Cadillac finished in sixth place, but the Vikings returned three members of that team.

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PHOTOS: (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Sydney Schulte makes her way past a gate during one of her title-winning slalom runs Monday. (Middle) Lowell’s Kaylee Byrne races to the championship in the giant slalom. (Click for more from Sports in Motion.)

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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.)