TC West Girls Repeat, FHNE's Grzelak Adds Sweep to Family's Success

By James Cook
Special for

February 26, 2024

HARBOR SPRINGS – A Grzelak state champion seems to be the norm.

Katie Grzelak became the latest in the family to etch her name into the Michigan record books, becoming the third to claim an MHSAA Ski Finals championship over the last five years.

Her older sister Holly won the 2021 Division 1 slalom title also for Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern, while cousin Anna (who skied for Marquette) shared the slalom title with Traverse City Central’s Quinn Gerber a season ago.

Katie one-upped them both, sweeping the slalom and giant slalom titles this time around at Boyne Highlands.

“It’s a family tradition,” Katie Grzelak said. “I've been working towards it for a while now. It just felt good to finally put it together.”

Last year, she took second behind Rochester Adams’ Katie Fodale in GS and third in slalom. She’s been all-state six times in three seasons.

“It pretty cool,” said Marquette junior Sam Dehlin, a former teammate of Anna Grzelak who won the 2024 boys slalom title. “They really have a good thing going with the Grzelaks.”

Katie Grzelak said she was already receiving texts from relatives from all over asking if she extended the family tradition.

“I wasn't really expecting it, but I was really happy in the end,” she said. “I probably could have gone harder. I was happy with it, so I didn't feel the need to put too much down.”

Traverse City West's girls repeated as team champion, going back-to-back for the first time since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. TC West's girls also won the state's top spot in the academic all-state awards, with a team grade-point average of 3.886.

West junior Olivia Bageris came out of the fourth flight to place second in both the slalom and giant slalom.

The five-time all-stater leads a Titans team that's aiming to extend its Finals championship streak at least another year, despite losing three of its top six skiers after this one.

Traverse City Central's Olivia Bageris completes a run for the eventual team champion."The goal is obviously to make it a three-peat," Bageris said. "Central, our best friends but our biggest rivals. It always comes down to the day of the race. Conference races are always different than the state meet, but the goal would be to make it a three-peat."

West also gets freshman Sarah Shapiro back from injury next season.

"It means a lot," Bageris said. "It hasn't happened in a while. The boys have done it, and we've kind of always been like the underdogs and overlooked compared to our boys. They had a great day, too. So that was exciting. But it means a lot to be able to do this two years in a row. Our freshman year, we come in runner-up and it was exciting because we were kind of unexpected to get that high up. But in the end, we really all wanted to win."

The Titans led by a single point (19-20) after the morning giant slalom session, but felt confident because the team's strength all season has been slalom. West outpointed Central 19-32 in slalom.

"We were only ahead by one point, so we knew we had to go for it," Bageris said. "My friend Ellie (Gruber), she had a really great day, came out skied really amazing. She definitely helped. It was a team sport today."

Gruber took seventh in GS, with Lila Warren 10th. Erinn Hale, Kellan Kudary and Quinn Gerber took eighth, fifth and fourth for Central.

West won the girls title with 38 points, compared to Central's runner-up total of 52. The rest of the field consisted of Clarkston (110), Marquette (158.5), Birmingham United (203), Milford (231), West Bloomfield (243), Brighton (242.5) and White Lake Lakeland (290).

Bageris was joined by Titans teammates Gruber (seventh), Dillyn Mohr (eighth) and Warren (ninth) in the slalom top 10, with Central represented by Gerber (third) and Cady Madion (10th), with Hale just behind in 11th.

West head coach Ed Johnson said he thinks the Titans can seriously make a run at three in a row next season.

"I think we can," Johnson said. "We're losing a couple, but we'll be back pretty strong."

Gerber took third in giant slalom and fourth in slalom to earn her third and fourth all-state spots in two seasons on varsity.

"West has a really good team, and we definitely wanted to show that we could compete," Gerber said. "We scared them a little bit, but they ended up with it."

Central brings back its entire varsity team next season and has several talented middle schoolers coming up as well.

"We want to get it, so we'll be working all offseason," Gerber said.

Traverse City as a whole was the day's big winner.

The Trojans and Titans took first and second in both boys and girls. Traverse City accomplished the same feat last year, although West won two championships and Central took runner-up honors in both.

"It's good for Traverse City to bring that clean sweep again," TC West head coach Ed Johnson said. "That's one of the things I'm most excited about is to see that clean sweep for Traverse City. One-two for the boys, one-two for the girls. It goes from one side of town to the other, but it's all good."

Traverse City Central and West have combined to win the last four Division 1 titles in both boys and girls.

Twenty-three of the 40 first-team all-state spots went to skiers from Traverse City, with another 17 on the second team.

Only four spots in the slalom top-10 didn’t go to Central or West. After Grzelak, Grand Haven’s Neave Rewa was fourth, Birmingham’s Blanca Srock fifth and Clarkston’s Cameron Thomas sixth.

The same applied to GS, where Holly’s Finley DeCubber placed third, Berkley’s Tessa Rontal was sixth and Rewa placed ninth.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern's Katie Grzelak skis a championship run Monday at Boyne Highlands. (Middle) Traverse City Central's Olivia Bageris completes a run for the eventual team champion. (Photos by Tori Burley. Click for more; photos will be added throughout this week.)

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.)