By Chris Dobrowolski
Special to Second Half
BELLAIRE - Brighton may not have the pedigree of some other schools when it comes to Michigan girls high school downhill skiing.
That perception changed in a hurry on Monday at the MHSAA Division 1 Final at Schuss Mountain.
The Bulldogs finished first in slalom and giant slalom, slipping past Traverse City Central and Traverse City West in a tightly contested top three for their first MHSAA skiing title.
"It's just crazy. It's overwhelming," said Brighton coach Jeff Street. "We worked really hard. We've got a young team - one freshman, three sophomores, a senior and a junior. That's a young team, and we skied really well today. It's a really great group of girls."
Brighton ended the meet with 92 points, with Central scoring 101 and West 103. Marquette's score of 202 put it a distant fourth.
Morgan Myers led Brighton in the giant slalom with a fifth-place finish (50.54), and Veronica Ripper led the Bulldogs in slalom, placing fifth in 1:06.54.
Brighton's win was a bit of a surprise to the teams that were challenging the Bulldogs for the top spot, intra-city rivals that have battled back and forth for supremacy in the Big North Conference and in Regional competition.
"As far as we're concerned, they came out of nowhere because we don't know who they are," said West coach Ed Johnson. "We didn't know they were there, that they were that deep."
"We didn't know about Brighton," said Central coach Jerry Stanek, whose team was the defending champion. "We knew some of their girls from USSA racing, but their top four girls were very good, very consistent."
Lilia Staszel gave Brighton two top-10 finishers in slalom with an eighth-place finish in 1:06.8. Myers was 14th (1:08.27) and Jenna Sica was 16th (1:08.82). In giant slalom, Ripper was 13th (51.95), Sica took 15th (51.97) and Straszel was 16th (52.44).
"They didn't make any mistakes today," said Johnson. "We made some mistakes, Central had some mistakes. In a state final, when you've got three teams that are that close or that good, the team that doesn't make mistakes is going to come out on top."
Street was confident his team could hang with the two Traverse City schools, which regularly are in the hunt for the MHSAA title, with one or the other claiming first or second - or both - in each of the last 10 seasons.
"I thought we had a really good chance," he said. "Our motto is focus, balance and integrity. We stayed focused the whole time. As long as the girls know they can win, we're going to be OK. They've got to focus the whole time and not lose it. Don't suddenly turn into Lindsey Vonn and think they're better than they are. Keep the focus."
Brighton held a three-point lead over Central after the slalom (43-46) with West right behind with 52 points. West made up some of its difference by finishing two points behind the Bulldogs in giant slalom (49-51) with Central scoring 55.
Marquette's Gabrielle Gencheff was the top individual skier of the day, winning the titles in both slalom and giant slalom. Gencheff posted a time of 47.52 in giant slalom and a 1:00.51 in slalom.
Lili Lockwood led Central with a second-place finish in giant slalom (47.92) and a third-place finish in slalom (1:05.55). Morgan Culp was West's top skier on the day, taking second in the slalom (1:04.51) and third in the giant slalom (49.87).
Central's other counters in slalom were Devon Dotterrer (12th, 1:07.75), Molly Whiting (13th, 1:07.84) and Jenny Baker (18th, 1:09.51). In giant slalom, Maggie Dutmers was 12th (51.94), Whiting took 20th (52.84) and Dotterrer (21st, 52.92).
For West, Claire Podges was 10th in slalom (1:07.28) and 14th in giant slalom (51.96) and Ginevra Gabrielli finished 11th in giant slalom (51.85) and 15th in slalom (1:08.59). Kitt Hornbogen was 23rd in giant slalom (53.76), while Maya Breneman was 25th in slalom (1:11.77).
PHOTO: (Top) Brighton celebrates its MHSAA skiing championship Monday at Schuss Mountain. (Middle) Traverse City Central's Maggie Dutmers works down the hill during one of her runs. (Photos courtesy of Schuss Mountain.)
Instead of “to be or not to be” or channeling The Clash and its hit song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” there’s another question that Rochester Adams senior Katie Fodale is pondering at the moment as it relates to her college athletic future.
Should I golf or ski?
Fodale said if it was simply about what sport she wanted to do in college, it would be skiing.
“Skiing is my passion. I love it so much,” she said. “I love playing golf. But I love the adrenaline rush and how fast skiing is. I love the feeling of going fast on the snow. You can feel the wind on your cheeks, and when you get to the end of the run, you think back on your run and it feels like it didn’t happen because it’s so fast. But it’s really fun that way. I like that adrenaline boost.”
A few more factors add to the dilemma.
There are not many college ski programs, and they tend to load up with skiers from European countries.
Fodale also wants to study biology, and finding school with a golf or ski program that can help with that ambition is important also.
“Golf is much more attainable,” said Fodale, adding that Kalamazoo College has given her an offer to play golf.
While uncertain about the future, Fodale can at least focus on the present as the best female skier in the Detroit area, which is following up a recent past that saw her part of a Division 1 championship golf team at Adams in the fall.
Fodale finished the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final tied for eighth individually with a two-day score of 158 (82-76) to help Adams repeat as champion.
On the slopes, Fodale is the two-time reigning Division 1 champion in the slalom, topping even the best skiers from Northern Michigan schools.
Fodale said despite their contrasts, golf and skiing have complemented her as an athlete from a mental standpoint.
“At golf, I have gotten a lot better at perfecting the mindset of one hole at a time,” she said. “For skiing, you can take it on one run and one turn at a time. Not focus on the end result.”
In addition to winning the slalom for a third straight year at this season’s Finals on Feb. 26, Fodale also is motivated to win her first title in the giant slalom after three top-five finishes. Adams will compete in Division 2 this time, at Nubs Nob and is racing in its Regional today at Pine Knob in Clarkston.
“I do want to win the GS this year,” Fodale said. “I really feel like this year my GS has improved too. I think I have what it takes, and hopefully the results work in my favor.”
When she is not at high school practices or meets, Fodale spends her weekends competing in races conducted by the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, otherwise known as FIS.
Adams head coach Jaime Jackson said that during a recent meet in Canada, Fodale held her own against skiers in their mid-20s, ranking as the top U.S. racer at the event.
“It’s hard to improve on what she did last year,” Jackson said. “She has so much experience and so much skill, whenever she’s not having a great run, she still is having a great run.”
Given that, there certainly isn’t much “coaching” Jackson has to do with Fodale, although there still is one important function he performs.
“Somebody has to put her name in the lineup, right,” Jackson quipped.
It’s been a frustrating winter for Fodale and other ski teams that have seen their season impacted by warm weather that has melted snow and created slushy conditions.
Ironically, the weather lately has been warmer than Fodale played in on the second day of Golf Finals weekend in October when it was windy, chilly and rainy at Forest Akers West.
But with a colder forecast for the latter half of February, Fodale should be nicely set up to win a third Finals title in the slalom and her first in the giant slalom.
Once the finals are over, the big question will intensify.
Should she golf or should she ski?
“I’m still figuring that out,” Fodale said.
If her high school athletic career is an indication, it won’t really matter. Whatever Fodale decides to do, she’ll thrive.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Rochester Adams’ Katie Fodale finishes a run during last season’s Division 1 Ski Finals. (Middle) Fodale, third from left, celebrates her team’s Division 1 golf championship in the fall. (Top photo by Sports in Motion, middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)