Albrecht & Umstead Sisters Powering Jenison's Championship Pursuit

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

October 19, 2022

JENISON – A majority of high school relay teams feature four swimmers with different last names.

West MichiganAt Jenison, two pairs of talented sisters have been making two last names stand out.

The Albrecht sisters, Grace and Emma, and the Umstead sisters, Sophia and Layla, have combined this season to lead the Wildcats’ swimming & diving team with record-breaking performances.

The quartet recently set a school record in the 200-yard medley relay. They blazed a winning time of 1 minute, 44.34 seconds at the MISCA Meet, held at Calvin College. 

“Our fastest relay has been with those girls together, so it’s been two pairs of sisters just swimming fast,” Jenison swim coach Kyle Stumpf said. “It’s been cool watching these two sister groups kind of work with each other and support each other.

“They all have different personalities, so it’s fun to see that play out at practice.”

Grace Albrecht, a junior, is the oldest of the talented group and has experienced the most success by winning a pair of MHSAA Finals championships.

She won a Lower Peninsula Division 2 title in the 50 freestyle as a freshman and then repeated last season by tying Ann Arbor Skyline’s Claire Kozma. Both girls swam identical times of 23.94.

Albrecht has been even better this season, and posted a personal-best time of 23.37 at the MISCA Meet.

“For me, it’s more about having fun and enjoying the process,” she said. “Working hard and getting better every day, that’s my goal.” 

She also has enjoyed swimming with her younger sister for the first time in high school.

Emma Albrecht is only a freshman, but has posted several fast times as well.

“We’ve been swimming together since we were young girls, and we’ve gotten to know each other so well with every car ride to school and to and from meets and practices,” Grace Albrecht said. “We are like best friends now, and we just motivate and encourage each other every day. It’s been a good experience.”

Grace Albrecht, middle, begins her launch from the starting blocks during last season’s LPD2 50 freestyle final. Sophia Umstead, a sophomore, is swimming in high school for the first time after being a part of a club team.

She’s also embraced the opportunity to swim alongside her freshman sibling.

“It’s really fun swimming with Layla, and I enjoy it because in club we don’t always swim together,” said Sophia Umstead, who set a pool record and school record at the MISCA Meet in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:00.52, while also establishing a school record in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.17).

“All of us sisters get along well, and I love them all. Our personalities are different, but when it comes to swimming we are all very similar with our goals and how we want to be successful in the sport.”

The sisters became well acquainted while competing in club at a young age.

“We’ve known each other since we were little girls, and we’re all great friends,” Grace Albrecht said. “It’s definitely been a cool experience.”

Stumpf said the sisters’ bond and dedication have helped produce success.

“They have been performing at a high level for a number of years, and they have high expectations,” he said. “They train together and are always pushing each other. They all have different strengths, and it’s been a pleasure to be on the deck coaching them.”

Stumpf has been coaching Grace Albrecht since before high school and has marveled at her vast improvement.

“It’s been quite remarkable to watch how far she has come,” he said. “She is one who has high standards for herself and her teammates, and she leads by example. She pushes herself every single practice, and the results speak for themselves.”

Jenison had its best Finals team finish two years ago when it finished fifth in LPD2, and this team has the potential to achieve similar results.

“It’s definitely a group that is learning as we go, and we’ve gotten better as the season has progressed in terms of supporting each other, lifting each other up and pushing each other,” Stumpf said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what our team can do at the conference meet in three weeks and then at the state meet. I think we are going to perform well.”

Sophia Umstead also is looking forward to the postseason.

“It's been a different experience than club, but I really like this team and it’s been a very fun experience so far,” she said. “I think we can swim very well at the conference meet as a team, and I think we could get top three in the state. I’m excited to see how it’s going to go.”

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Jenison’s Albrecht and Umstead sisters have their team back among the state’s elite this season. (Middle) Grace Albrecht, middle, begins her launch from the starting blocks during last season’s LPD2 50 freestyle final. (Top photo courtesy of the Jenison girls swimming & diving program; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)

East Grand Rapids' Briggs to Receive Deserved Spotlight for Half-Century of Swim

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

May 17, 2024

EAST GRAND RAPIDS – When the idea was presented to celebrate his coaching milestone, Milton “Butch” Briggs balked at it.

West MichiganThe longtime East Grand Rapids swimming & diving coach doesn’t like to be the center of attention, although his teams certainly have been over the last 50 years as he’s established a pair of perennial state powerhouses. 

“He vehemently said, ‘No, we’re not doing this,’” Pioneers assistant girls coach Gwen Barnes said. “But it’s going to be super cool and so deserving. We need to mark this occasion as a community and swimming community. He has influenced so many people and been an active member of the community for a long time.”

On Saturday, the East Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Alumni Association will commemorate Briggs and his 50 years of coaching at the school.

Briggs took over the East Grand Rapids boys swimming & diving program for the 1972-73 season, and the girls program beginning in the fall of 1974. He has coached 102 seasons total, winning 26 MHSAA Finals championships with the girls and 12 with the boys.

Briggs has always wanted the focus to be on his teams rather than himself.

“He is not one who likes the spotlight,” retired Pioneers athletic director Tim Johnston said. “He is a very private man, but it is awesome that this group of alumni, swimmers and parents want to celebrate him.

“He is one of the best coaches I have ever had the opportunity to work with, but to be completely honest, he is a better person and more than just a coach. That is the truth.”

Past EGR swimmer Kris Ward was a member of the first girls state championship team in 1978.

“He had a huge impact on me,” Ward said. “Just from understanding hard work and dedication and being part of a team. Then following it through. He worked with a variety of people on the team and helped us to come together. It was all about life lessons, and he's teaching the kids that while still being successful.”

Briggs also coached Ward’s daughters Alex, Ashley and Abby.

“He was always about connecting with the kids,” Ward said. “My kids were all able to swim for him, and so I had that experience with him in a different way and seeing how he was with all of my girls on the team.

“He starts with connecting with one person and carries that through to make the success better.” 

Briggs, second from far left, celebrates the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship with his girls team. Barnes, an assistant coach for the girls team the past three years, also swam under Briggs from 1984-87.

Her teams won four straight Finals championships and never lost a dual meet.

“There were high expectations for us, and despite them being unspoken, we felt it,” Barnes said. “We wanted and felt this desire to do our best on that team each year, and he instilled this culture of commitment and hard work. Every swimmer had different abilities, but he was able to tap into getting us to do our best.”

Barnes has gained a different perspective of Briggs as his assistant.

While she noted that he still displays the same traits as far as his demeanor, sense of humor, kindness and patience, his devotion to the program and his student-athletes also has never wavered.

“Coaching with him as an assistant, you see how much work and time he puts in that goes unnoticed sometimes,” Barnes said. “To maintain that level of commitment for 50 years is pretty remarkable, and he still has this presence when on the pool deck that challenges everybody to do their best. He set the same standard for everyone, and everyone on the team feels important, which I think is cool.

“He weaves in a lot of stories and lessons from over the years and maintains traditions that I think make current teams feel like they are a part of and building onto the history.”

Briggs, who played football and ran track & field in high school, was inducted into the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame in 2009. The EGR natatorium was named after him in 2014.

Briggs, who taught at Ottawa Hills High School, has received national attention, too. In June 2020, he was named National Girls Swim Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. Briggs had received the same honor in 2011.

He wrote this of his coaching philosophy as part of the nomination for the NFHS girls swimming award:

“My coaching philosophy has been, and continues to be, a work in progress. I have formed relationships with hundreds of amazing young people. They have taught me life lessons in real time and real situations. As a neophyte coach, the experience revolved around winning. We worked together as a team, supported each other in and out of the pool, and won often. Thankfully, I became aware of the value within each athlete. Today, I attempt to interact with each athlete at every team activity and follow their progress in non-swimming endeavors. In short, when I removed my ego from the team's expectations and outcomes, the entire atmosphere was much more enjoyable and productive. And we are still capable of being successful. The Lord has put me in the right place at the right time.”

Ward said she expects about 200 people to attend Saturday’s celebration.

“He has impacted so many people in the swimming community, and there is something special in what he has created,” Ward said. “All of the kids on the current teams and their families will be there, as well as a lot of different generations. I also know that there will be people coming from far away.”

As far as Briggs’ future, Barnes doesn’t see him stepping down any time soon.

“I don’t really ever see him stopping,” she said. “His passion is EGR swim, and I think he will continue to be a part of the program as he can and wants to be.”

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Longtime East Grand Rapids swimming coach Butch Briggs, right, will be celebrated this weekend for his half-century of coaching the Pioneers. (Middle) Briggs, second from far left, celebrates the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship with his girls team. (Top photo by Kris Ward; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)