Dexter Secures D2 Title in Final Race

November 21, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

ROCHESTER HILLS — All of her obligations for the weekend were complete.

Sophomore Annette Schultz won three events and anchored the championship-clinching relay performance as Dexter edged East Grand Rapids by five points for the team title in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 meet Saturday at Oakland University.

She went through all of the post-meet celebrations, standing on the podium with her teammates to accept the trophy, diving into the pool with them and their coaches (still in street clothes), posing with the trophy and conducting an interview.

Everything started to sink in as Schultz picked up her belongings from the pool-side bleachers, the last Dexter swimmer to depart the deck.

"Whew!" she said. "What a fun week!"

Fun, indeed.

Schultz started the finals popping off Dexter's winning 200-yard medley relay team, won the 200 and 100 freestyle races and capped the championship by securing third place for the Dreadnaughts in the 400 relay.

Dexter needed to finish in the top five in the final event, which East Grand Rapids won. The 32 points the Dreadnaughts received for taking third gave them a 256-251 victory over the Pioneers, who moved into Division 2 after winning the Division 3 title the last two years.

It is the second MHSAA title for Dexter, which won Division 2 in 2002. The Dreadnaughts have been second seven times, including three times to East Grand Rapids, which has a record 19 MHSAA championships.

How much did it bother Schultz that she didn't win all four of her events?

"It's not a problem at all," she said with a smile. "I'm very proud of getting that third, because we got first overall."

Schultz's two individual victories came in stacked fields that featured swimmers with MHSAA titles on their resumes.

With a time of 1:47.89 in the 200 freestyle, Schultz won by a sizeable margin of 3.35 seconds over Rochester Adams senior Claire McGinnis, who would go on to win the 500 freestyle. Taking third was East Grand Rapids senior Emily Converse, who was on two winning relays Saturday after winning seven of her eight events the last two years in Division 3.

In the 100 freestyle, Schultz won in 50.34 seconds to edge Bloomfield Hills Marian junior Sophia Schott by 0.33 seconds. Earlier, Schott won the 50 freestyle. Taking third was East Grand Rapids' Gabby Higgins, who won four events in Division 3 last year and two relays on Saturday. Fifth-place Lexus VanHoven of East Grand Rapids has five career MHSAA victories in relays.

"The 100 freestyle was anyone's game," said Schultz, who was named the Division 2 Swimmer of the Meet by the coaches association. "That was a race to the death on that one. I was so glad I got that third one. That was cool. All those girls pushed me to get there."

With two events remaining, Dexter was in third place with 188 points, 20 behind East Grand Rapids. The Dreadnaughts' comeback started in the 100-yard breaststroke, which Dexter senior Lizzy Merriman won in 1:03.68. Senior Kate Mesaros picked up 16 crucial points by taking third in 1:04.15.

"I was really nervous going in, because last year I was seeded second going into the finals and ended up getting sixth," Merriman said. "It was good to have one of my teammates next to me racing me. I have to give some credit to her, because she's my building block, I guess. It was pretty painful, but still good."

The performances of Merriman and Mesaros gave Dexter a one-point lead over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and a 13-point cushion over East Grand Rapids.

The Dreadnaughts closed the deal when the 400 freestyle relay team of senior Sarah Lynch, sophomore Sarah Zofchak, sophomore Amelia Kinnard and Schultz took third. Schultz closed with a 100-yard leg of 49.61 seconds, the fastest split in the event.

"I gave them the game plan," Dexter coach Cory Bergen said. "Safe starts and go like (crazy) when you hit the water. I went over it about 1,000 times, so they knew. I have the fastest freestyler in the meet at the end; we knew what we had to do."

Forest Hills Central was also in contention heading into the final event, finishing third with 247 points. A remarkable 80 of those points came in diving, as the Rangers swept the first four places and added another all-state finish with a seventh.

Junior Erin Neely repeated as the diving champion with a score of 485.20 points, a Division 2 meet record and only 4.35 points shy of the Lower Peninsula all-Finals mark set by Albion's Elyse Lee in 2003.

"I just felt like it was any other meet," Neely said. "Just go in there and dive."

Sophomore Colleen Kramer was second, junior Nicki Bailey third, senior Allison Fitzgerald fourth and junior Nicole Carlson seventh for Forest Hills Central.

"We really push each other to do our best," Kramer said. "It's nice to compete against them, because I'm always trying to do better and better."

No other team has swept even the top three places in the Lower Peninsula Finals. By putting five divers in the top seven, Forest Hills Central eclipsed the five divers in the top 10 by Birmingham Groves at the 1983 Class A meet.

"All of them increased their (personal records) by at least 30 points, which is so cool to watch as a coach," said Forest Hills Central diving coach Jasmine Ramahi, a former diver for Grand Valley State University.

"What's so great is they're all so close competitively diving-wise, but they can put that aside and be friends. It's really cool to watch how they push each other, because they know they're each other's best competition."

Proving that the Rangers' program isn't one-dimensional, sophomore Felicity Buchmaier took to the pool in the first event after diving and won the 100 butterfly in 55.60 seconds. Buchmaier was third last year behind senior Taylor Garcia of Holland and sophomore Emma Cleason of Ann Arbor Skyline, which moved into Division 1.

"I had a little bit of a feeling, because Skyline had left to go to Division 1 and Taylor Garcia graduated," Buchmaier said. "I came in third last year, so subconsciously I guess it was in my mind, but I had never dreamed it. I started crying yesterday when I knew I was the first seed; it was crazy."

Senior Claire Young became the first Grosse Pointe South swimmer to win two events in the same MHSAA Finals, taking the 200 individual medley in 2:04.78 and the 100 backstroke in 55.20 seconds.

"It's amazing," Young said. "It's been four long years training and working with awesome teammates helping me through it."

Defending-champion Marian finished in fourth place with 214.5 points. Leading the Mustangs was one of the stalwarts from their championship team, junior Sophia Schott. She repeated as the 50 freestyle champion in a personal-best 22.99 seconds. She won in 23.66 seconds last year, and has five MHSAA titles to her credit.

"It was my goal this year to break 23," Schott said. "I'm so happy I did it. I know I could never have done it without my teammates' support. Right before a race when you're super, super nervous, like so scared, you just look at your teammates, take a deep breath and it's like, 'I can breathe; they're all supporting me.'"

Rochester Adams’ McGinnis, who competed in club swimming during the fall until this year, won the 500 freestyle in 4:59.18.

"I just wanted to have fun my senior year," said McGinnis, who will swim for the University of Miami (Fla.) next year. "I thought it'd be fun to come out and try to win the 500. I wanted to be more part of a team, too. It's been really fun. It's a different dynamic, but I'm really happy I got to be part of something like this."

East Grand Rapids put itself in a position to win by winning the 200 and 400 freestyle relays with the quartet of VanHoven, Hanna Sanford, Converse and Higgins. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Dexter celebrates its Division 2 championship from the top of the awards stand Saturday. (Middle) Swimmers launch into the pool for the backstroke championship race. (Click for more from

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.)