Finals Preview: Chasing the Champions

November 15, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Farmington Hills Mercy is expected to add to its girls swimming and diving dynasty this weekend. Holland and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood are predicted to take another step in building theirs. 

All three reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula champions are ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions heading into Friday's Finals preliminaries. 

But it's not that easy, and especially after some movement among the divisions. In 2011, Mercy moved up from Division 2 to win Division 1. But this fall, top teams from all three divisions have done some shifting to others, which should cause some reordering by the time Saturday's championship races are done. 

All three Finals will be streamed live on Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.

Here's a look at the team favorites, plus a few individuals to remember:  

Division 1 at Holland Aquatic Center

Farmington Hills Mercy and Saline are tied for the No. 1 ranking after combining to win the last three championships. Mercy is seeking its sixth straight; the Marlins moved up to Division 1 and won last fall after five straight championships in Division 2. Saline finished 14.5 points back last season after winning in both 2009 and 2010. Holland West Ottawa, seventh last season, is expected to make a move and comes in ranked No. 3.

Farmington Hills Mercy – The Marlins have 19 individual seeds, plus all three relays, among the top 16 in those events. An incredible group of sophomores leads the way – Kathleen McGee has the second-best seed times in both the 200-yard freestyle (1:52.83) and 500 (4:59.74), Maddy Loniewski has the fastest in the 200 individual medley (2:05.91) and fifth-best in the breaststroke (1:05.86), and Roxanne Griffore has the fifth fastest in the 50 (24.23) and seventh in the 100 freestyle (53.37).

Saline – A strong group of seniors will try to match the boys championship in March, and they’re off to a good start with 14 swim seeds plus all three relays among the top 16 of their events heading into Friday. Senior Maddy Frost swims on two of those relays and also has the sixth-best seed time in the 50 (24.38) and seventh-best in the backstroke (58.15). Senior Emily Lau is on two relays and senior Cristina Czyrka is on one, and both also qualified in multiple individual events. Those three were on the 200 medley relay that set the Division 1 Finals record of 1:45.97 last season.

Holland West Ottawa – The Panthers have 15 individuals plus all three relays among the top 16 seeds in those events, and one of the best chances at setting a new meet record. Seniors Colleen VandePoel, Chelsea Rish, Anna Battistello and Caroline Fender have swum the 200 medley relay in 1:45.51, a little more than four tenths of a second faster than Saline’s record time in 2011. Those four also combine for six of the team’s top-16 seeds. Senior Anna Babinec has the team’s highest, the third-fastest time in the 50 (24.12) and the fourth in the 100 freestyle (52.45).

More to remember – Waterford Kettering sophomore Maddie Wright is favored to add two more individual championships to those she won during her first season. She’s seeded first in the 200 freestyle (1:50.15) and the butterfly (55.27), the races she won in 2011. Hudsonville senior Danielle Freeman has the top seeds in both sprints – 23.49 in the 50 and 51.41 in the 100 freestyle – after taking third in both last season.

Division 2 at Oakland University

After three straight runner-up finishes, Holland claimed its first MHSAA team title in 2011 and is the top-ranked team again returning a number of significant contributors from that championship effort. Grosse Pointe South was fourth last year and is ranked No. 2, but both could be pushed by a pair that placed well in Division 1 last season – Ann Arbor Skyline, which is ranked No. 3 and finished sixth in D1 in 2011, and Bloomfield Hills Marian, which finished third in Division 1 last fall and is ranked No. 4 heading into Friday.

Holland – Holland is set up to score big points again with 14 individual seeds among the top 16 in their events and all three top-seeded relays. Star Courtney Bartholomew graduated, but a crew of standouts have kept the team rushing ahead. Junior Cassie Misiewicz is the reigning champion in the 500 and seeded first again with a time of 5:02.12; she has the second-best time in the 200 freestyle (1:53.35). Sophomore Taylor Garcia has the top seed times in the backstroke (55.43) and butterfly (54.95) after winning the latter and the 50 last season. Junior Holly Morren has the top seed time in the 50 (24.04) and the second-fastest in the 100 freestyle (51.7), and senior Melissa Vandermeulen has the top seed in the breaststroke (1:04.09).

Grosse Pointe South – The Blue Devils have eight individual seeds plus all three relays among the top 16 in their events, and two divers competing as well. They’re led by the DeLoof sisters – junior Gabby and senior Catie – who swim on two relays ranked among the top five. Gabby DeLoof also has the third seed time in the 200 individual medley (2:07.61) and the second-best in the backstroke (57.31), while Catie won the 100 freestyle last season and has the third-best time in that race (52.18) and the eighth in the 50 (24.67). They’re joined on those two relays by freshman Jennifer Maiorana, plus freshman Claire Young on the 200 medley and junior Cassandra Morse on the 400 free. Maiorana has two top-16 individual seeds, including the seventh-best time in the butterfly (58.77).

Ann Arbor Skyline – Although ranked behind Grosse Pointe South, Skyline might be the team best in position to catch Holland. The Eagles are led by a reigning Division 1 champion in senior Ashley Shanley, who won the breaststroke at that Final last season and has the second-seeded time in that event (1:04.61) and the top seeded in the 200 individual medley (2:06.08). Those are two of 10 top-16 individual seeds, and all three relays are ranked second right behind those from Holland. Senior Rebecca Dickey, junior Shannon Cowley and freshman Katie Portz all are seeded among the top eight in both of their individual events. Those four swim together on the 400 freestyle relay.

More to remember – Bloomfield Hills Marian sophomore Mollie Pulte swims on two top relays and has the top seeds in both of her individual events, the 200 freestyle (1:51.66) and the 100 freestyle (51.42). She was third in the 200 and fifth in the 100 at the Division 1 Final last season. East Grand Rapids senior Olivia Kassouni has won the Division 3 diving championship the last two seasons and will try to add one more against some new competition.

Division 3 at Eastern Michigan University

After two straight runner-up finishes to East Grand Rapids, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood won its first team championship last season. East Grand Rapids moved into Division 2 this fall, but the Cranes must hold off local rival Bloomfield Hills Lahser as it seeks its first title in its final season before merging next year with Bloomfield Hills Andover. Plainwell, third last season, is ranked No. 3.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood – The Cranes are loaded for another run at the title and for the next few seasons as well. They are seeded among the top 16 in all three relays and 18 times individually – the breakdown being seven seeds by seniors, two by juniors, three by sophomores and six by freshmen. Senior Kylie Powrie is the reigning champion in the 500 and 200 freestyles; she’s tied for the third seed in the 200 (1:57.84) and her top seed time of 5:07.49 in the 500 is more than five seconds better than the second seed. Sophomore Lara Kokubo has the top-seeded time in the 100 freestyle (52.84) and the third-best (24.31) in the 50. Among those speedy underclassmen, freshmen Charlotte Lee and Anuschka Sambel both have two top-five seed times in their individual events.

Bloomfield Hills Lahser – The Knights return winners of three races last season. Junior Ines Charles won the backstroke and the butterfly and is tied with Adrian junior Jennifer Wagley for the top seed time in the butterfly (58.99) and has the top seed alone in the backstroke (57.99). Charles and the rest of her reigning champion 200 medley relay team – senior Lucy Ramonat and juniors Hailey Sambor and Mary Pilibosian – will go for another repeat. Pilibosian has the top seed time in the 200 individual medley (2:09.09) and is second only to Charles in the backstroke (58.78).

Plainwell – Although Plainwell has only four individual seeds (plus all three relays) among the top 16 in those events, the Trojans have a two-time reigning champion in sophomore Mallory Comerford. She won the 50 and the 100 freestyles last season, but this weekend has the top seed in the 200 freestyle (1:54.24) and third-fastest in the 500 (5:14.96). Sophomore Kim Jones was the runner-up diver last year.

More to remember – After finishing fourth in the breaststroke and fifth in the individual medley in 2011, Tecumseh senior Rachel Waite is seeded second in the IM (2:11) and first in the breaststroke (1:06.66). Holland Christian sophomore Sydney Asselin is seeded second in both the 500 and 200 freestyles, and junior teammate Ashlee Sall is seeded second in the 50 and 100.

PHOTO: A competitor pushes on during a race at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.

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.)