Garcia, 'Perfect' Again, Keys Holland

November 23, 2013

By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half

 YPSILANTI – Holland High School junior Taylor Garcia had a perfect day Saturday at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls swimming and diving championships.


One year after winning four titles (two individual and two relay), Garcia successfully defended all four championships at the Michael H. Jones Natatorium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.

Garcia’s performance led Holland to its third consecutive Division 2 team championship in convincing fashion with 287 points – far ahead of runner-up Portage Central (235) and third-place Bloomfield Hills.

 “It’s definitely very humbling,” Garcia said. “It definitely was a great experience.”

It definitely was a great performance, too.

Garcia and teammates Anna Giesler, Abi Johns and Clara Steeby opened the meet by winning the 200-yard medley relay. Last year, Holland won the same event with Garcia and three others.

Garcia went on to win the 100 butterfly for the third year in a row, breaking her LP Division 2 record with a time of 54.01 seconds – slightly faster than the record-setting 54.39 she swam in 2011.

“That was a fun little add-on,” Garcia said of the record. “It was something that I definitely had in the back of my mind that I wanted to accomplish.”

A few events later, she successfully defended her championship in the 100 backstroke in 52.95 – a second off the LP Division 2 record but faster than her winning time in 2012. The final MHSAA title came in the 400 freestyle relay – the final event of the meet – as Garcia teamed with seniors Holly Morren, Cassie Misiewicz and Emily Johns to finish first in 3 minutes, 27.79 seconds.

It meant a lot to the three seniors to swim that final race – the final race of their high school careers.

“It really sunk in during the 4 by 1(00),” Morren said. “We all kind of looked at each other and said, 'This is our last time,’ and we all started crying a little bit.”

Holland led that race from first splash to final touch.

“This is really a great moment, not only for this group but for all the groups that went before us and the younger girls who will be coming into this program,” said Garcia, who will enter her senior year with 12 individual and relay MHSAA championships and three team titles.

Holland had one other individual championship as Morren won the 50 freestyle in a side-by-side battle with Hanna Pfershy of Birmingham Groves. After winning the preliminary on Friday by two-hundredths of a second over Pfershy, Morren won Saturday by three-hundredths of a second over Pfershy (23.59 to 23.62).

“It was really hard to tell (who finished first), so I just looked at the board really quickly,” Morren said. “I couldn’t tell going into it.”

She said having Pfershy there to push her was a help.

“I think it definitely helps – it pushes you,” she said. “Like when you get tired and there’s not someone there pushing you, you kind of give up. But if there is someone right there, you find another gear.”

Morren also had a runner-up finish as she failed to successfully defend her 2012 title in the 100 freestyle, while Misiewicz was runner-up in the 200 and 500 freestyle events. Morren, Misiewicz, Giesler and Emily Johns also took second for Holland in the 200 freestyle relay.

Mollie Pulte of Bloomfield Hills Marian was the other individual double winner in the meet. Pulte won the 200 in 1:48.37 – a day after breaking the LP Division 2 Finals record with a time of 1:47.90 in the preliminaries. Then, Pulte set another meet record as she won the 100 in 49.87 seconds. The previous record of 49.96 was set by Emily Bos of Holland in 2009.

“It was awesome,” Pulte said. “I came out (Friday) and broke the state record, and I got my momentum going (Saturday) and did the best I can.”

Pulte also swam the anchor leg for Marian as it won the 200 freestyle relay in 1:35.24, again setting a meet record. Maren Taylor, Hannah Richard and freshman Sophia Schott swam the first legs and put Pulte in position to come from behind to win the event.

“They did a good job of keeping us up there, and I just wanted to get out there and race,” Pulte said. “You can normally see the person next to you when you breathe, but I just kept my head down and raced.”

Runner-up Portage Central had one champion in junior Madison Umberger, who won the 200 individual medley in 2:03.79, and Battle Creek Lakeview senior Brooke Rowe won the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.53.

Fraser senior Alli Shereda came from behind to win the diving with 412.10 points. She was in second place after the preliminaries and semifinals on Friday, and she was still second before her final dive – a front two-and-a-half tuck.

“Actually, that dive is one of my worst dives. So I just went at it like I meant it, and I really thought I went over a lot (on the entry),” said Shereda, who finished 10th last year. “I just focused and acted like it was a practice, because I always do my best at practice. I just acted like it was a bigger, fancier practice."

The best finish of the day might have been turned in by Bay City Western junior Krissy Harmon in the 500 freestyle. Harmon trailed Holland’s Misiewicz – the two-time defending champion in the event – by a substantial margin entering the final 50 yards and never grabbed the lead until the final few. She beat Misiewicz in 4:59.42; Misiewicz finished in 4:59.46.

“I didn’t see her until the finish,” Harmon said. “I’ve been working really hard on my back half, so I’m glad it paid off. I didn’t know if I could win; all I wanted to do was break five minutes. That was my goal.”

Misiewicz is one of several seniors who will be missed next year at Holland, and Morren felt it was a special group.

“I just felt like the seniors had a lot more leadership this year, and it was fun to be able to lead a bunch of the younger girls,” Morren said. “We’ve all grown really close, especially in the last two weeks. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know everyone on the team.”

Holland also had a first-year coach in Dan Kimble, the son of former coach Don Kimble, who coached the Holland girls for 10 years. Don Kimble moved on to Byron Center.

“I knew coming into this that there were some pretty big shoes to fill,” Dan Kimble said. “Luckily, I swam for him for a long time, and last year I was able to assist both the boys and the girls teams so I kind of got to see him in a bit of a different light on the deck.

“I feel like I had a decent amount of experience knowing the program and what’s been done in the past, and I just tried to continue it as much as possible.”

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PHOTO: (Top) A pair of Holland swimmers talk poolside during Saturday's Finals. (Middle) The Holland girls swimming and diving team poses with its Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship trophy after winning the meet for the third straight season.

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.)