Holland Pushes Championship Streak to 2

November 17, 2012

By Jon Malavolti
Special to Second Half

ROCHESTER – After wading through three straight runner-up finishes before claiming its first MHSAA title last fall, Holland High won its second straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls swimming and diving championship Saturday at Oakland University.

“The girls did a great job,” Dutch coach Don Kimble said. “We had some kids that really swam really well. It’s tough to replace a team like we did last year. We had a great senior class last year, tough shoes to fill. They stepped up. There was a lot of pressure was on them.”

Holland won all three relays and finished first in four individual races, eventually ending up with 311.5 points.

Sophomore Taylor Garcia led the way, winning the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke, as well as competing on the first-place 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays. She was named the Swimmer of the Year by the Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association. 

Garcia said winning the award was “very humbling.”

“I’m glad I had my team here to help me accomplish it,” she said.

Garcia added that it was a great experience for her team to defend its title.

“Especially after last year, it was just an incredible year, and I think to come back and prove that we still have a lot of talent in our program, I think it says a lot about how far we’ve come,” she said.

The addition of new squads, along with some annual powerhouses, made the meet a competitive one.

“This is a faster meet this year than it was last year,” Grosse Pointe South coach Eric Gunderson said. “The cuts were faster to get in, the top 16, and top 8 times across the board were faster.”

Rochester Adams coach Tim Hickey called the meet “insanely fast.”

“We had a few new teams in our division, which really made things a lot faster this year.”

One of the new additions to Division 2 was this year’s second-place finisher – Ann Arbor Skyline. The Eagles ended up with 255.5 points.

“We’re so proud,” Skyline junior Shannon Cowley said. “We have so many awesome people. I could not be happier.”

Skyline coach Maureen Isaac said her team, which swam at the Division 1 Final last year, performed well in preliminaries and was glad to see it carry over into the finals.

“Yesterday we did what we wanted to do, they were perfect Friday swims, and we also knew we hadn’t scored one point,” Isaac said. “So we had to come back and do it today, and the preparation really fell into place for us.”

Senior Ashleigh Shanley paced the Eagles, winning the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke titles, while also swimming on the second-place 400 relay and third-place 200 medley relay.

Isaac said that the team knew it had a “huge opportunity” to do well this year – which was just the program’s fifth of existence.

“It’s just been an unbelievable experience,” she said of the Eagles’ growth. “You don’t have any baggage, every rule is your own, every expectation for the kids. It is an exceptional situation, and I know part of it is because we got to start from scratch and really build it how we wanted to. And they have completely bought into it.”

Kimble had high praise for Holland’s next closest finisher, impressed by how far they’ve come.

“The addition of Skyline was great,” he said. “That speaks to those kids and the parents and the coaches; everybody’s put in time. That’s a unique situation where they’ve grown, it’s tough to start on the ground floor like that. But very good job.”

The day’s lone record-breaking performance came in the diving competition, as Walled Lake Western senior Allie Murphy finished first with 442.80 points – just enough to edge the old record of 441.80 set by Holland’s Paige Kortman in 2009.

“I’ve been working hard all season to get state champion,” Murphy said. “The record is a bonus.”

Murphy said she was looking up the record recently and figured she was capable of doing it, and was excited to accomplish it. Yet things didn’t start out in record-breaking fashion, as she struck the board on one of her early attempts during the finals.

“I got really nervous,” Murphy said.

But she bounced back quickly.

“I had to focus on the next dive,” she said. “Had to brush it off, had to realize I was still in the game.”
The MHSAA title is Murphy’s second Division 2 diving championship. She also won in 2010, but finished second in last fall. 

Murphy’s diving coach at Western, Casey Guntzviller, said her concentration and focus was “really impressive” at the finals.

“Something as simple as hitting the board can set you off, but instead she garnered her focus and strength and really finished strong,” he said.

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PHOTO: Swimmers take off during a race at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final on Saturday at Oakland University. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)