Mercy Regains Top Spot in Division 1

November 23, 2013

By Jon Malavolti
Special to Second Half

ROCHESTER – The Marlins are back. Back on top.

Farmington Hills Mercy reasserted its status as MHSAA champion by out-swimming the competition at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final on Saturday at Oakland University.

Mercy, which won five straight titles from 2007-11 before finishing second last year, scored 271 points en route to reclaiming another crown.

“We all worked together on this,” Mercy junior Roxy Griffore said. “We had a really great team, and we worked really hard.”

Marlins coach Shannon Dunworth said the team quietly went about its business all season long, working long every day, knowing what lay ahead and with it all leading to this moment.

“I think all year long we had high expectations, but we don’t talk about it,” he said. “The battle is every day in practice. You don’t do a length without measuring up. Even though this happened so quick, it was three full months of preparing.

“We’re fortunate to have them the few months that we do, and take advantage of all the work they do year round.”

As for starting another streak of MHSAA titles, Dunworth wasn’t too worried about that.

“Every group is unique,” he said. “I never cheapen it with how many in a row. This team only has the chance to win it one time, and they did. And that’s great. Next year will be a whole different ball game.”

Griffore was the Marlins’ lone individual champion on the day, winning the 50-yard freestyle. She also finished fourth in the 100 freestyle.

“She’s a very quiet, unassuming individual,” Dunworth said of the junior nicknamed “Gator.” “She’s an alligator when she gets in the pool. I spend a lot of time working with her, and it’s a big reward for me.”

Griffore also swam on two Mercy relay teams that racked up points, the first-place 200 freestyle relay and the second-place 200 medley relay. In the 200 freestyle, she teamed up with juniors Maddy Loniewski and Alaina Skellett and freshman Kathleen McGee. In the 200 medley, it was senior Elliot Schinella, senior Hannah Knoop, sophomore Ellyse Conn and Griffore. Loniewski, Skellett, McGee and Schinella later teamed up to take fourth in the 400 freestyle relay and wrap up the overall title.

The Marlins needed every point they could get to stay ahead of the competition, including second-place Saline (251 points), third-place Ann Arbor Skyline (177), fourth-place South Lyon (169) and fifth-place Rockford (127).

“We have tremendous respect for everybody here because we know how hard our kids work, and just to get here, you have to be very dedicated and very determined,” Dunworth said. “So you want to beat people you have the utmost respect for. The Skylines, the Salines, the Rockfords, the South Lyons, that makes it worthwhile. There were a lot of fast swims.”

Saline relied on not only fast swimming to score points, but strong diving as well. Freshman Amy Stevens won the diving crown, while teammates Miranda Eberle, a sophomore, took third and fellow freshman Camryn McPherson finished sixth.

Stevens said she and her teammates worked hard all year to reach this point and was proud to see it pay off.

“I was really happy to see the finish of all them,” Stevens said. “Personally I did a lot of work this season, and it just helped seeing the success of my teammates around me. That helped me work harder. Miranda was there pushing me the whole season to get better, as I was pushing her to get better. The competition was very talented.”

Saline diving coach Alex Gauvin said most of the Hornets’ pressure comes from themselves, not outside competition.

“I’ve never had a harder working group of girls. It shows up and pays off,” he said. “We use that in practice all the time,” he added, referring to competing against each other. “Having that friendly competition on the team (helps) a lot. I couldn’t be happier with the way that they dove today. It’s going to be a good couple of years at Saline.”

Skyline slipped past South Lyon in the final event, the 400 freestyle relay. The teams had been tied at 137 points heading into the finale, which the Eagles won, thanks to the team of freshman Emma Cleason, sophomore Kaelan Oldani, senior Shannon Cowley and sophomore Katie Portz. Cleason, Cowley, Portz and freshman Kate Orringer had earlier teamed up to win the 200 medley relay in record-setting fashion with a meet-best time of 1:44.45. Portz also won the 100 freestyle for Skyline, a program rapidly on the rise after finishing as the runner-up in LP Division 2 last year.

“I continually say I’m the luckiest person I know, because I get great athletes, I get unbelievable parents who allow me to coach and support me when I want to do my job, and not everybody has that luxury. So that’s what really makes a difference here,” Skyline coach Maureen Isaac said. “And these swimmers totally buy in to what we’re doing at Skyline. I ask them to work really hard, and they do, and clearly they get the rewards. And it’s just an amazing group. The karma on this team, and the vibe on this team, is just amazing.”

But Isaac and the Eagles aren’t content yet, hoping to add bigger and better things to their trophy case.

“We’re going to keep working on winning a title. Division 1, it’s so much harder, and we just set the bar and these kids found it. So that’s what’s really exciting, and so now we’re not afraid of that anymore. And so, just to get more and more qualifiers, and for us, it’s all about creating opportunities for more and more kids, and that’s what we want to do.”

Waterford United junior Miranda Tucker turned in one of the Finals’ most impressive performances in preliminaries of the 100 breaststroke, where Friday at Oakland she broke the LP Division 1, overall MHSAA and pool records with a time of 1:01.36. She ended up winning the event Saturday as well as finishing first in the 200 individual medley in 2:00.31.

“The competition helps a lot,” she said. “Everyone works so hard, and I know a lot of them well too. Even in the ready room we’re saying, ‘Good luck; hey you’re doing awesome today,’ but then once that music starts playing, and we start walking out, it’s just completely serious.”

Junior teammate Maddie Wright matched Tucker with a record-setting performance, turning in a time of 53.88 in the 100 butterfly setting LP Division 1, overall MHSAA and pool marks. She also finished first in the 200 freestyle.

“I was definitely really nervous today, this morning. But when I got to the pool, I did my warmup, I did everything I needed to do,” she said. “And when it came to the race, I wanted to win really bad. And I wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from me.”

South Lyon senior Chanel Bonin got in on the record-setting action as well, making her time of 54.16 the new backstroke standard in LP Division 1.

“It was, not just this season, but just putting forth effort all year long, really working at everything that I could, trying my best,” she said. “Last year I finished third in the 100 butterfly, and seventh in the backstroke, so coming out on top was kind of a big deal this year.”

Bonin was proud of her teammates as well, as South Lyon improved on its fifth-place finish from 2012.

“Our team did really well,” she said. “It was very unexpected for us to do what we did today. And everyone had amazing swims left and right. It was really exciting.”

Rounding out the first-place finishes was Northville freshman Laura Westphal, who outpaced the competition in the 500 freestyle.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Waterford United junior Miranda Tucker finishes up a record-setting swim of the 100 breaststroke. (Middle) Saline freshman Amy Stevens won the diving championship at her first MHSAA Finals. (Click to see 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.)