Mustangs Pull Ahead During Final Events with Championship-Clinching Speed

By Dan D'Addona
Special for Second Half

November 19, 2022

HOLLAND – Bloomfield Hills Marian and Holland Christian were in a fight to the finish at the Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Swimming & Diving Finals.  

Marian used a late surge to hold off the home-pool Maroons and win the championship with 245 points. 

Holland Christian was second with 230.5, followed by Milan (208), while Adrian (154.5), Grand Rapids Christian (148.5), Wayland (130), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (128.5), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (90), Detroit Country Day (87) and Dundee (82) rounded out the top 10. 

"When it came down to it, I knew we needed a lead going into the 400 free relay. Milan and Holland Christian perform so well every year," Marian coach Dave Eichenhorn said. "We knew it would be a major task. The girls bought in. There was nothing but faith and trust. I am not surprised by the performance, but I am surprised at how great it was."

The meet started with Bloomfield Hills Marian winning the 200 medley relay. Lily Low, Rachel Bello, Marianna Becharas and Axelle Ballarin won the event in 1:48.67. Holland Christian was second (1:49.63) and Wayland was third (1:49.94). 

A Holland Christian swimmer competes in the backstroke.Bello won the 100 breaststroke as well to help clinch the title, overcoming the points deficit on paper heading into the Finals. Marian entered the meet ranked No. 3 behind Holland Christian and Milan.

"It is the overall energy of the team. It is so positive and encouraging," Bello said. "The energy never stopped. It means so much to us. We haven't won since 2014, and it was such a close meet. I couldn't ask for a better state meet."

The Maroons were close and led a couple of times late before Marian's stellar final three events. The runner-up finish was Holland Christian's highest since 1997. 

"We talked about being content with whatever we walked away with. Today, this is what we had and they just happened to have some really talented girls who swam really well this weekend," Holland Christian coach Lisa Myrick said. "They had more than we had today.”

Here is a look at how the events unfolded: 

The 200 freestyle was won by Milan's Annabelle Williams (1:54.09), finishing ahead of Detroit Country Day's Ella Dziobak (1:54.45) and Trenton's Sophia Shaul (1:54.51). 

Bello claimed the 200 IM in 2:06.08, ahead of Flat Rock's Lauren McNamara (2:07.21) and Standish's Scarlet Maison (2:08.30). 

Wayland's Laney Wolf won the 50 freestyle in 23.89, ahead of Adrian's Ella Salenbien (24.39) and Ogemaw Heights' Kiera Danitz.

Grosse Ile's Kaitlyn Molnar won diving (360.05), ahead of Haslett's Ali Viaches (340.00) and Hamilton's Anevay Hager (336.5). 

An LPD3 finalist swims the breaststroke.In the 100 butterfly, Flat Rock's McNamara won in 55.26, ahead of Notre Dame Prep's Emma Ciesla (58.29) and South Haven's Abby Wettlaufer (59.46). 

Wolf doubled up after winning the 50 free and claimed the 100 free in 51.93. St. John's Ella Schafer was second (52.24), followed by Milan's Annabelle Williams (52.46).

Dziobak won the 500 freestyle in 5:04.23, followed by Shaul (5:04.30) and Milan's Phoebe Rhoney (5:18.18).  

Marian's Low, Ballarin, Lena McKenney and Bello won the 200 freestyle relay (1:38.72) ahead of Holland Christian (1:39.55) and Milan (1:39.77). 

Cranbrook Kingswood's Julijana Jelic won the 100 backstroke in 57.35, ahead of Ionia's Madeline McGee (59.19) and Dundee's Joslyn Ball (59.49). 

Bello won the 100 breaststroke in 1:05.44, ahead of Mason (1:06.91) and Schaefer (1:07.24). 

Adrian's Francesca Scarabottolo, Eleanora Andre, Emily Hess and Ella Salenbien won the 400 free relay (3:37.18). Milan was second (3:37.83), and Marian was third (3:41.85).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS by High School Sports Scene

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.)