Pioneer Seniors Cap Careers By Leading Team to 3rd-Straight Finals Title

By Tim Robinson
Special for

November 19, 2022

ROCHESTER — Ann Arbor Pioneer girls swimming coach Stefanie Kerska got her way in Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship meet. 

The Pioneers won eight events in getting out to a big lead early, and on the way to winning their third-consecutive Finals championship.

Pioneer finished with 322 points, 104 more than second-place Northville. 

"I like that a lot,” she said with a grin. "People think close ones are great, but not for the coaches. We worked really hard to establish a lead, and these girls earned it.”

Saline’s Alice English dives on the way to winning that event after finishing second a year ago. It was the 19th overall title for Pioneer, one of Division 1’s premier programs, but it wasn’t a given going into the season, not after the Pioneers graduated an outstanding senior class after last season.

"I’m just so proud of this team in general,” Pioneer senior captain Sophia Guo said. "We had some big shoes to fill coming into this meet, and I think we really stepped up to the plate. I know me along with the other seniors were so happy this was the way we got to end our high school careers. I’m just so proud of us. 

“We had to swim with our hearts today,” Guo continued. "We swam for each other, and I really think that made the difference.”

Among the difference-makers was Stella Chapman, who set a meet record in the backstroke and won the individual medley; Lucy Mehraban, who was on two winning relays, won the 50 freestyle and finished second to Guo in the 100 freestyle, and Kate Van Ryn, a freshman who was on three winning relays. 

“To put a ninth-grader in with that kind of pressure was ... I would like to say a gamble. But it wasn’t,” Kerska said. "I knew her preparation was thorough, she was up to the challenge and she really came through for her team.”

Another freshman who made a big splash was West Bloomfield’s Elizabeth Eichbrecht, who won both the 200 and 500 freestyles. 

Northville finished second for the second consecutive year. Among the team leaders was Emily Roden, who ended her career the same way she started it, winning the 100 butterfly. 

"I really dialed in on my training, and I knew what I had to do,” Roden said. "I focused a lot more, focused out of the water, and enjoyed it more. We have a great team and I had a lot of fun, and it helped me this year.”

Livonia Stevenson’s McKenzie Siroky swims to a repeat in the breaststroke.Saline senior Alice English won the diving competition after finishing second last year.

"My goal was constant improvement since my freshman year, so to get first was really nice,” she said, noting a slow start in Friday’s preliminaries. "Yesterday wasn’t my day, but I pulled it out today and I’m really happy with it.”

After accepting the championship trophy, the Pioneers joined hands and leaped into the diving pool together, followed closely by their coaches. 

For Kerska, winning a third title in a row was anything but old hat.

"The pressure mounts a little bit each year to try and outdo the year before, but no, it never gets old,” she said. "These girls, from day 1, stepped up, took the reins and really took responsibility of the tradition that we have going here and never looked back.”

And, as a result, Guo and her fellow seniors finished their careers with three team state titles. 

“It’s a great feeling,” she said. ‘We all worked so hard, and it really showed today."

Click for full results

PHOTOS (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Sophia Guo, right, embraces teammate Lucy Mehraban after their 100-yard freestyle race Saturday. (Middle) Saline’s Alice English dives on the way to winning that event after finishing second a year ago. (Below) Livonia Stevenson’s McKenzie Siroky swims to a repeat in the breaststroke. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.) 

3 Receive National Honors from NHSACA, Coaching Pair Named to Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

July 11, 2024

One of the longest-serving members of the MHSAA Representative Council and two longtime Michigan high school coaches have received highest honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Brighton athletic director John Thompson was named Athletic Director of the Year during the NHSACA’s annual conference June 26 in Bismarck, N.D. He has supervised the Bulldogs’ highly-accomplished athletic program for two decades and served on the Representative Council the last 14 years, including currently as vice president.

Thompson also this year received the Thomas Rashid Athletic Director of the Year Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Brighton was selected as an MIAAA exemplary athletic program in 2015 and as an ESPN unified champion school in 2018, the latter recognizing its statewide leadership in cultivating unified sport opportunities.

Additionally, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and Livonia Stevenson girls swimming & diving coach Greg Phil were named NHSACA National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Kowalski completed her 46th season coaching Mercy last fall by leading the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. She also in January was named the 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in her sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Hall of Fame this year for both golf and bowling.

Phil has coached girls swimming & diving since 1976, including at Stevenson since 1985. After winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, the most recent of several league championships under his leadership, Stevenson finished 16th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and previously had placed Finals runner-up twice. Phil was named to the MHSCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All three honorees were nominated for the national recognition by the MHSCA. Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff, now-retired Leland volleyball coach Laurie Glass, Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis coach Eric Gajar and Lowell wrestling coach R.J. Boudro also were National Coach of the Year finalists.

Additionally, longtime softball coaches Kay Johnson of Morenci and Kris Hubbard from Ottawa Lake Whiteford were inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. Johnson went over 1,000 career wins this spring and has led her program since 1993, including to Class C championships in 1985 and 1986. Hubbard retired after the 2019 season with an 865-380-3 record since taking over in 1974, with Class D titles in 1984, 1985 and 1987.