Preview: Anticipating a Few New Orders

November 16, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A change in division by one state power could change things up significantly at two of this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals.

Regular favorites are expected to contend again in Division 1 after Rockford emerged to claim its first title last year. But Division 2 will welcome East Grand Rapids after the Pioneers posted one of the all-time impressive wins in Division 3 last fall. And a number of contenders are looking to return to the podium in Division 3 after EGR won three of the last four titles.

Prelims are Friday, and championship competition is Saturday. Below is a look at team contenders and top individuals to watch at all three Finals. All three will be broadcast live on and covered with stories posted to Second Half later Saturday evening. Click for full meet information including times and event orders. 

LP Division 1 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Rockford
2016 runner-up: Farmington Hills Mercy
2017 top-ranked: 1. Saline, 2. Farmington Hills Mercy, 3. Rockford.

Saline and Mercy are expected to push each other for the top spot – Saline is going for its first title since 2014 and Mercy for its first since 2013, although the Marlins have finished among the top two five of the last six seasons. Saline has 14 swimmers/relays seeded among the top 16 plus two divers competing – and among those 14 on the swim side are six top seeds, including two in the relays. Mercy doesn’t have a top seed, but does have 14 swimmers seeded to score plus three competing divers. Rockford has only 16 athletes/relays total, but 12 are seeded to score swim points and its diver was third at her Regional.

Casey Chung, Ann Arbor Skyline sophomore – Chung is top-seeded in the backstroke (54.69) and also will swim the 50 and on the 400 freestyle and top-seeded 200 medley relays. She finished 11th in the individual medley and fourth in the backstroke last season.

Johanna Jorgenson, Saline sophomore – After taking fifth in both the 50 and 100 freestyles last season, Jorgenson is seeded first in both at 23.05 and 50.30 seconds, respectively. She also could swim on the top-seeded 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Morgan Kraus, Rockford junior – Kraus was second in the butterfly and third in the backstroke in 2016, and enters this weekend with the third seed in the 50 (23.38) to go with her top seed in the butterfly (54.63).

Maddie Luther, Saline junior – The reigning champion in the 200 and runner-up in the 500 freestyles is top-seeded in the 200 (1:48.11) by three seconds and second-seeded in the 500 (5:04.11), while also possibly swimming on the two top-seeded freestyle relays.

Katie Minnich, Farmington Hills Mercy senior – Minnich is looking to cap her career with a fourth straight backstroke championship; she is seeded second to Chung in that race at 55:04 and also third in the IM at 2:05.02

Georgia Mosher, Ann Arbor Skyline senior – Mosher has won two straight 500 freestyle championships and enters seeded eighth (5:06.08) in that race but fourth in the breaststroke (1:04.62). She also could swim on the top-seeded medley relay.

Lola Mull, Grand Ledge sophomore – Mull has the top seed in the 500 at 4:48.66, more than five seconds faster than the field, and is seeded second in the 200 freestyle (1:51.10). She finished sixth in the 200 and third in the 500 last season.

Lizzy Spears, Saline senior – After finishing third in the IM and eighth in the breaststroke last fall, Spears has the top seed in the IM (2:01.37) and third in the butterfly (55.41). She also is an option to swim on both top-seeded freestyle relays.

Ashley Turak, Farmington/Harrison junior – After entering last season’s Final with top-two seeds in both freestyle sprints, Turak finished second in the 50 and fourth in the 100. She enters this weekend in a similar spot – second-seeded in the 50 (23.15) and the 100 (50.52). 

Claire Tuttle, Hudsonville sophomore – Tuttle finished third in the breaststroke as a freshman and carries the top seed in that race this time at 1:02.49. She’ll also swim the 100 freestyle.

Saline 200 freestyle relay – The Hornets are seeded first with a time of 1:35.19, identical to the time they swam last season that ranks fourth in LPD1 Finals history and is eight tenths of a second off the meet record.

Zain Smith, Ann Arbor Skyline junior – Smith won her Diving Regional last week with a score of 436.95, the third-highest Regional score in Division 1, and is the top returning finisher from last year’s Final after coming in second to graduated champion Camryn McPherson of Saline.

LP Division 2 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: Birmingham Seaholm
2016 runner-up: Dexter
2017 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Dexter, 3. Birmingham Seaholm.

Last season’s LP Division 3 champion East Grand Rapids is back in Division 2, where it finished runner-up to Dexter in 2015. The Pioneers’ return didn’t affect their ability to qualify – EGR has all three relays and 16 individuals seeded among the top 16 of their events, with two top seeds, plus four divers competing. Without EGR in the mix last year, Seaholm finished 37.5 points ahead of the Dreadnaughts. Dexter has 12 individuals and all three relays seeded to score, plus two divers, while Seaholm has 11 individuals and three relays seeded to score and two divers as well.

Royal Oak senior Julia Boswell – Boswell is seeded to finish her career with a second championship but in a different race, carrying the top seed in the 200 freestyle (2:05.24) by more than two seconds after winning the 500 a year ago. She is seeded second in the 500 (4:58.91), only 42 hundredths of a second from topping that list too. She also took a 10th in the IM last year.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Felicity Buchmaier – The reigning champion in the backstroke and butterfly has won three individual titles total over the last two seasons. This weekend, she’s seeded second in the butterfly (56.79) and third in the backstroke (57.75).

East Grand Rapids senior Ileah Doctor – The reigning Division 3 champion in the 50 and breaststroke also is seeded first at this meet in the 50 (23.12) and second in the 100 freestyle (51.87). She also could swim on the top-seeded 200 freestyle relay and second-seeded medley relay.

Birmingham Seaholm senior Haley Dolan – Dolan won the 50 in 2016 and also swam on two championship relays. She’s seeded fourth in the 50 (24.05), 15th in the 100 and is an option on all three relays including the top-seeded medley.

Grosse Pointe South junior Clarice Fisher – She enters with the top seed in the butterfly (56.13) ahead of reigning champion Buchmaier, plus has the sixth seed in the breaststroke (1:07.13). Fisher was second in the butterfly and eighth in the IM last year.

East Grand Rapids junior Sydney Higgins – Last season’s backstroke champion in Division 3 brings more EGR star power back to Division 2; she’s seeded seventh in the backstroke (59.71) and will swim the IM and possibly two relays including the medley.

Rochester Adams junior Lisa Lohner – She finished ninth in the 500 and qualified in the 200 free in Division 1 last season, but is lined up for a big meet with the top seed in the 500 (4:58.49) and second seed in the 200 (1:52.80). She also could swim on the top-seeded 400 freestyle and second-seeded 200 freestyle relays.

Midland Dow sophomore Claire Newman – After finishing second in both the 50 and 100 freestyles as a freshman, Newman is expected to break through with at least one title. She’s seeded second in the 50 (23.69) behind Doctor and first in the 100 (51.44) ahead of her, plus could swim on the second-seeded 400 freestyle relay.

Dexter senior Annette Schultz – With a combined four individual and two relay championships over the last two seasons, Schultz enters as one of the anticipated stars again this weekend. She’s fourth-seeded in the 100 (52.49) and top-seeded in the 200 (1:52.73) freestyles as she attempts to win both for the third straight season.

Allison Steffin, Temperance Bedford senior – Steffin took sixth in the breaststroke and was part of a runner-up relay a year ago. She’s top-seeded in the breaststroke (1:05.09) and also will swim the IM.

Grosse Pointe North senior Sam Villani – After finishing third in the backstroke and sixth in the 100 freestyle in 2016, Villani has the sixth seed in the 100 (53.10) but the top seed in the backstroke (56.52).

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central junior Anna Hansen – The reigning Finals diving champion’s Regional score last week of 454.45 was more than 28 points higher than anyone else’s in Division 2. She won last year’s title by just more than six points over Fenton’s Taylor Shegos, a senior who also was a Regional champ last week. 

LP Division 3 at Eastern Michigan University

Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2016 runner-up: Bloomfield Hills Marian
2017 top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Holland Christian.

East Grand Rapids put up an incredible 512 points to win Division 3 a year ago, but is in Division 2 this weekend. But Marian put up a similarly impressive 364 points to finish second last year, 189 points ahead of the rest of the field. The Mustangs enter this weekend with four top seeds among their three relays and 13 individuals seeded to score. Cranbrook Kingswood, seventh last season, has three relays and nine individual swimmers seeded to score, and Holland Christian will attempt to move up from third last year with three relays and 11 swimmers seeded to score plus two divers competing.

Bloomfield Hills Marian senior Lauren Biglin – The reigning champion in both races is seeded first in the 200 (1:51.67) and 500 (5:04.80), the latter by nearly nine seconds. She also could swim on top-seeded 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Milan senior Madelyn Cislo – She’s seeded to repeat as the champion in the IM, entering with a time of 2:05.95 that’s more than five seconds better than anyone else’s in Division 3. Cislo also is seeded second in the butterfly after finishing third last season.

South Haven freshman Ellie Frost – Arguably the fastest of a standout group of freshmen as this meet, Frost is seeded first in the 100 freestyle (53.21) and second in the 50 (24.21).

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep sophomore Rhianna Hensler – She had quite a debut last season, setting a meet record in the butterfly (56.21) and finishing 11th in the IM. Hensler is top-seeded in the butterfly (55.13) with a time that would break her record, and she’s also top-seeded in the 50 (23.76).

Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior Susan LaGrand – LaGrand finished second in both the butterfly and IM last season after winning both as a sophomore. LaGrand and Hensler both broke LaGrand’s meet record in the butterfly last year; LaGrand will try to finish back on top in that race and enters with the third seed (58.18) and the top seed in the backstroke (57.55).

St. Clair senior Molly Likins – After finishing second in the breaststroke and qualifying in the 50 last year, Likins will swim both races again and is seeded first in the breaststroke (1:05.26) by nearly three seconds. She also could swim on the second-seeded medley relay.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood freshman Gwen Woodbury – Another standout freshman, Woodbury is seeded third in the 200 freestyle (1:54.85) and second in the 100 (53.31) only a tenth of a second behind Frost. She also could swim on any of relays including two seeded second.

Milan junior Mackenzie Crawford – The reigning diving champion won last year’s Final by more than 62 points, and her 431.25 at last week’s Regional was 64.5 points ahead of her field and the second highest in the division.

Wayland senior Allyson Schafer – She finished second in diving last season to Crawford, but posted the highest Regional score in the division last week at 449.15. 

PHOTO: Swimmers launch during a race at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 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.)