Preview: Past Champions Marching Again, but Plentiful Challenges Await

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

November 16, 2023

Intriguing races are brewing for all three team championships to be decided this weekend at Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals.

Ann Arbor Pioneer is looking to win a fourth-straight Division 1 title. But Jenison, last year’s Division 2 runner-up, is bringing a loaded lineup to Eastern Michigan University in hoping of providing the strongest challenge in some time after Pioneer won all three recent Finals by at least 100 points.

In Division 3, East Grand Rapids returns after a season away and is another likely favorite as it builds on plenty of recent success as well, but with reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Marian in the mix and Cranbrook Kingswood looking to also make a push.

And Division 2 will have a new champion regardless with EGR switching things up.

Competition begins at noon for Friday’s preliminaries and Saturday’s championships. Friday’s action will begin with swimming, with divers taking the pool approximately 3:30 p.m. at all three sites. All three Finals will be streamed live on both days. Click for information on purchasing tickets, plus schedules and qualifiers for all three meets.

Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Eastern Michigan University

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2022 runner-up: Northville
2023 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Grand Haven, 3. Jenison.

Pioneer has won three straight Division 1 championships, and a fourth consecutive would tie the eighth-longest Girls Swimming & Diving Finals title streak including with its teams that won four straight from 1989-92. Last season’s victory came with 322 points, 104 ahead of Northville, which was then 44 ahead of third-place Saline. Pioneer has 19 entries seeded to score (among the top 16), including all three relays, plus two divers competing. Grand Haven is seeking its first top-two Finals finish since 2000 and 2001 – when it finished runner-up to Pioneer in Class A both seasons – and has 10 individuals and all three relays seeded to score. Jenison was last season’s Division 2 runner-up, posting its best Finals team finish. The Wildcats bring some major star power – among 10 individual entries and three relays seeded to score, four are top seeds, and the team also has two divers.

Grace Albrecht, Jenison senior: After winning the 50-yard freestyle in Division 2 her first three seasons – and also swimming on two championship relays last year – Albrecht is seeded first this weekend in the 50 (23.35) and 100 backstroke (53.69) and is expected to swim on at least one top-seeded relay. She also was Division 2 backstroke runner-up in 2022.

Stella Chapman, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: She’ll look to add to her career haul of four individual and six relay championships, and is the reigning title winner in the backstroke and 200 individual medley. She’s seeded first in the IM (2:00.01) and backstroke (53.66), the latter three-hundredths of a second faster than the meet record she swam a year ago.

Elizabeth Eichbrecht, West Bloomfield sophomore: After a 2022 Finals debut that included championships in the 200 and 500 freestyles, Eichbrecht is seeded first in both at 1:47.96 and 4:50.15, respectively. That 500 time is more than 12 seconds faster than the rest of the field and less than six seconds off the all-Finals record of 4:44.47.

Sophia Umstead, Jenison junior: She won the IM and 100 breaststroke last season in Division 2 and swam on two championship relays, and enters this weekend as the top seed in the 100 butterfly (54.02) by nearly three seconds and breaststroke (1:01.67) as well. She’s also expected to swim on at least one top-seeded relay.

Anna Wiechertjes, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern senior: Last season’s runner-up in the 50 and third-place finisher in the 100 freestyle is seeded first in both with times of 23 seconds and 50.73, respectively.

Jenison 200 freestyle relay: The Wildcats enter with a seed time of 1:33.79, only 43 hundredths of a second off the meet record swam in 2018 – and they should get a strong push from contenders Grand Haven and Pioneer.

Ellie Seiter, Oxford senior: Oxford had the two highest-scoring divers at Division 1 Regionals, with Seiter at 433.05 and followed by teammate Tristan Krajcarski at 427.60. Seiter finished fourth last season while diving for Grand Blanc.

Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2022 runner-up: Jenison
2023 top-ranked: 1. Farmington Hills Mercy, 2. Ann Arbor Skyline, 3. Midland Dow.

With last season’s top two finishers competing in different divisions this season, there will be a new champion and runner-up – although the favorite is plenty familiar with the experience. Mercy has won 11 team titles in this sport, most recently in 2019 in Division 1, and tied for fourth in Division 1 last fall. All three relays and 15 individual entries are seeded to score, with three divers competing, and two Mercy relays are top-seeded. Skyline’s championship came in 2015 in Division 1, and the Eagles finished sixth in Division 2 a year ago and have three relays and nine individuals seeded to score this weekend. Dow is seeking its first top-two Finals finish and placed seventh a year ago. The Chargers also have three relays and nine individual entries seeded to score.

Brooklyn Beauch, Byron Center senior: She finished ninth in the butterfly last season and could finish her high school career with a major splash entering as the top seed in that race (54.25) – her time three-tenths of a second off the meet record – and with the third seed in the backstroke (56.49).

Kelley Hassett, Birmingham Seaholm senior: Last season’s 500 freestyle champion also has a relay title from 2021 and will enter her last Finals as the second seed in the 200 free (1:52.50) and 500 (5:00.37) and expected to swim on the second-seeded 400 freestyle relay.

Tess Heavner, Fenton junior: She finished second in the IM and fifth in the breaststroke a year ago and is top-seeded this weekend in the IM (2:04.21) by more than two seconds and backstroke (56.04) as well.

Amylia Higgins, Farmington Hills Mercy senior: She tied for the top seed in the 50 (23.88) and brings in the sixth seed in the 100 free (53.44) after finishing fifth in the 200 and fourth in the 500 in Division 1 last season.

Emma Klotz, South Lyon sophomore: She’s expected to make a big jump from a solid debut last season of ninth in the 100 free with two top-five relay finishes, entering this weekend seeded first in the 50 (23.88 – tied with Higgins) and 100 free (52.58).  

Adrienne Schadler, Ann Arbor Skyline freshman: She’s entering her first Finals top-seeded in the 200 (1:50.54) by nearly two seconds and in the 500 (4:58.96) with a time only 33 hundredths of a second off last year’s winner.

Bryce Scully, Berkley senior: She finished fifth in the butterfly and eighth in the breaststroke last season and enters this Finals the top seed in the breaststroke (1:05.07) and fourth in the butterfly (57.91).

Bella Emery, Holt senior: She finished 11th in Division 1 last season and posted the highest Regional score last week in Division 2 (402.80) by more than 50 points.

Lower Peninsula Division 3 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Bloomfield Hills Marian
2022 runner-up: Holland Christian
2023 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Bloomfield Hills Marian.

East Grand Rapids is swimming for a third-straight Finals championship and seventh in eight seasons after winning Division 2 a year ago. All three relays are seeded first or second, with 20 individual entries seeded to score and four divers competing. Reigning champion Marian has all three relays and nine individual entries seeded to score, and Cranbrook – seventh in Division 3 last season – has all three relays and 11 individual entries seeded to finish among the top 16 in their respective events, plus two divers competing.

Ellery Chandler, East Grand Rapids sophomore: She finished third in the breaststroke, 12th in the IM and swam on championship and runner-up relays in Division 2 as a freshman, and comes into Division 3 as the top seed in the breaststroke (1:05.53), ninth in the 50 and likely swimming on two top-two relays.

Kiera Danitz, Ogemaw Heights senior: After finishing third in the 50 and ninth in the 100 freestyle last season, she enters this Finals top-seeded in the 50 (24.42) and 11th in the 100.

Ella Dziobak, Dearborn Divine Child sophomore: The reigning champion in the 500 and runner-up in the 200 free is the top seed in the 500 (5:06.29) by more than five seconds and second in the 200 (1:52.84).

Julijana Jelic, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood senior: She’s the reigning backstroke champion and was fourth in the IM a year ago as well; she’s the third seed this time in the backstroke (58.94) and fourth in the IM (2:12.01) and likely to swim on two top-three relays.

Scarlet Maison, Standish-Sterling junior: The IM champion as a freshman in 2021, she finished third in that race and second in the breaststroke last season. She is seeded this weekend first in the IM (2:08.65) and second in the breaststroke (1:07.31).

Lauren McNamara, Flat Rock senior: She’s won the butterfly the last two seasons and also was second in the IM in 2022. She’s seeded first in the butterfly (56.48) by nearly three seconds and third in the IM (2:10.95) this weekend.

Camryn Siegers, Holland Christian freshman: She’ll debut at the Finals with top seeds in the 100 free (51.40) and backstroke (55.88) – the latter time 3.04 seconds ahead of the field – and may swim on two top-three relays as well.  

Kate Simon, East Grand Rapids junior: She was third in both the IM and 100 free and swam on winning and third-place relays in Division 2 last season, and will enter this weekend top-seeded in the 200 free (1:51.13), second in the 100 (51.97) and also likely to swim on two top-two relays.

Annabelle Williams, Mian senior: The reigning 200 free champion also finished third in the 100 free last season. She’s seeded fourth in the 200 (1:54.83) and third in the 100 (52.57) this weekend.

Laney Wolf, Wayland sophomore: She debuted with championships in the 50 and 100 freestyles and two top-six relay finishes a year ago. She’ll look to encore entering as the fourth seed in the 50 (24.54) and 100 (53.55) and possibly swimming on two top-five relays.

Maria Colombo, East Grand Rapids senior: She finished fourth in Division 2 last season with a 412.25 – after finishing third in Division 3 as a sophomore – and her 444.75 at her Regional last week was the highest score in any division.

Kaitlyn Molnar, Grosse Ile senior: The reigning Division 3 diving champion won last year with a score of 360.05 and won her Regional last week with a 409.75 – second only to Colombo in Division 3 and higher than all three winning scores in Division 2.

PHOTO Ann Arbor Pioneer's Stella Chapman powers to the win in the 200-yard individual medley at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Click for more from 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.)