Preview: Powers May Reign, But Many Have Chances to Shine

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

November 18, 2021

Powerhouse programs appear set to rule again at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals.

Ann Arbor Pioneer in Division 1, Birmingham Seaholm in Division 2 and East Grand Rapids in Division 3 will enter Friday’s preliminaries with large groups of contenders seeded among the top 16 in their respective events.

But one of the best parts of this weekend’s meets is the opportunity that provides – placers up to 16th score points, and hundreds will have that opportunity. Among returning event champions and this weekend’s top-seeded individuals alone, 28 schools are represented – with many more likely to celebrate one or more placers climbing the podium.

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 p.m. at all three sites.

Spectator limits – two tickets per Finals qualifier – will be in place in Divisions 1 and 3, but all three Finals will be streamed live on both days with an announcer calling Saturday’s action. Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.

Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2020 runner-up: Farmington Hills Mercy
2021 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Northville, 3. Brighton.

Pioneer won last season’s championship, its first since 2008, with exactly double the points (368) of the next closest placer. This could be quite an encore, as 21 entries and all three relays are seeded to score, all three relays are among four top seeds, and a scoring diver also is returning. Northville was third last season and is seeking its first team championship with all three relays and nine individuals seeded to score. Brighton was fourth a year ago and has some possibilities as all three relays and 11 individuals enter in scoring positions.

Stella Chapman, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior: The reigning champion in the 100-yard backstroke also took fourth in the 200 individual medley last season and swam on the winning 400 freestyle relay. She seeded second in the backstroke (55.84), fourth in the IM (2:07.64) and likely will swim on two top-seeded relays.

Lily Cramer, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: She could be in line for at least one individual championship after swimming on two winning relays both last season and in 2019, and coming in fifth in the IM and eighth in the 100 breaststroke as a junior. She seeded first in the 200 freestyle (1:48.50) and second in the breaststroke (1:02.16) and is likely to swim on two top-seeded relays as well.

Sophie Curtis, Grand Blanc senior: She’s seeking to join her two-time title-winning older sister Emma with her first trip to the top of the podium, seeded first this weekend in the 100 freestyle (51.15) and fourth in the backstroke (57.13). She finished third in the 100 and sixth in the backstroke last season.

Brady Kendall, Plymouth senior: The reigning champion in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly is seeded first in both races with times of 23 seconds and 54.02, respectively.

Abby Marcukaitis, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg senior: After finishing fourth in the backstroke and ninth in the 50 last season, Marcukaitis also enters her final high school races with a chance at a first title. She’s seeded first in the backstroke (55.63) and 14th in the 50.

Emily Roden, Northville junior: She won the butterfly as a freshman and then finished fourth in that race and third in the 200 freestyle last season. She returns as the top seed in the IM (2:04.43) and second in the butterfly (55.11).

Victoria Schreiber, Brighton junior: After finishing runner-up in both the 200 and 500 freestyles last season, she’s the top seed in the 500 (4:58.43) just ahead of teammate Annika Geyer (4:58.52) and third-seeded in the 200 free (1:52.19).

McKenzie Siroky, Livonia Stevenson junior: The reigning champion in the breaststroke is the top seed in that race (1:00.86) and second-seeded in the 50 (23.04), just four hundredths of a second outside the top spot in the latter race.

Vivian VanRenterghem, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: An individual champion in the 200 free and winner as part of the 400 free relay the last two seasons, VanRenterghem is likely to swim on two top-seeded relays and is seeded fifth in the 200 free (1:53.22) and sixth in the 100 (51.96). She also was 10th in the backstroke as a junior.

Ann Arbor Pioneer 200 medley relay: All three Pioneer relays have posted seed times that would place them among the fastest in LPD1 history in those respective races. But a medley relay likely made up of Chapman, seniors Amelia Weyhing and Holly Pringle and junior Sophia Guo might have the best chance at chasing a record. Their seed time of 1:43.57 would fall in fifth all-time in LPD1, with the record 1:42.40.

Megan Jolly, Rockford sophomore: Jolly scored a 454.05 at her Regional at Hudsonville to win by just under 118 points. Her score also was the best from any of the Division 1 Regionals by 11 points.

Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Birmingham Seaholm
2020 runner-up: Rochester Adams
2021 top-ranked: 1. Birmingham Seaholm, 2. Grand Rapids Northview, 3. Rochester Adams.

Seaholm has won the last two Division 2 team titles and three of the last five with a 2018 runner-up finish in that mix as well, and prevailed last season with two relay winners but without an individual event champion. The Maples have all three relays and 14 individual entries seeded to score, plus a diver, and likely is the team to chase again. Northview finished third last season and is hoping to make a jump with all three relays and 10 individual entries seeded to score. Adams finished 46 points off the lead a year ago and is the most recent not-Seaholm champ, having edged the Maples in 2018. The Highlanders have two relays and nine individual entries in scoring position to start the event. Skyline is an interesting contender as well with three relays and nine individual entries seeded to score including three top seeds, plus two divers.

Grace Albrecht, Jenison sophomore: She made her Finals debut with a win in the 50 and sixth place in the 100 freestyle, and will return seeded second in both races in 23.76 and 52.50 seconds, respectively.

Karen Austin, Birmingham Groves senior: Last season’s runner-up in the 500 (and fifth-place finisher in the IM) will be looking to take the last step up the podium as the top seed in the 500 (4:59.29) and fifth in the IM (2:09.17).

Angelina Baker, Portland Northern senior: The reigning champion in the 500 is second-seeded this time but only 61 hundredths of a second off the top at 4:59.90. She’s also seeded seventh in the butterfly (57.67) after finishing fourth in that race last season.

Lily Cleason, Ann Arbor Skyline junior: She was runner-up in the backstroke and seventh in the 200 free as a sophomore, but is seeded first in both this weekend in 55.22 and 1:51.75, respectively.

Samantha Clifford, Birmingham Seaholm junior: She piled plenty of points toward the team title last season swimming on two winning relays and finishing second in the 100 free and third in the 200. She’s been part of three relay champs total over her first two seasons and could add an individual title seeded first in 100 (52.25) and second in the 200 (1:52.51).

Addy Forbes, Grand Rapids Northview sophomore: Another freshman champion last season, she won the backstroke and finished fourth in the IM. She’s seeded third in the backstroke (58.04) and seventh in the IM (2:10.06) this time.

Tess Heavner, Fenton freshman: She could be the next freshman Finals champ, entering seeded first in the breaststroke (1:03.91), second in the IM (2:05.85) and slated to swim on the top-seeded 200 medley relay.

Claire Kozma, Ann Arbor Skyline senior: A past placer at the LPD1 Finals, she enters her final meet for Skyline as the top seed in the 50 (23.64) and sixth in the butterfly (57.47).

Gracie Olsen, Fenton senior: She will be looking to finish her Fenton career with a few more championships to go with the four she’s earned over the last three seasons. Olsen has won the butterfly the last two Finals and is seeded first at 55.25. She’s also seeded first in the IM (2:02.85) after winning that race as a freshman. She won the 200 free her sophomore season before finishing runner-up in that race as a junior.  

Hannah Williams, Portage Northern junior: A multi-event champion as a sophomore could add to her titles in the 200 free and breaststroke. She’s seeded second in the breaststroke (1:04.32) and 12th in the 200 this time.

Caroline Li, Okemos junior: She finished diving runner-up last season and as a freshman, and enters this weekend having posted the second-highest Division 2 Regional score of 463.05.  

Lily Witte, Dexter junior: The two-time champion in Division 2 posted the highest Regional score last week of 472.25 and also will be swimming the 50 and potentially on the 200 free relay.

Lower Peninsula Division 3 at Calvin University

Reigning champion: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
2020 runner-up: Hamilton
2021 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 3. Holland Christian.

After not competing at last season’s Finals, East Grand Rapids could add to its record 23 championships – and most recently won four straight in either Division 3 or 2 from 2016-19. The Pioneers have all three relays and 21 individual entries seeded to score, plus three strong divers competing. Marian was third last season and won its most recent Finals title in 2014 in Division 2. With three relays and 11 individual entries seeded to score, plus a diver, the Mustangs should have an opportunity to move up. Holland Christian finished fourth last season and could climb with strong relays leading the way.

Gwen Eisenbeis, Williamston senior: The reigning champion in the 50 and runner-up in the backstroke is seeded second in both the 50 (23.79) and 100 free (51.71).

Scarlet Maison, Standish-Sterling freshman: She’ll make her Finals debut in the IM and breaststroke and is top-seeded in the former (2:09.07) and third-seeded in the latter (1:07.02).  

Ginger McMahon, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett senior: The breaststroke champion as both a freshman and junior, and runner-up in the IM last season as well, she enters this weekend top-seeded in the breaststroke (1:04.21) and seventh in the butterfly (1:00.27).

Lauren McNamara, Flat Rock sophomore: She finished third in the butterfly and 12th in the IM last season and is expected to make a jump in both as the top seed in the butterfly (56.98) and seventh in the IM (2:13.21).  

Riley Nugent, Plainwell senior: She will swim for a rare fourth championship in the same race after winning the 500 freestyle her first three seasons. She’s seeded second in that race (5:11.35) and eighth in the 200 free (1:58.56) after finishing third in the latter last season.  

Erika Pietras, Grosse Ile senior: She’s another strong distance swimmer, coming off a runner-up finish in the 500 and fourth place in the 200 last season. She’s seeded first this time in the 500 (5:08.36) and fifth in the 200 (1:56.14).

Sarah Rott, Grand Rapids Catholic Central sophomore: The top seed in the 200 free (1:56.14) and sixth in the 100 (53.72), she was fifth and tied for ninth, respectively, in those races last season.

Alina Stanczak, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior: She finished fourth in the backstroke and seventh in the 100 free last season and could finish with her first title, entering the weekend top-seeded in the backstroke (58.96) and 10th in the 100.

Julia Waechter, Bloomfield Hills Marian senior: After climbing the podium with her 200 medley teammates as a freshman, she will have multiple opportunities to finish with individual titles. Waechter is seeded first in the 50 (23.64) and 100 (51.40) and will swim on the top-seeded 200 free relay and second-seeded 400 free relay. She was third in the 50 and fourth in the 100 last season.

Ava Jendritz, East Grand Rapids sophomore: Three East Grand Rapids divers finished among the top five at the Hamilton Regional, and Jendritz led the way for all of Division 3 with a score of 442.50.

Abigail Sullivan, Otsego senior: She was third at the Hamilton Regional with a 408.65, but won last season’s Finals championship by nearly 110 points with a 455.50.

PHOTO: Contenders launch during 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.)