Preview: Powers Seek Return to Podium

November 21, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Farmington Hills Mercy and East Grand Rapids have spent their share of special moments atop the champions' podium at MHSAA Lower Peninsula Swimming & Diving Finals over the years. 

They're favored to return this weekend after missing out on their familiar top spots a year ago. Holland, meanwhile, will attempt to keep pace and win its third straight championship in Division 2. 

See below for team favorites and top individuals to watch at all three of this weekend's meets. Preliminaries are Friday, with championship races and diving Saturday. All three Finals also will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV and are available on a subscription basis. 

Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.

Division 1 at Oakland University

Team contenders: Top-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy finished second in Division 1 last season after winning five straight MHSAA titles from 2007-11, and has bounced back with 14 top-eight seeds heading into this weekend including all three highest-seeded relay teams. Saline, the champion in 2009 and 2010, is ranked No. 2 with only four top-eight seeds but a number of others in scoring position plus two contenders in diving. Ann Arbor Skyline, ranked No. 3, was the Division 2 runner-up last season and enters with six top-eight seeds including sophomore Katie Portz, seeded first in two events.

Ines Charles, Bloomfield Hills senior: She's seeded only fifth in the backstroke (58.53) but won the title in Division 3 last season while at Lahser before her school and Andover merged for this fall and the new school was big enough to move to Division 1. 

Maddy Loniewski, Farmington Hills Mercy junior: Last season’s 200 individual medley champion is seeded fifth in that race (2:06.44) and fourth in the 100 freestyle (52.29), plus she swims on two of the top-seeded relays.

Katie Portz, Ann Arbor Skyline sophomore: She’s posted the fast seed times in the 100 freestyle (50.72) and 200 free (1:49.41) after finishing second in the 200 and fourth in the 100 at the Division 2 Final in 2012.

Elliott Schinella, Farmington Hills Mercy senior: The 2012 100 backstroke champion is poised to repeat entering with the top seed time of 56.02 plus the seventh-fastest (24.5) in the 50. Like Loniewski, she swims on two Mercy relays.

Miranda Tucker, Waterford United junior: This will be the first high school Finals for Tucker, and she’s set up to succeed quickly with top seeds in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.36) and 200 IM (2:01.98). Her breaststroke time would break the LP Division 1 Finals record and approach the overall Finals record of 1:02.10 set in 2010.

Maddie Wright, Waterford United junior: Wright has won a pair of MHSAA titles in each of her first two high school seasons and is the LP Division 1 Finals record holder in the 100 butterfly. She enters that race as the top seed (54.74) and is second to Portz in the 200 freestyle (1:49.55).

Amy Stevens, Saline freshman: In just her first season, Stevens won a tough diving Regional with a score of 451.15.

Dani VanderZwaag, Holland West Ottawa senior: VanderZwaag can cap her high school career with a second straight MHSAA title after winning last season’s championship with a score of 425.45.

Farmington Hills Mercy 200 freestyle relay: Schinella, Loniewski and juniors Kathleen McGee and Roxanne Griffore enter as the top seed in this race and with a strong opportunity to set an LP Division 1 Finals record – their seed time of 1:35.41 would just edge the record set by Hudsonville’s team in 2011.

Division 2 at Eastern Michigan University

Team contenders: Top-ranked Holland is looking to run its MHSAA title streak to three (and top-two finish streak to six) led by some of the most experienced standouts in any division and 14 top-eight seeds. Bloomfield Hills Marian is ranked No. 2 and looking for its first title since winning back-to-back in Division 3 in 2007 and 2008; the Mustangs could make things interesting with eight top-eight seeds. Portage Central finished fourth last season and is ranked No. 3 heading into the weekend, and has five top-eight seeds plus a number of others who should score from places 9-16.

Taylor Garcia, Holland junior: One of the best in Michigan regardless of division, Garcia already has won four individual and four relay titles and is the top seed in the 100 backstroke (54.14) and 100 butterfly (54.60). She set the butterfly LP Division 2 Finals record in 2011. 

Cassie Misiewicz, Holland senior: The standout distance swimmer has won the 500 freestyle the last two seasons and was on two winning relays in 2012 as well. She’s the second seed both in the 500 (5:03.64) and the 200 freestyle (1:52.72). 

Mollie Pulte, Bloomfield Hills Marian junior: Last season’s 200 freestyle champion should have her eyes on two more titles – and potentially two LP Division 2 Finals records. She’s the top seed in both the 200 free (1:49.56) and the 100 free (50.23), with her 200 time faster than the current Division 2 record and her 100 time only 27 hundredths of a second off that division best. 

Holly Morren, Holland senior: She won the 100 freestyle last season and has been part of four title-winning relays, and she could claim two more individual titles in her final high school meet. Morren is the top seed in the 50 freestyle (23.51) and the second seed to Pulte in the 100 (51.20).

Nicole Pape, Rochester Adams freshman: She could finish Saturday as the most celebrated freshman of the Finals entering with top seed times in both the 200 individual medley (2:05.23) and the 100 breaststroke (1:04.21). She also will swim on two strong relays. 

Bloomfield Hills Marian 200 freestyle relay: Pulte is joined by sophomore Maren Taylor, junior Hannah Richard and freshman Sophia Schott on a team that has swam 1:35.73, 41 hundredths of a second off the LP Division 2 record set in 2010. 

Division 3 at Holland Aquatic Center

Team contenders: Arguably the most accomplished program in MHSAA history, East Grand Rapids is ranked No. 1 and favored to win its first championship since 2010. The Pioneers have 12 top-eight seeds and enter with the fastest teams in all three relays. Second-ranked Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood has won Division 3 the last two seasons and won’t fall quietly starting out with eight top-eight seeds. If No. 3 Holland Christian can move past both into the top spot, it would earn its first title since winning Class B in 1996. 

Emily Converse, East Grand Rapids junior: She’s got the Pioneers’ lone individual top seed with a time of 1:54.20 in the 200 freestyle. She also has the second-fastest seed time in the 500 freestyle (5:09.68). 

Hannah Kopydlowski, Flint Powers Catholic senior: The reigning 50 freestyle champion is the favorite again with the top seed time of 24.10. She also has the second-fastest seed time in the 100 backstroke (59.04). 

Lara Kokubo, Cranbrook-Kingswood junior: She’s seeded lower among the top group in her races – tied for fifth in the 50 (24.86) and seventh in the 100 free (54.26) – but she’s the reigning champion in the latter. 

Jennifer Wagley, Adrian senior: The reigning 100 butterfly champion returns with the fastest seed times both in that race (57.46) and the 200 individual medley (2:09.54).

Kim Jones, Plainwell junior: The reigning Division 3 champion defended her Regional title with a score of 463.1 points to earn her return to the Finals. 

East Grand Rapids 200 freestyle relay: Converse is joined by senior Anna Stephens and freshmen Lexus VanHoven and Hanna Sanford on a team that has gone as fast as 1:38.24 – 37 hundredths of a second off the LP Division 3 record. 

East Grand Rapids 400 freestyle relay: VanHoven, Sanford and Converse team with senior Emily Lundquist on a relay that’s finished in 3:37:31. The Division 3 record, set last season, is 3:33.63.

PHOTO: Swimmers leave the blocks to begin the 200 freestyle relay at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals at Oakland University. (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.)