Preview: Racing Toward Greatness Again

November 21, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals will welcome a handful of reigning title winners and even a few record holders from past championship meets. As is often true, the team races will feature annual powers among the forecasted contenders.

But if there’s a more intriguing common theme connecting all three Finals, it’s the large group of individual contenders who have been on the verge of reaching the podium’s top step – and will have their best opportunities yet to finish the climb for the first time.

The Division 1 Final will be hosted by Holland Aquatic Center, while Divisions 2 and 3 both will be competed at Oakland University. Preliminaries are Friday and Finals are Saturday, and all three Finals will be streamed live and can be watched with subscription on MHSAA.TV. Division 1 competition begins at noon both days, while Division 3 begins at 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday and Division 2 begins at 5 p.m. both days. Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.

LP Division 1 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: Farmington Hills Mercy
2018 runner-up: Brighton
2019 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Farmington Hills Mercy, 3. Saline.

Pioneer is seeking its first team championship since ending a string of nine straight in 2008, and after finishing seventh at a close meet in 2018 that saw the top seven teams separated by just 39 points. The Pioneers have three relays and 13 individuals seeded to score (among the top 16 in their events). Mercy has won the last two LP Division 1 championships to bring its total this decade to four, and the Marlins have a returning placing diver, three relays and nine individuals seeded to score – with a number of additional individuals seeded just outside the top 16. Saline is seeking its first title since 2014 and will bring two relays and 12 individuals seeded to score, plus four divers after coming in fifth in 2018. Fourth-ranked Rockford was the 2016 champion and came in fourth last season. The Rams enter this weekend with all three relays and seven individuals seeded to score, but might get an additional boost because it should compete for at least a handful of championships – two of three relays are top-seeded.

Kathryn Ackerman, Grand Haven senior: The three-time Finals champion is looking to finish with at least two more individual titles while also swimming on two relays. She’s the top seed in the 200-yard individual medley (2:01.65) after winning that race the last two years and swimming the all-Finals record (1:57.25) in 2018. She’s also the fourth seed in the 100 backstroke (57.22); last year she also swam and won the butterfly.

Greta Gidley, Farmington Hills Mercy junior: As a sophomore, Gidley finished sixth in the 100 freestyle, 16th in the 200 free and swam on two placing relays. She could take things up a notch or two entering as the top seed in the 100 (51.02) and the second seed in the IM (2:06.06) while again expecting to swim on two contending relays.  

Allison Haak, Ann Arbor Skyline senior: Haak is another returning placer expected to make a jump this weekend after coming in fifth in the 100 and sixth in the 200 free and swimming on two placing relays in 2018. She’s seeded first in the 200 (1:50.68), second in the 500 (4:58.60) and set to swim again on two contending relays.

Amelia Hayes, Saline sophomore: Hayes is the top seed in the backstroke (56.26) after finishing third in that race as a freshman, and 12th in the IM after just missing the final heats last year. She did swim on two top-three relays at the 2018 Final, and her two relays this time are both seeded sixth or higher.   

Brady Kendall, Plymouth sophomore: Kendall was another standout freshman a year ago, finishing third in the 50 and fifth in the butterfly and swimming on two consolation relays. She’s seeded second in the 50 (23.42) and first in the butterfly (54.53) this weekend, her latter time eight tenths of a second off the all-Finals record swam in 2017.

Lola Mull, Grand Ledge senior: Mull is seeking a three-peat in the 500 and seeded first (4:54.42) as she also goes after her all-Finals record time of 4:44.47 swam two years ago. She also was runner-up last year in the 200 free and is seeded third (1:52.37) in that race.

Claire Tuttle, Hudsonville senior: Tuttle also is swimming for a three-peat after winning the breaststroke the last two seasons. She’s seeded first in that race (1:01.55), just under a second off the all-Finals record time swam in 2014. Tuttle also is seeded first in the 50 (23.34) after finishing fourth in the 100 last year, and is expected to also swim on two top-four relays.

Rockford 200 medley relay: Seniors Masy Folcik and Rachel Gamm, junior Sara Kraus and sophomore Ashley Lund enter with a top seed time of 1:43.84 and could make a run at the LPD1 Finals record of 1:43.10 swam in 2016. Kraus, Folcik, Lund and then-senior Morgan Kraus won the race last season in 1:43.72.

Annie Costello, Ann Arbor Huron junior: Costello finished fourth in diving at the Final as a freshman and runner-up a year ago, less than eight points off the lead. Her 431.40 winning score was more than 27 points higher than anyone’s in LPD1 at any of the three qualifying meets last week.

LP Division 2 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Rochester Adams
2018 runner-up: Birmingham Seaholm
2019 top-ranked: 1. Birmingham Seaholm, T-2. Birmingham Groves, T-2 Grosse Pointe South.

Seaholm missed out on a second championship in three seasons last fall by 30 points, but enters this weekend the favorite with all three relays seeded second in their races and 16 more individual seeds among the top 16 in those respective events. Groves hasn’t finished among the top two at a Final since winning four straight Division 2 titles from 2003-06, but this could be the year for serious contention again. Groves has all three relays and seven individuals seeded to score, plus three divers including a 2018 placer. Grosse Pointe South is seeking its first top-two finish after missing by six points last season while placing third. The Blue Devils could be a force for the next few years; this weekend they bring three relays and 12 individuals seeded to score, plus two divers, and nearly all of their contenders are underclassmen.

Elly Belmore, St. Clair Shores Lakeview sophomore: Belmore finished fifth in the breaststroke and ninth in the IM last season as a freshman, and could have an even more memorable weekend this time. She’s seeded first in the breaststroke (1:06.25) and second in the IM (2:07.37).

Sage Gettings, Holland senior: After finishing fourth in the 50 and third in the butterfly a year ago, Gettings is seeded first in the butterfly (56.66) and also will swim the 100. She’s also part of two top-11 seeded relays.

Madeline Greaves, Farmington junior: Greaves finished third in both the IM and butterfly in Division 1 last season as part of the Harrison/Farmington co-op. She’s seeded first in both of her races this weekend, but a different combination – the IM (2:05.38) and 500 (5:00.26).

Claire Newman, Midland Dow senior: The Chargers’ standout will look to add a few more titles to last season’s championships won in the 50 and 100 freestyles. She’s seeded first in both races (23.00 and 50.40, respectively), with her 100 time 81 hundredths of a second off the meet record swam in 2017. She’s also part of top-seeded 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Gracie Olsen, Fenton sophomore: Olsen had a memorable freshman year meet last year winning the IM, finishing second in the butterfly and swimming on two scoring relays. This time she’s seeded fourth in the butterfly (57.43) and second in the 200 free (1:52.49), with spots on two seventh-seeded relays.

Charlotte Schultz, Dexter junior: After swimming to a fifth place in the 500, sixth in the 200 free and on two scoring relays last season, Schultz is seeded first in the backstroke (58.81) and also sixth in the 200 (1:55.51). She’ll also swim on two top-seven seeded relays.

Hannah Williams, Portage Northern freshman: Williams enters her first MHSAA Final as the top seed in the 200 free (1:51.21) by more than a second. She’s also seeded ninth in the 100 free (53.62) and will swim as part of two top-six seeded relays.

Kamila Podsiadlo, Walled Lake Western junior: Podsiadlo rose from sixth as a freshman to champion last season, winning the title by more than 16 points. She finished second at her Regional to Dexter’s Lily Witte (see below).

Lily Witte, Dexter freshman: Witte has won five junior national championships and earned fourth and sixth places at the 2019 Junior Pan American Championships. Her qualifying meet score last week of 467.90 was more than 25 points higher than anyone else’s in Division 2.

LP Division 3 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2018 runner-up: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
2019 top-ranked: T-1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, T-1. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 3. East Grand Rapids.

East Grand Rapids has won six of the last 10 Division 3 championships, plus a seventh in Division 2 in 2017 to make the Pioneers’ current streak three Finals titles in a row. They scored 330 points last year to win by 46, and enter this weekend with all three relays and 14 individuals seeded to score plus a returning placer in diving. Cranbrook won three of the four Division 3 titles EGR didn’t over the last decade and enters with all three relays and 12 individuals seeded to score – including three tops seeds – plus a placing diver from 2018. Marian was fourth last season after finishing runner-up in 2016 and 2017. The Mustangs will be in the mix of what could be a close meet with three relays and 13 individuals seeded to score.

Ellie Frost, South Haven junior: Frost won the 50 and finished third in the 100 freestyle last season, and she’s expected to score big in both again. She’s seeded first in the 50 (23.83) and sixth in the 100 (53.65).

Justine Murdock, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood junior: After winning the backstroke championship a year ago, she’s seeded first in that race (57.58). She’s also seeded second in the IM (2:10.05) after finishing fifth last season, and is part of top-seeded 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.  

Riley Nugent, Plainwell sophomore: Last season’s 500 champion also came in seventh in the 200 free and swam on a scoring relay. She’s seeded first in the 500 (5:01.89) and 200 (1:53.28) this time and swimming on two relays seeded to score.

Mary Snyder, Bloomfield Hills Marian sophomore: Snyder started her high school Finals career by finishing fourth in the breaststroke, eighth in the IM and as part of two scoring relays including the champion in the 200 medley. She’s seeded first in the IM (2:09.87), second in the breaststroke (1:06.86) and will swim on two second-seeded relays.

Emily Solarski, Tecumseh senior: Solarski will look for a strong finish to her high school career seeded first in the butterfly (56.89) and also swimming the 50 and as part of two top-five seeded relays.

Alysa Wager, Battle Creek Harper Creek senior: Wager posted a second place in the butterfly and third in the breaststroke and also swam on two scoring relays last season. She’s seeded first in the breaststroke (1:06.27) and seventh in the butterfly (58.13), plus will swim on two relays seeded to score.

Delaney Wesolek, Bay City John Glenn senior: After finishing ninth in the 100 free and 14th in the backstroke and swimming on two scoring relays in 2018, Wesolek is expected to score even more in her final high school meet. She’s seeded first in the 100 (52.86), third in the 200 free (1:55.16) and as part of the top-seeded 200 free relay and third-seeded 400 relay.

Gwenyth Woodbury, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood junior: She finished second in both the 100 and 200 freestyles last year but won both races as a freshman. She’s seeded second in the butterfly (57.18) and 200 free (1:53.67) this weekend and will swim as part of two top-three seeded relays including the favorite in the 400.

Rayah Blood, Hamilton junior: Blood moved up from third as a freshman to second last season, and her 446.20 score to win her diving qualifier last week bested the entire Division 3 field by nearly 18 points.

PHOTO: Ann Arbor Skyline's Allison Haak swims to a fifth-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle at last season's LPD1 Finals. (Click for 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.)