Preview: Welcome, Next Wave of Champs

November 19, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A lot has changed in MHSAA girls swimming and diving since Lower Peninsula Finals weekend a year ago. 

A top Division 2 team is now the favorite in Division 1. The reigning champion in Division 3 is now in Division 2. A group of swimmers who combined to set six MHSAA Finals records graduated this spring.

But changes bring opportunities, and there are plenty of candidates hoping to become the next wave of champions at three meets that begin Friday and conclude Saturday afternoon. 

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. 

LP DIVISION 1 at Holland Aquatic Center

Team contenders: Last season’s LP Division 2 runner-up, Ann Arbor Skyline, is in Division 1 this fall and moved up to the top spot in the final coaches association poll. Skyline has 14 swim entries seeded to score, with senior Katie Portz the top-seeded racer in the 100 and 200 freestyles and part of the top-seeded 400 freestyle relay, and sophomore Georgia Mosher top-seeded in the breaststroke. Farmington Hills Mercy is seeking its third title in five seasons and finished runner-up last fall and in 2012 as well. The Marlins also have 14 top-16 seeds and a few more on the edge of contention, with senior Elyse Conn helping lead the way after posting two top-five finishes in 2014. Saline is the reigning champion and has finished among the top two three of the last four seasons, and was ranked No. 1 most of the season. The Hornets have 12 seeded to score plus the top returning diver from last season’s Final.

Morgan Bullock, Zeeland senior – The runner-up in both the butterfly and individual medley last season is the likely favorite with the champions/record holders in both races now graduated. Bullock has the fastest IM seed time of 2:03.45 and second-fastest in the butterfly of 55.75.

Emma Curtis, Grand Blanc junior – The reigning champion in the 50 freestyle has a top-seeded time (23.24) that’s faster than her championship time of a year ago by 36 hundredths of a second. She’s also seeded third in the 100 freestyle at 51.35.

Sarah Hennings, Lake Orion junior – After finishing eighth in the butterfly and missing the final in the backstroke last season, Hennings is top-seeded in the butterfly (55.38) and up to 14th in the backstroke.

Katie Minnich, Farmington Hills Mercy sophomore – The reigning champion in the backstroke has the top seed time of 55.60 and is seeded sixth in the IM after finishing 12th as a freshman.

Georgia Mosher, Ann Arbor Skyline sophomore – After finishing ninth in the breaststroke and 10th in the IM in LP Division 2 last season, she’s tops on the LP Division 1 seed list in the breaststroke at 1:04.34 and third in the 500 (4:57.80).

Katie Portz, Ann Arbor Skyline senior – She finished second in both the 100 and 200 freestyles in LP Division 2 last season but set the LP Division 1 meet record in the 100 of 50.23 in winning the race in 2013. She’s top-seeded in that race at 49.71 and also in the 200 at 1:46.47 – only 22 hundredths of a second off the all-Finals record.

Taylor Seaman, Brighton junior – She won the 100 freestyle and was second in the 200 last season, and enters seeded behind Portz in both the 100 (50.87) and 200 (1:52.55).

Laura Westphal, Northville junior – The reigning champion in the 500 freestyle will look to add a third title after also winning the race as a freshman. She’s got the top seed time at 4:56.23 and also will swim the 200 freestyle after finishing third in that race a year ago.

Ann Arbor Skyline 400 freestyle relay – Junior Emma Cleason, Portz and Mosher were part of the relay that missed a Division 2 title last fall by seven hundredths of a second; they are joined this time by sophomore Emily Lock and have posted a seed time of 3:24.57 that is five seconds faster than the field and nearly two faster than the LPD1 meet record.

Camryn McPherson, Saline junior – Last season’s diving runner-up has won two straight Regional titles and could make a run at the meet record set by teammate Amy Stevens last year.

LP DIVISION 2 at Oakland University

Team contenders: After two straight LP Division 3 championships, the most successful program in MHSAA history – East Grand Rapids – brings the top-ranked team in Division 2 heading into this weekend. The Pioneers have 12 top-16 seeds plus three divers competing; senior Emily Converse and junior Gabby Higgins have combined for five individual Finals championships over the last two seasons. Reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Marian enters ranked No. 2 and with 14 seeded to score, including two top-seeded relays. Rochester Adams moved up five spots to No. 3 in the final poll and has 16 flights seeded to score plus two divers after finishing eighth a year ago.

Emily Converse, East Grand Rapids senior – The Pioneers’ standout has won three individual titles and been part of four winning relays over the last two seasons, and now in LPD2 she has the fourth-seeded 200 freestyle time of 1:53.54 and the second-seeded 500 time of 5:02.38 – plus will swim on two second-seeded relays.

Gabby Higgins, East Grand Rapids junior – She won the 100 and 50 freestyles last season in LPD3 and also swam on winning 200 and 400 freestyle relays. Her 50 seed time this weekend is second-fastest at 23.80 and her 100 time is third at 52.12, and she also swims on those relays with Converse.

Claire McGinnis, Rochester Adams senior – The University of Miami (Fla.) recruit has the fastest seed time in the 500 (4:58.54) and the second-seeded time in the 200 freestyle (1:52.24).

Nicole Pape, Rochester Adams junior – After winning the IM and finishing second in the breaststroke last season, Pape enters with the third-fastest time in the IM (2:09.96) and fastest in the butterfly (56.06) by more than a second.

Allie Russell, Birmingham Seaholm junior – She earned an MHSAA championship last year as part of the 200 medley relay winner and also took fourth in the breaststroke and ninth in the IM; she has the ninth-fastest IM seed time of 2:11.80 and the fastest in the breaststroke in 1:05.75.

Sophia Schott, Bloomfield Hills Marian junior – She has the fastest seed time in the 50 by nearly half a second at 23.32 after winning that race last season, and also has the fastest in the 100 at 51.08 after coming in sixth in that race a year ago.

Annette Schultz, Dexter sophomore – She posted two top-five finishes last year, going third in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 100, and she enters this weekend with the fastest 200 time of 1:50.41 and second-fastest in the 100 of 51.85. She also will swim on the top-seeded 200 medley relay.

Claire Young, Grosse Pointe South senior – After taking second in the backstroke a year ago and sixth in the IM, she’s top-seeded in both races: her 2:07.27 in the IM has nearly a second on the field, and her 55.30 backstroke time has 1.55 seconds on the rest.

Erin Neely, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central junior – After winning last season’s diving championship by 23.5 points ahead of two seniors, she’s the favorite coming off posting the highest Regional score, 462.00, of any LPD2 meet. 

LP DIVISION 3 at Eastern Michigan University

Team contenders: Grand Rapids Catholic Central was runner-up last season to now-LPD2 East Grand Rapids and could be in line for its first MHSAA team championship with 17 swim flights seeded to score including six seeded either first or second. St. Clair was sixth last season and also hasn’t won a Finals meet, but surged to the No. 2 ranking heading into the weekend and has 12 top-16 seeds including five seeded first or second. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood finished fourth in 2014, its first time below the top two since 2008, but could make a move back into contention with 14 flights seeded among the top 16. The Cranes are led by junior Anuschka Sambel, who posted two fourth-place finishes in 2014. 

Milan sophomore Madelyn Cislo – After finishing fourth in the 200 freestyle and fifth in the butterfly as a freshman, Cislo is a second faster than the field with the top 200 IM time of 2:08.68 and sits third in the butterfly at 59.21.

Hamilton senior Rileigh Eding – The reigning champion in the backstroke also took eighth in the 100 freestyle in 2014; this time she’s seeded second in the 50 at 24.66 and fifth in the backstroke at 59.46.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central junior Riley Kishman – She owns two championships in the IM and one in the breaststroke from her first two seasons (winning both events last year), and could push the total to five entering with the top 200 freestyle seed time of 1:52.23 and the fastest in the breaststroke of 1:05.52.

Manistee senior Anna Kutschke – She's the favorite in the 50 with a time of 24 seconds flat after finishing fourth a year ago in her only individual event; she’s also seeded second this time in the 100 freestyle at 53.18.  

Grand Rapids Catholic Central sophomore Susan LaGrand – Although she is seeded second in both of her individual events – the IM (2:09.80) and butterfly (58.53) – she’s the reigning champion in the butterfly and also took third in the backstroke last year.

Tecumseh junior Karlee Marsh – She finished third in the 100 and fifth in the 200 freestyles in 2014, but could be in line to contend for a couple of championships entering with the top time in the 100 (52.61) and second-fastest in the 200 (1:53.81).

St. Clair senior Grace Shinske – She made a run at a pair of titles last fall finishing second in the backstroke and third in the butterfly, and should be in the mix again entering top-seeded in the butterfly (57.97) and backstroke (56.82) and swimming on two top-seeded relays.

Alma sophomore Evelyn VanDeMark – She’s expected to make a big jump in her second Finals after taking sixth in the 500 and 10th in the butterfly as a freshman. She’ll swim both again and is top-seeded in the 500 at 5:25.01.

Milan senior Taylor Hosein – The two-time reigning champion in diving in LP Division 3 finished only second at her Regional but hardly can be counted out in going for the three-peat.

Allegan senior Erin Isola – She finished third last season as a junior and sixth as a sophomore, but posted the top score at Regionals of any division, 478.95. 

PHOTO: An East Grand Rapids swimmer begins her leg of a relay during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals; the Pioneers are the top-ranked team in LP Division 2 this season. (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.)