#TBT: Pioneer Blazes Another Pool Path

September 14, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Few if any Michigan high school sports have seen the bar continue to rise and records continue to fall like swimming & diving since the turn of this century.

But as winning times continue to rev faster and faster, the 2002 Ann Arbor Pioneer girls team continues to hold a lofty spot as arguably the most dominating in MHSAA history.

The 2002 Finals were the first in the Lower Peninsula organized by two divisions instead of the traditional class format, and Pioneer entered having won the last two LP Class A titles.

The Pioneers claimed that first Division 1 title with an astounding 476 points, and by 275 on the rest of the field. No LP Division 1 team has broken 400 points at a Final since, and Pioneer’s 184.5-point win in 2008 has come closest to that 2002 margin of victory.

Pioneer placed the champions in all three relays, three individual races and diving that Nov. 23 at Eastern Michigan University. The team was led by future three-time Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce, and her swims that day in the 100-yard freestyle (48.59 seconds), as part of the 200 freestyle relay (Joyce, Margaret Kelly, Leigh Cole, Suzannah Merte – 1:33.71) and in the 50 (22.04) as the lead leg in that relay still stand as the oldest all-Finals records in MHSAA history. At the time, the 100 freestyle and 200 relay times also broke national girls high school records, as did Joyce’s winning and then-MHSAA record time of 1:46.34 in the 200 freestyle.

The 2002 championship run was the 10th of 16 guided by legendary coaches Denny and Liz Hill (Liz was his assistant until becoming the co-head coach in 2007 and has been part of the staff for all 16 titles). It also was not only the team’s third straight, but ended up being part of a string of nine consecutive MHSAA Finals wins.

In addition to Joyce and the 200 freestyle relay’s wins, Pioneer won the 200 medley relay (Kelly, Ilene Lesch, Melissa Jaeger, Ally Wyatt) in 1:46.14, Jaeger won the butterfly in 56.33, the 400 freestyle relay (Cole, Jaeger, Merte, Joyce) won in 3:26.96 and Ellen Van Cleve won diving with a score of 446.10.

Joyce went on to swim at University of Georgia and then during the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She won four silver medals, two each as part of 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley relays. Jaeger, Cole and Kelly swam at University of Michigan, Lesch at Arizona State University, and Van Cleve also dove for the Wolverines.

PHOTO: Ann Arbor Pioneer celebrates the Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship; future Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce stands middle, just below the trophy. 

3 Receive National Honors from NHSACA, Coaching Pair Named to Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

July 11, 2024

One of the longest-serving members of the MHSAA Representative Council and two longtime Michigan high school coaches have received highest honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Brighton athletic director John Thompson was named Athletic Director of the Year during the NHSACA’s annual conference June 26 in Bismarck, N.D. He has supervised the Bulldogs’ highly-accomplished athletic program for two decades and served on the Representative Council the last 14 years, including currently as vice president.

Thompson also this year received the Thomas Rashid Athletic Director of the Year Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Brighton was selected as an MIAAA exemplary athletic program in 2015 and as an ESPN unified champion school in 2018, the latter recognizing its statewide leadership in cultivating unified sport opportunities.

Additionally, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and Livonia Stevenson girls swimming & diving coach Greg Phil were named NHSACA National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Kowalski completed her 46th season coaching Mercy last fall by leading the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. She also in January was named the 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in her sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Hall of Fame this year for both golf and bowling.

Phil has coached girls swimming & diving since 1976, including at Stevenson since 1985. After winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, the most recent of several league championships under his leadership, Stevenson finished 16th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and previously had placed Finals runner-up twice. Phil was named to the MHSCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All three honorees were nominated for the national recognition by the MHSCA. Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff, now-retired Leland volleyball coach Laurie Glass, Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis coach Eric Gajar and Lowell wrestling coach R.J. Boudro also were National Coach of the Year finalists.

Additionally, longtime softball coaches Kay Johnson of Morenci and Kris Hubbard from Ottawa Lake Whiteford were inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. Johnson went over 1,000 career wins this spring and has led her program since 1993, including to Class C championships in 1985 and 1986. Hubbard retired after the 2019 season with an 865-380-3 record since taking over in 1974, with Class D titles in 1984, 1985 and 1987.