With nine seniors and a handful of other major contributors returning from a team that advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago, expectations from outside the Midland softball program are sky high.
Inside the program, they aren’t shying away from those expectations.
But for Chemics players and coaches, the focus isn’t on winning an MHSAA title – it’s on striving for excellence every day.
“I think that we are kind of thinking this is our year, but at the same time, we’re not going to expect that – we have to work hard every day for that,” senior pitcher Maya Kipfmiller said. “We’re not focused on the end goal. Excellence encompasses everything we talk about as a team: working as hard as we can, being determined, putting in 100 percent of our effort all the time, being mentally tough and handling pressure situations.
“Having excellence in everything we do this year is going to help us get to that (end goal).”
Midland – which is scheduled to open its season Thursday against Mount Pleasant – is ranked No. 1 in Division 1 after graduating just one senior from the 2016 squad that went 35-8 and lost 4-2 in the Semifinal against Macomb Dakota.
Having a large number of returning players is one thing, but the quality of the players returning for Midland is quite another.
It starts with Kipfmiller, a Boston University signee, who is one of the state’s top pitchers. In 2016, she had an earned-run average of 0.651 while striking out 217 batters and walking just 24 in 161? innings.
“She’s a really good control pitcher,” Midland coach Robin Allen said. “She throws the ball hard, too, but her control is really what helps her. She’s a hard worker. She’s one of those people that, after practice, she goes and practices some more.”
The Midland offense was equally impressive in 2016, as it averaged 8.7 runs per game and had a team batting average of .397. Five players – Kipfmiller, Julia Gross, Jillian Elmer, Nicole Miiller and Tara Gross – are back after hitting better than .400 a year ago, led by Kipfmiller’s .664 average.
Julia Gross led the team in RBI (57), triples (four), runs (59) and home runs (four), while her twin sister Tara led the team with 30 stolen bases. Elmer, meanwhile, managed three home runs and 28 RBI despite playing just half of the team’s games.
And Allen said there are plenty of others ready to perform when given the opportunity.
“This year, our strength is our depth,” Allen said. “Some years you have some people on the team that are there to help the chemistry, and maybe don’t see as much playing time. This year, I have girls at every position that are pushing the starters. I still haven’t made up my mind for some of them.”
The Chemics do appear to be pretty established up the middle, which Allen said is another strength of his team. Kipfmiller and Miiller (catcher) make up the battery, while the Gross twins handle second and shortstop, and junior Allison Gray plays in centerfield.
Allen praised the entire group’s defensive prowess, adding that the twins could be the best defensive players he’s seen in tandem. Both of them are committed to Northwood University, along with Miiller.
“We get along really well, and they always say that for twins, they have that connection; it’s kind of true with us,” Julia Gross said. “I can always count on her being there if there’s a hard-hit ball. We have that trust.”
That trust extends beyond the twins, as the Chemics have shared the diamond with one another for multiple seasons. Kipfmiller, Elmer and the Gross twins are all entering their fourth seasons on the varsity squad, while several others are entering their third.
“We all trust each other,” Tara Gross said. “There’s such a great chemistry. A lot of us have been playing with each other for three years, or even two years. We’re really focusing on respect and unity – being a team. We’re all just in it together.”
The experience together has come in some big situations. Two years ago, the team advanced to the Quarterfinals for the third time in school history, and the first time since 2000. This past year’s Semifinal appearance was the school’s first in the sport.
If the Chemics are able to make another run, they feel that having been there before will benefit them.
“Playing at (Central Michigan University for the Quarterfinal) and playing at Michigan State (for the Semifinal), now we’ve played there before, so we know what to expect,” Julia Gross said. “It’s both the atmosphere and the moment. The atmosphere of playing at CMU and at Michigan State with all those people there and all that pressure, and in the moment, right when the game starts you have jitters and are nervous, but you get better as the game goes on.”
Before Midland can worry about playing in those atmospheres, however, it will focus on day-to-day excellence, something the players have bought into even before the first pitch of the season has been thrown.
“To me it just means that everyone is determined and everyone is working hard,” Tara Gross said. “When people come and watch our practice or our games, we want everyone to know that, ‘They’re trying to gain respect. They’re all determined. They’re trying to be excellent.’”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Midland outfielder Allison Gray connects with a pitch during last season's Quarterfinal win over Rockford. (Middle) Pitcher Maya Kipfmiller signals two outs to her teammates during that 8-1 win. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023