By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This fall saw the start of numerous championship legacies all over the Michigan, the continuation of a few more and the end of one that likely will be recalled for decades to come.
All championship runs are memorable for those fortunate enough to achieve them. But because of historical reference, dramatic impact or in rare cases national significance, some stay in our discussions a little bit longer.
Below is one person’s thoughts on the most memorable finishes from this fall’s MHSAA Finals.
10. Novi, East Kentwood Rise to the Top
Among a number of first-time champions this fall, the Novi boys tennis team and East Kentwood girls golf team celebrated taking final steps after some recent close misses. Novi had finished second at the 2013 Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final, by a point, as Ann Arbor Huron won its third straight title. The Wildcats clinched their first ever this season, by eight points, while the East Kentwood golfers finished 22 strokes better than their LP Division 1 field after finishing 10th and sixth the last two seasons, respectively. Senior Emily White capped her high school career with a 51-foot putt to win the individual title.
The Saline girls swimming and diving team trailed reigning champion Farmington Hills Mercy by a half-point entering the final event of the LP Division 1 Final. But the Hornets outpaced Mercy by three seconds in the 400-yard freestyle relay to move ahead and claim the team championship by 5.5 points. Saline had finished runner-up to Mercy by 20 points in 2013.
From an incredible story point of view, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 7-0 win over Muskegon in the Division 3 Football Final was easily the most memorable of the fall. Showing immense courage, Eaglets running back Brandon Adams took the field only two days after his mother died after fighting cancer. He scored the game’s lone points midway through the first quarter.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central’s Diane Tuller coached teams to 595 wins over 17 seasons – and in her final match took the Kestrels to their fifth MHSAA championship. St. Mary downed Schoolcraft in four sets despite dropping the first to claim its third Class C title in five seasons. The Kestrels became the eighth team to win at least five MHSAA titles, claiming all five under Tuller’s guidance.
Only 14 runners in MHSAA boys cross country history have won at least three individual championships. Concord’s Jason Hersha became the latest, claiming the LP Division 4 title in 15:23.0, the second-fastest time in LP Division 4 Finals history. He became only the third to win three boys titles since team and individual qualifiers began running the same race in 1996; he also finished first as a sophomore and junior.
Just one on-target kick can change a soccer game. That makes Canton’s undefeated run to this season’s Division 1 boys championship even more impressive. Finishing without a loss in any sport is something – but the Chiefs defeated Rochester Adams 1-0 in the Final to end 24-0-3 and as the 13th undefeated champion in MHSAA boys soccer history. Canton posted 16 shutouts this fall.
Despite trailing annual power Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood by six strokes after the first round, Spring Lake rolled through the second at the LP Division 3 Girls Golf Final to best the field by a final margin of 18 strokes and claim the school’s first MHSAA golf championship. The achievement was a crowning one for the program started by George Bitner, who has coached at the school since 1968 and fielded his first girls team in 1980.
Grand Blanc senior Grant Fisher finished his high school career with a second straight Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship – and the third-fastest time since the Finals moved to Michigan International Speedway 19 seasons ago. Fisher finished in 14:52.5, 1.5 seconds off the second-fastest time in MHSAA Finals history since 5K (3.1 miles) became the distance in 1980. The only runners who have come in faster than Fisher went on to the Olympics (Dathan Ritzenhein) and top American finishes (twice) at the Boston Marathon (Jason Hartmann).
Battle Creek St. Philip continued its near-decade dominance of Class D, but this time with another historical twist. The Tigers downed Leland in four sets in this season’s Final to win their ninth straight MHSAA championship – setting a record for consecutive titles after formerly being tied with the Marysville teams from 1997-2004. St. Philip entered the postseason ranked No. 3 in D but defeated both No. 2 Mendon and the top-ranked Comets during the final week.
Much of the credit for this topping the list goes to Ithaca, which brought a 69-game winning streak into the Division 6 Football Final. The streak was the longest active streak nationally among 11-player football teams, and a win would've allowed the Yellowjackets next fall an opportunity to break the MHSAA winning streak record of 72. But St. Mary controlled the clock with a workmanlike running game and held an Ithaca offense averaging 43 points to nearly a quarter of that in winning 22-12.
PHOTO: The East Kentwood girls golf team raised its first MHSAA Finals championship trophy this October. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
We are down to the final four weeks of this MHSAA boys basketball season – and while the entertaining part is detailed below in our regular Monday report, there’s some major data crunching underway behind the scenes as well.
Seeding the top two teams in every District requires thousands of data points – and a season-long process of collecting them all. More than 720 varsity teams are playing this winter, and we’re in the midst of a process of checking their schedules one by one – about a 24-hour task by itself to make sure all scheduled games are showing, league standings are set up correctly, etc.
Additionally, daily we’re sorting through disputed scores, changes to schedules because of weather or teams that have discontinued their seasons, and other adjustments. But we’re always striving for perfection – and when Districts are drawn and those top teams seeded Feb. 26, we hope to have every schedule up to date and every score filled in.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. North Farmington 68, Muskegon 55 These two have lived at or near the top of Division 1 MPR all season, making this win by the Raiders (12-1) at the 2K23 Showcase at Aquinas College arguably their best, especially considering it also was the first loss for the Big Reds (13-1).
2. Saline 57, Ann Arbor Huron 47 The Hornets (11-4) saw an eight-game winning streak end three days later, but in this one handed Huron (13-1) its lone defeat of the season.
3. Ann Arbor Huron 67, Benton Harbor 55 The River Rats, meanwhile, rebounded immediately with a 13-point win over Dexter and then a 67-55 victory over Benton Harbor (13-3) at Aquinas.
4. Warren Lincoln 52, Grand Rapids Northview 37 The Abes (12-3) just keep impressing, this time with a big win over a Northview team matching their 12-3 record, also during the 2K23 Showcase.
5. Iron Mountain 64, Powers North Central 58 This matched arguably the best in the Upper Peninsula in Divisions 3 and 4, respectively, with the Mountaineers moving to 13-1 and the Jets to 11-2.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) The Cubs have won outright or shared the last two Detroit Catholic League Central championships, and they’re hoping to run that streak to three by winning Friday’s rematch with first-place Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1). A 68-53 defeat to the Warriors on Jan. 24 and a 67-64 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Jan. 6 have left Jesuit a game back, but the Cubs do have a sweep of reigning Division 1 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate plus early impressive nonleague wins over Clarkston and Ferndale.
Kalamazoo Central (13-2) After just missing the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago – losing to Northview by two in a Quarterfinal – the Maroon Giants are ahead of their 16-win pace from that finish with their only losses to Brother Rice and Battle Creek Lakeview (11-3), the latter by a point. They also defeated Lakeview in the teams’ first meeting, handed Mattawan its only loss and most recently defeated Detroit Renaissance at the 2K23 event.
Ferndale (7-6) Few if any have played a tougher schedule, especially considering Ferndale is Division 2 playing most of the Division 1 powers. The Eagles are No. 5 in Division 2 MPR despite a 1-5 start including losses to Brother Rice, Jesuit, St. Mary’s and Muskegon, and then a two-point loss to North Farmington last week. Meanwhile, Ferndale has defeated Grosse Pointe South (13-3), Flint Beecher (12-3), Clarkston (11-5) and River Rouge (10-5). The North Farmington rematch is Feb. 24, and a Feb. 11 matchup with Port Huron Northern should also boost MPR.
Grand Rapids Christian (10-4) The Eagles may be in fourth in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, but they are No. 6 in Division 2 MPR. Three of the four losses were to league opponents, but Christian is coming off a 55-53 double-overtime win over Warren Michigan Collegiate (13-2) on Saturday at Aquinas. An early win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central and a Jan. 21 victory over De La Salle also stand out.
Flint Beecher (12-3) The Bucs are off to another big start after last season’s finish at the Division 3 Semifinals, losing only to Detroit Cass Tech (17-0), Benton Harbor and Ferndale as Beecher also has loaded up its nonleague schedule. Beecher also has four wins over teams with double-digit victories, with an 80-71 defeat of Flint Hamady (14-2) on Jan. 10 putting the Bucs in first in the Genesee Area Conference Red. The Hamady rematch is Feb. 18, before a major regular-season finish against Goodrich (13-1) and Grand Blanc (14-2).
Napoleon (14-0) The Pirates aren’t sneaking up on anyone after going 19-3 last season, but they are dominating nonetheless. All but one win have been by eight points or more, and Napoleon leads the Cascades Conference after finishing second last year with a pair of losses to Vandercook Lake. The Pirates not only defeated Vandercook in their first meeting, by 40, but next defeated Michigan Center by 17 after the Cardinals ended their season last winter. Napoleon also has a 63-45 win over Big 8 Conference co-leader Concord.
Baldwin (13-1) The Panthers are coming off an 18-5 finish and second place in the West Michigan D League, and they lead it this time by two games and with a win over Mesick after losing both meetings to the eventual league champ a year ago. Baldwin also has avenged a 2021-22 loss to Mason County Eastern and could avenge another hosting Traverse City Christian on Tuesday. The Panthers also have given Marion (11-4) half its losses.
Powers North Central (11-2) As noted above, the Jets are at least among the handful of elite small-school Upper Peninsula teams, No. 4 in statewide Division 4 MPR although second in D4 in the U.P. with Painesdale Jeffers in the top spot. Those two wouldn’t see each other until a Regional Final, where North Central’s 19-5 run ended last season. The Jets only defeats this time are to Division 2 Kingsford and Division 3 Iron Mountain, which stand a combined 25-3.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Goodrich (13-1) at Corunna (12-2) – They’re tied atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Goodrich winning the first meeting 69-54 on Jan. 10.
Friday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1) – As noted above, the Detroit Catholic League Central title will be on the line, as Jesuit can force a shared championship.
Saturday – Hamtramck (10-5) vs. Kalamazoo Central (13-2) at Benton Harbor – The Cosmos have faced their share of statewide elite as well, and will be seeking what would be one of their most notable wins in this Wilson Chandler Shootout matchup.
Saturday – Flint Hamady (14-2) at Davison (10-5) – Old rivals meet again as Davison is coached by longtime Beecher leader Mike Williams.
Saturday – Saginaw Arthur Hill (7-9) at Saginaw (14-4) – They’ll still have 2023-24 left before one the best rivalries in state history ends with a school merger, but this year’s rematch comes after Saginaw won 57-55 on Jan. 14.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Saginaw player gets to the rim during Friday's 59-54 loss to Mount Pleasant. (Middle) A Montabella player goes to the basket during his team's 43-28 win last week over Carson City-Crystal.(Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)