First-rate second 10: A good group that just couldn’t quite crack the top 10 of The Mining Journal’s top sports stories of 2023

Baraga’s Corina Jahfetson, center, extends over a pair of Ewen-Trout Creek defenders, including Emma Besonen, right, while attempting this layup during an MHSAA Division 4 regional semifinal girls basketball game played on March 7 at Houghton High School. Jahfetson as a member of the Northern Michigan team was named MVP of the Border Bash held in Ironwood in June. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

MARQUETTE — It may have been the first year that seemed almost totally back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic year of 2020 that leaked into 2021.

2023 included a top-10’s group of worthy stories. But another 10 stories — actually 11 as this editor couldn’t pare it down quite that far — were considered and just didn’t make the final cut.

But they’re worth looking at again as we end this year of the rabbit on the Chinese calendar. Actually those long-eared mammals can keep multiplying without remorse until Feb. 10, when the Chinese new year of the dragon becomes official.

Before getting to the second 10, let’s take a quick look at the first 10 again, which were recounted in detail in a Mining Journal special section enclosed in a pair of sections of today’s edition.


Legendary former Northern Michigan University hockey coach Rick Comley was honored with the rink bearing his name at NMU's Berry Events Center. Comley, left, addresses the crowd as NMU President Fritz Erickson, NMU hockey coach Grant Potulmy, and LSSU coach Damon Whitten. Comley was announced as an inductee into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame over the summer. (Journal file photo)

The top story was the Munising High School boys basketball team winning the MHSAA Division 4 state championship, the first by that school in the sport over at least a hundred years of playing.

No. 2 was the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team winning the GLIAC Tournament, making the NCAA Division II national tournament and even winning a game there, each happening for the first time in more than two decades.

At No. 3 was ex-NMU football player and Bruce Crossing resident Jake Witt being chosen by the Indianapolis Colts in the seventh round of the NFL Draft, one of only two D-II players taken.

Then No. 4 was the Wildcats’ hockey team coming within 2 1/2 minutes of making its NCAA tourney, only for this NMU team to give up a 2-0 lead in that stretch of time and lose in overtime of the CCHA Tournament championship.

No. 5 were a pair of AARP-eligible golfers winning the top Upper Peninsula championships in mid-summer — Sue Micklow, 62, taking the U.P. Ladies Golf Association title and Mark Clements, 50, taking the UPGA men’s crown, each with their closest pursuer in their early or mid 20s.

Ned Larson of Hancock, left, tries to dribble around Gwinn defender Logan Soyring during their MHSAA Division 3 district tournament boys basketball game on March 6 at the Bulldogs’ gym. The Modeltowners would go on to win, their second victory in a row after starting the season 0-21. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Eddie O’Neill)

Ishpeming High School made No. 6 when both boys and girls tennis teams won MHSAA U.P. Division 2 titles, the boys for the first time since 1994 and the girls for the first time ever. Just for good measure, each title was won by a single point.

No. 7 was Baraga High School reaching the state championship game in Division 4 girls basketball before falling to Maple City Glen Lake after holding a five-point lead at halftime of the title contest.

No. 8 was NMU sports facilities improvements, most notably the replacement of the cooling system in the floor of the Berry Events Center ice rink and the expansion of Vandament Arena so it can host a regular-sized crowd for Wildcats’ basketball games, along with its original purpose of hosting the Northern volleyball team.

No. 9 was top All-U.P. football awards being won or almost won by area players — Marquette’s Dasan Smith carted off the Mitchell Snyder Lineman of the Year, Negaunee’s Kai Lacar was a finalist for Mr. U.P. Football, the Miners were a finalist for Team of the Year and their coach Paul Jacobson as Coach of the Year, all in the 11-player game; and also Newberry’s Matthew Rahilly as Mr. U.P. Football and co-Offensive Player of the Year in eight-player.

Then at No. 10 was the NMU women’s soccer team winning the GLIAC title for the first time, dethroning a Grand Valley State team that had won 17 of the last 19 regular seasons, then the Wildcats reaching the NCAA Division II tourney for the third time and hosting a national tourney game for the first time.

Ishpeming's Lola Korpi widens her lead in the girls race at the Tracy Strom Invitational high school cross country meet held at the Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming on Sept. 28. She would win by nearly 45 seconds. Korpi also won the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Finals in Division 2 girls cross country by nearly 2 minuts. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)


Now onto the second 10 (11 actually), listed chronologically:


• The feel-good, David-and-Goliath story of the year had to be the Gwinn High School boys basketball team winning back-to-back games after starting 0-21.

The Modeltowners won their final regular-season game, 39-38 at West Iron County on March 2, then took out Hancock 48-34 in the opening round of the MHSAA Division 3 district tournament at the Bulldogs’ gym on March 6.

Marquette’s Ethan Sandstrom, center, takes a shot that goes to the left of the Petoskey goalkeeper for a goal during their MHSAA Division 2 district championship game played at the Kaufman Sports Complex in Marquette on Oct. 21. Marquette and other U.P.-soccer playing high schools were allowed into the MHSAA tournaments after a court ruling about 15 years old was altered to allow those teams to play. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I couldn’t be happier for these guys,” Gwinn coach Kyle Aho said after the Hancock win. “It was truly a team effort.

“If I was going to give a game ball to someone, it would be our three seniors who stuck with the program while others quit or had to leave.”

After not taking the lead for good until the second half vs. WIC, Gwinn stated out fast vs. Hancock, building a 13-7 advantage after one quarter and 22-15 at halftime.

“We’ve never led at the half this season,” Aho said. “So I told them that they are going to have to step up and play as a team and keep playing without errors, and they did.”

The Bulldogs pulled within 29-26 after three quarters before the Modeltowners put the game out of reach in the fourth.

Marquette's Seppi Camilli would go on to win the boys high school race at the Dale Phillips-Wildcat Invitational cross country meet held at Northern Michigan University in Marquette on Aug. 26. Camilli would win the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Finals in Division 1 boys cross country, leads MSHS to the team title, too. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

Alas, Gwinn wouldn’t join Munising in a boys state championship game as the Modeltowners’ season ended at 2-22 in the district semifinals two days later, 66-35 at home to Ishpeming, which did go onto the regional finals a week later.


• Marquette sweeps U.P. Finals Division 1 team titles in boys and girls track and field, while Munising captures the D-3 boys championship, all in Kingsford on June 3.

Julia Ott had a hand in four victories as the MSHS girls swept sprint individual and relay events, Colin VanderSchaaf won the 800- and 1,600-meter runs and brother Carson VanderSchaaf the 3,200 for the Marquette boys, and Micaiah Peramaki repeated as a four-event champ for Munising.

Individually, Ishpeming distance specialist Lola Korpi won four events in the D-2 girls meet.


• Area athletes on state finalist basketball teams also starred in all-star games in June.

On June 8 in Ironwood, Baraga’s Corina Jahfetson was named girls game MVP at the Border Bash after she scored a game-high 27 points for the Northern Michigan team despite missing her first four 3-point shots, as she finished with nine treys to account for all her points.

Then on June 17 in St. Ignace, Munising’s Kane Nebel put in a team-high 23 points as part of his triple-double — he also had 13 assists and 12 rebounds — to lead the East squad to a 101-91 win over the West boys in the U.P. All-Star Classic.


• On June 19, NMU athletic director and original hockey coach Rick Comley was announced as an inductee into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

He joined this year’s class that included Richard “Rip” Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings, Lorenzo White of the Michigan State University football team, Lamarr Woodley of the University of Michigan football team, longtime TV hockey announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick, and the late Colleen Howe, wife of NHL legend Gordie Howe.

Comley coached the Wildcats hockey team in its first 26 seasons from 1976-2002, winning an NCAA championship in 1991 and a total of 538 games in Marquette. He earlier coached at Lake Superior State and later at MSU for a 38-year record of 738-615-110.

The induction was scheduled for mid-September in Detroit.


• Steve “Pedro” Flynn of Marquette was named to the USA Softball of Michigan Hall of Fame during the summer and was scheduled to be inducted in Midland on Sept. 30.

A 51-year veteran of the game who now lights up the Marquette County Oldtimers circuit, he began playing in 1972 and was with the Third Base Bar team for nine years, Vango’s Lounge for seven years and Marquette Fence for 13 years.

He pitched eight perfect games and 15 no-hitters, earning 32 MVP pitcher awards, 18 MVP awards and even seven MVP hitter awards.

And he’s three times been a runner-up in state championship tournaments while also playing in the Great Lakes State Games four times and a total of 10 national tourneys.

His stats are quite mind-boggling — 1,142 wins, 475 losses, 8,178 strikeouts and an earned-run average of 2.07. He’s also hit 332 home runs and has 1,121 runs batted in and a batting average of .298.

He’s only the fifth Marquette County player inducted into this hall, which was established in 1982, joining Rick Schwemin of Marquette in 2014, Francis L’Huillier of Marquette in 2008, Gardner Bess of Ishpeming in 1995 and Werner Maki of Ishpeming in 1989.


• The Negaunee Junior League team reached the national regional tournament that began on Aug. 2 in Little League baseball.

These 13- and 14-year-old boys began their tourney trek by winning the central and western U.P. District 11 tourney in Marquette, then defeated Petoskey in its backyard of Pellston in the sectionals, before getting through the eight-team state tournament in suburban Grand Rapids.


• The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced on Aug. 16 that an agreement had been reached in U.S. federal court of the Western District of Michigan to allow U.P. high school soccer teams to participate in MHSAA postseason tournaments.

Prior to that, a court decision handed down about 15 years prior dictated that U.P. soccer teams — both boys and girls — had to play at times of the year when no other high schools did in the Lower Peninsula and surrounding states like Wisconsin. It was part of a lawsuit brought by volleyball parents who wanted to see their children’s sport align with other states, which caused a cascade of changes to other sports seasons in Michigan, including U.P. soccer.

Because there was so few teams available to play within the U.P., schools like Marquette had decided to play “out of season” to have competition and weren’t eligible for the MHSAA tourneys.

The MSHS boys took advantage of the new ruling taking immediate effect, using its chance in the MHSAA Division 2 tourney in the second half of October to win its district with a 2-1 victory over Petoskey and make the regional semifinals, where their season ended with a 2-0 loss to Fruitport.


• The off-again, on-again saga of the U.P. Football All-Star Game had a happy ending when original organizer Todd Goldbeck announced in late August that he would turn the reins over to Dustin Brancheau, owner and operator of AdvantEdge Sports Training of Marquette.

Goldbeck restarted the U.P. all-star tradition in 2008 that had lain in mothballs for nearly six decades.

The game was played 15 times in NMU’s Superior Dome, usually in late June.

Goldbeck made a heroic effort to keep it going during the coronavirus pandemic year of 2020, rescheduling to a later date several times before the overarching effects of shutdowns forced its cancellation that year.

He’s brought it back for past three years, including in 2023, drawing the usual 80 to 90 graduated seniors and about a dozen coaches with a week’s leadup of events that included trips to Bay Cliff Health Camp some years, and a banquet, skills day, food drive and media sessions every summer.

“I am pleased to announce that the game will continue,” Goldbeck said in his August press release less than two weeks after announcing that he would end the game with no one then on the horizon to take it over.

“Dustin had the best interests of U.P. football in mind when he proposed to take the game over and ask for my help and endorsement.”


• Area runners run their tails off at the MHSAA U.P. Finals in cross country held in the Delta County community of Flat Rock on Oct. 21.

Like in track, Marquette swept the Division 1 boys and girls titles, setting or tying a record low point total (which is good) in the process.

MSHS’ Ella Fure won the girls individual title, as did schoolmate Seppi Camilli in the boys.

Meanwhile, in D-2, Ishpeming’s Lola Korpi had a dominating win by nearly two minutes for that girls title as Hematites’ freshman Kemper Gearhart was runner-up in the boys race.

And in D-3, Superior Central was boys runner-up and Newberry a close second in the girls meet.


• In the first All-U.P. volleyball balloting ever held by the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association on Nov. 8, Ella Schuetter of Manistique was named All-U.P. Offensive Player of the Year in Divisions 1-3, while Elisa Rizzoli of Newberry won Defensive Player of the Year in D-4.

In addition, Schuetter finished tied for second in Miss U.P. Volleyball balloting.


• NMU football lays an egg with an 0-11 season, the first under head coach Shane Richardson after he replaced Kyle Nystrom.

While the Wildcats played five nationally ranked teams, including the No. 1 team twice in a four-game stretch, Northern gave up more than 60 points four times — a 78-3 loss to then-No. 1 Ferris State, 62-0 to U.P. rival Michigan Tech, 73-14 to then-No. 1 Grand Valley State and 62-17 to Saginaw Valley State.

The season seemed to be summed up by one play in their finale, a 44-20 home loss to Northern State.

Trailing 30-6 coming out of the locker room to start the second half, Richardson called for a surprise onside kick.

Initially, the move worked perfectly as kicker Michael Karlen recovered the ball. That was before a penalty flag was noticed on the play for offsides by NMU, which would’ve gave the Wildcats no advantage as it was the kicker who recovered the pigskin.

So on the rekick five yards back, Karlen sent a regular kick deep that was fielded by Northern State’s Hank Kraft, who promptly returned it 88 yards for a touchdown 14 seconds into the third quarter.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 552. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

Marquette’s Ella Fure runs with the lead near the finish line during the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Finals in Division 1 girls cross country in Flat Rock on Oct. 21. Fure won the race, leading MSHS to the team title. (Photo courtesy Jason Juno)

Munising’s Kane Nebel, center, is double-teamed by Jeffers’ Ashton Kunishige, left, and Levi Frahm during their MHSAA Division 4 quarterfinal boys basketball game played at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee on March 21. After leading the Mustangs to the state title, Nebel also starred in the U.P. All-Star Basketball Classic, posting a triple-double in points, assists and rebounds. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

Players from the Negaunee Little League hoist the state championship trophy after the team won the Michigan Junior Division baseball championship by defeating Muskegon Roosevelt Park 8-4 in the championship game on July 25 in the Grand Rapids suburb of Georgetown Township. (Photo courtesy Negaunee Little League)

Northern Michigan University’s Noah Hofmann, front right, runs the ball 52 yards to the end zone for a touchdown during the first quarter of the Wildcats’ GLIAC game against Wayne State on Oct. 28 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. The Wildcats would finish the season at 0-11, giving up more than 60 points four times. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

Northern Michigan University quarterback Mariano Valenti, center, reaches the goal line to score the Wildcats’ first touchdown during a football game played against Lake Erie College on Sept. 9 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. The Wildcats would post an 0-11 record while giving up more than 60 points four times. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

Steven “Pedro” Flynn takes time out of an Oldtimers softball game between his Marquette team and Gwinn at Hurley Field in Marquette on July 14. Flynn was inducted into the USA Softball of Michigan Hall of Fame. (Journal photo by Aleandria Bournonville)


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