Category: Athlete of the Year

Multiple Teams · One of these 5 will be 2016-17 Livingston County Female Athlete of the Year


It would take an extraordinary single-sport specialist to win the Livingston Daily Press & Argus’ Female Athlete of the Year, given the fact that all 21 previous winners played more than one sport.

There was a good chance of a one-sport athlete ending that trend this year, given the fact the county had the gymnastics all-around state champion (Brighton’s Courtney Casper), a swimmer who won two events at the state meet (Brighton’s Taylor Seaman) and a record-setting softball player who made first-team All-America (Howell’s Veronica Pezzoni).

But there were enough quality multi-sport competitors to keep those extraordinary athletes off the list of five finalists for Female Athlete of the Year.

Here are those five candidates:

Isabella Garcia, Pinckney, Sr.

Garcia was the Runner of the Year for Livingston County after leading Pinckney to a fifth-place finish in the Division 1 cross country state meet. She was the Pirates’ No. 1 runner in the state meet. In the spring, she set a school record in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 11 minutes, 1.18 seconds at regionals. That time enabled her to qualify for the state meet after missing by three-hundredths of a second in 2016. At the state meet, she helped Pinckney set a county record and place fourth in the 3,200 relay.

Jackie Jarvis, Fowlerville, Soph.

Jarvis made second-team all-county in basketball and soccer. She was part of a strong sophomore core that led Fowlerville’s basketball team to a 15-7 record and first trip to the district final since 2010. She had the best three-game scoring stretch by a county girl last season with games of 23, 23 and 18 points late in the season. In soccer, the versatile Jarvis primarily played defense, but moved around in the lineup and contributed six goals and eight assists. Jarvis also plays volleyball.

Michelle Moraitis, Hartland, Sr.

Moraitis is a three-sport standout who capped her Hartland career by setting three track and field school records in her final three weeks, earning the sport’s Athlete of the Year. She anchored the 800 and 1,600 relay teams to school records, while running the second-fastest 400 time in county history to place eighth at the Division 1 state meet. She was the starting point guard and a shutdown defender on a basketball team that went 22-2, making second-team all-county. Moraitis was Hartland’s top cross country runner, qualifying for three state meets before coming up short as a senior.

Elie Smith, Fowlerville, Soph.

The leading scorer on a Fowlerville basketball team that went 15-7 and reached its first district final since 2010, Smith received honorable mention on the Class B All-State team and was second-team all-county, averaging a team-high 12.5 points. She could also be a state high jump contender in the coming years, having cleared 5 feet this spring in basketball shoes to make second-team all-county.

Hannah Swanson, Brighton, Jr.

Because of pressure from coaches in these sports to specialize, Swanson is a rare athlete who plays on high-caliber high school volleyball and soccer teams. Swanson was the all-county goalkeeper in soccer, backstopping Brighton to a No. 2 state ranking, four championships and a berth in the regional final. She had 10 shutouts, surrendering only 14 goals in 21 games. In volleyball, she received honorable mention all-county, helping Brighton win KLAA West and districttitles.

Multiple Teams · Examining the male Athlete of the Year candidates


It’s that time of year again.

We’ve examined the nominees of potential Athlete of the Year candidates and whittled down the list to our top five. Of course, that was an extremely arduous task, as there was no shortage of deserving student-athletes in Livingston County.

But there will be some glaring omissions.

Some of the county’s most dominant athletes (i.e. Brighton wrestler Luke Ready last season) haven’t appeared as a finalist on the list, as we tend to give the edge to those who exhibit excellence across multiple sports.

If you don’t like that, and have any issues with our choices, let us hear about it by voting in the poll below, where you can write-in whichever athlete you felt was most deserving for the 2016-17 school year.

That said, here are this year’s top five male athletes in Livingston County.

Andrew Spisz, Hartland

While lacrosse is Spisz’s main sport — which he will play at Lawrence Tech in the fall — one couldn’t easily pinpoint that, given how great he was in wrestling and football. Spisz began the school year at running back for the Hartland football team, averaging7.3 yards per carry (53 carries, 385 yards) and scoring seven touchdowns. Those were very good numbers and he was a second team all-county selection. But that was his “worst” season. In the winter, he dominated at 189 pounds for the Eagles wrestling team, putting forth a 54-6 record and taking third at the Division 1 individual state meet, Livingston County’s highest finisher. The two-time all-stater, one-time team state champion and No. 3-ranked 189-pounder came a controversial penalty point from reaching the championship match. Finally, in his favorite sport during the spring, Spisz helped lead Hartland’s best-ever boys lacrosse team, which was 21-1, going undefeated until the D1 state semifinals where it fell to Detroit Catholic Central in overtime. Spisz was a second team all-state pick.

Caleb Balgaard, Howell

A Division I baseball talent who is currently preparing for his freshman season at Indiana University, Balgaard exhibited incredible abilities throughout his high school career — especially in his senior season — to hit for average and power while showing impressive speed on the basepaths and boasting a fantastic glove at shortstop. Balgaard posted a .445 batting average in his final season with five home runs, 38 RBIs and stole 13 bases en route to earning first team all-state honors in Division 1. His team won four consecutive district championships during his tenure as well. But Balgaard wasn’t solely a one-sport wonder — his versatility in swimming and diving was equally as astonishing. Balgaard was a two-time all-state diver as a junior and senior, taking eighth at the latest Division 1 state meet. But he was also an excellent 50-yard freestyler, coming in 17th at state as well as being part of the first team all-county, state-qualifying 200 freestyle relay team that included Henry Bauer, Braden Gregory and Stephen Meagher. It could be a while before Howell sees someone with that much baseball-swimming versatility and talent again.

David Mitter, Howell

Andrew Spisz, Caleb Balgaard and David Mitter. That’s it. That’s the short list of two-sport all-state athletes this season from Livingston County. Mitter earned his distinctions by running and running and running some more, as the Howell cross country runner in the fall also ran the longest distances during the track season in the spring. Mitter secured his first all-state honor by recording the best finish by a Howell runner in the state meet in 15 years, clocking in at 16 minutes, 1.2 seconds to place 19th. He would go on to be named Livingston Daily’s Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. He wasn’t done, though, as he went on to have a phenomenal track season in which he broke the school’s 3,200-meter record with a time of 9:09.96 in the state finals, where he took fourth. It was very nearly a new county record, missing Hartland’s Ian McGinn’s record of 9:09.52 by hundredths of a second. Additionally, Mitter’s 1,600 time of 4:20.65 at the Larry Steeb Memorial Meet of Champions was the fastest county time in the event this season.

Rudy Ramirez, Brighton

Only a junior, Ramirez was a football and baseball player, but he made himself valuable in perhaps more ways than anyone on this list. In football, he was a first team all-county wide receiver, hauling in 16 catches for 398 yards and five touchdowns on a Brighton team that won the KLAA West for a second straight year. He was also the team’s kicker, and a really, really good kicker at that. Ramirez was 11-for-11 on extra-point attempts and 6-of-7 on field goal tries, including a game-winner with time running out against Grand Blanc. Brighton coach Brian Lemons said Ramirez was the team’s most athletic player and his baseball coach, Charlie Christner, said similar after a spring season in which Brighton won the West and was ranked No. 10 in Division 1. Ramirez was “the team’s best hitter” posting a .385 clip while also scoring 35 runs, plating 25 and walking 21 times. And he served as Brighton’s No. 2 pitcher, compiling a 7-1 record and 1.95 ERA.

Wyatt Thomas, Fowlerville

Fowlerville boasted its best football and baseball teams in quite some time. The football team was one of the state’s best surprises, going 7-3 and qualifying for the playoffs after winning seven games in its previous three seasons combined. The baseball team got off to a scorching hot start, earning a top-10 ranking in Division 2 and winning a district championship. Thomas was the leader of both of those groups. Football coach Bret Shrader called the senior linebacker the “emotional leader” of the defense, which held opponents to its lowest total points since 2009. He a was a first team all-county selection in a year that was loaded with talent at the position. In baseball, Thomas led the Gladiators with a .404 batting average, nine doubles and 31 RBIs. He also struck out 62 batters in 39 2/3 innings on the mound as the Glads’ No. 3 pitcher in earning his second first-team all-county selection this school year.


Multiple Teams · Record-setting blitz earns Hartland’s Michelle Moraitis track & field Athlete of the Year


HARTLAND — With the clock winding down a four-year career, there was no trace of Michelle Moraitis’ name on the Hartland track and field record board.

She ranked high on the Eagles’ all-time list in several events, but the board in the Hartland gym is reserved for school records; close doesn’t count.

When Moraitis returns to Hartland’s gym — perhaps to watch former basketball teammates next winter — she will see her name on the board three times.

In her final three weeks in blue and gold, Moraitis set a Livingston County record in the 400-meter dash and anchored the 800 and 1,600 relay teams to school-record performances.


Moraitis’ strong finish earned her the county girls’ track and field Athlete of the Year, as selected by the Livingston Daily Press & Argus.

“I definitely wanted to get my name up there,” Moraitis said. “It was kind of my last chance, so every meet was exciting. Each meet was something new and something better.”

The Eagles could put Moraitis just about anywhere in the lineup and she would score points. Her remarkable range produced highly competitive times from the 100-meter dash all the way to 5,000-meter cross country.

She had Hartland’s best times this season in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 while running on the three sprint relay teams.

“I knew she was capable and her work ethic was there,” Hartland coach Matt Gutteridge said. “We were pulling her in a lot of different ways to help us win some dual meets.”

Moraitis found her sweet spot in the 400, an event which demands the right blend of speed and endurance.

At the Division 1 state meet, Moraitis broke the Livingston County record with a time of 57.64 seconds. She broke the county mark of 57.83 set by Hartland’s Amber Shelters in the 2005 state meet. Moraitis, running in the second-fastest heat, secured an all-state berth by placing eighth.

“It was really surprising,” Moraitis said. “I crossed the finish line and was like, ‘What?’ I looked at the time and I was really just shocked, because I beat my previous best time by a second; that’s a lot for a sprint.

“In the beginning of the season, it was something I was thinking I’d like to get. Near the end of the season, ‘I’m pretty far away; I don’t think I’ll get there.’ I kept working, kept working and I got there.”

Moraitis would secure one more school record that day in her final high school race. After sophomores Lauren Smith and Samantha Fritz and freshman Lindsey Strutz put the Eagles in position to take down the record, Moraitis brought home a 4:03.88 finish.

That broke the mark of 4:04.72 set in 2010 by Erin Suttman, Heather Pietrzak, Michelle Jones and Avery Evenson. A year earlier, Smith, Fritz, Moraitis and Miranda Tomlins ran 4:04.40, a time that was originally believed to be the school record.

It wasn’t.

“We had the wrong record on the school board,” Moraitis said. “The actual record was written down somewhere else, so we thought we broke it last year. We had it in the paper and everything. Then our coach looked at the thing with all the official records and apparently it wasn’t. That was embarrassing and disappointing at the same time. … It was more exciting coming into this year and breaking those records and redeeming ourselves.”

Moraitis’ phenomenal three-week closing stretch began May 19 at the KLAA Lakes Conference meet when Hartland won the 800 relay in a school-record 1:45.83. Smith, Anna Kunz, Strutz and Moraitis broke the mark of 1:46.20 set in 2005.

Moraitis did not have a relay partner older than a sophomore, so perhaps those records will go down in the coming years.

“They’re going to have good teams coming up in the future,” Moraitis said. “We’ll see what they can do.

“When I became a junior, a lot of really good, fast seniors graduated that I ran with as a sophomore. I was a little worried. When they came in as freshmen, it was really nice getting to know them and getting excited about them being on our relay teams, because I didn’t know if we would have any fast kids coming up.”

When Moraitis hit the finish line in the 1,600 relay at the state meet, her career as a track and field athlete was over. The three-sport athlete will play basketball at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana.

“I’m definitely not going to (run track) in college,”  she said. “It was a good way to finish it up.”