By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The 2011 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Boys Golf Finals featured a number of outstanding performances from younger players still looking forward to one or more seasons left in their high school careers.
And that means this weekend's Finals will be filled with veterans and likely some much closer team competition than a year ago.
Three reigning team champions return four of their top five scorers from last season's tournament runs. Two individual champions also are back, along with half of the players who placed among the individual top 10 at the four Finals.
Below is a look at which teams and individuals could be competing for the top prizes by the end of this weekend. Play begins at 9 a.m. Friday, with the second round beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Division 1 at The Meadows of Grand Valley State
Team favorite: It’s got to be reigning champion Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, which returns its top three and fifth scorer from the lineup that shot a solid 593 last season at Oakland University’s Katke-Cousins Golf Course. Last season’s runner-up, Davison, isn’t in the field this weekend, and no other team came within 12 of the Rangers in 2011.
Other contenders: Pinckney, Birmingham Brother Rice, Muskegon Mona Shores and Detroit Catholic Central finished third-sixth, respectively, last season, and all shot 605-617. Pinckney also brings back its top three and fifth scorer, while Brother Rice brings back four of its top five and Mona Shores its top three. Like Forest Hills Central, Plymouth shot a 296 at its Regional to finish tops in a tough field, and Traverse City West shot the low Division 1 Regional score, 293.
Medalist mix: Four of last season’s top 10 are back, led by FHC sophomore Max Rispler and Pinckney junior Otto Black. They tied for fourth last season, just two strokes off the lead, while Rangers teammates Andrew Yeager and Brody Fischer finished ninth and 10th, respectively, to cap their junior seasons. Mona Shores junior Reed Hrynewich should be back in the mix as well. He fell six strokes outside the top 10 in 2011, but tied for sixth as a freshman in 2010.
Division 2 at Ferris State’s Katke Golf Course
Team favorite: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood is ranked No. 1 after finishing runner-up a year ago at Forest Akers East. The Cranes are again led by reigning individual champion Griffin Smith, and senior Michael Ray tied freshman Dylan Deogun with a team low 80 at the Regional; Ray was the team’s third scorer last season.
Other contenders: DeWitt also returns two of its top five from last season’s team that shot an incredible 586 to win at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East. Seniors Tyler Polulak and Peter Von Spreecken have been augmented by freshman Owen Byer. Marshall is ranked No. 2 in the state poll and had four underclassmen among its top five at the Regional. Tecumseh posted the lowest Regional score in Division 2, 304, counting scores from five seniors.
Medalist mix: Cranbrook-Kingswood’s Smith, a senior, is likely to be chased again after shooting a 141 to win by two strokes in 2011 – although the top 10 last season was separated by a mere six strokes. Tecumseh’s Bobby Thomas, who tied for second, also is back after finishing two strokes off the lead. Big Rapids senior Blaze Hogan tied for seventh with a 146 and Polulak was 10th with a 147. Mason freshman Jason Brandt and Haslett senior Chris Beltzer also could make a push after shooting 71 and 73 at their respective Regionals – Brandt to finish second to Thomas, and Beltzer to win his.
Division 3 at Forest Akers East
Team favorite: Jackson Lumen Christi returns four of its low five scorers from last season’s 40-stroke win across the street from this season’s venue. Two of those players – seniors Austin Eccleton and Alex Reynolds – also finished among the top six individuals. Lumen Christi shot a 291 at its Regional to again crush the competition.
Other contenders: Although no one came close to the Titans a year ago, Grosse Ile came the closest among teams that return this spring, finishing third. The team’s top three and fifth scorer are back, led by senior Rob White, who like Reynolds tied for sixth individually in 2011. Hanover-Horton is ranked No. 3 in the state poll and like Grosse Ile shot a 307 at its Regional while taking two scores from freshmen.
Medalist mix: This came down to a tie-breaker a year ago won by Pontiac Notre Dame senior Aaron Knutson over Grand Rapids West Catholic junior Sam Weatherhead after both shot 140 over the first 36 holes. Knutson won his District and Weatherhead has been one of the state’s elite all season. But, again, this field is loaded, with Mount Morris senior Zachary Kiefer also back after tying for sixth last season.
Division 4 at Forest Akers West
Team favorite: By the rankings, it’s Saginaw Nouvel followed by Lake Leelanau St. Mary. But it’s hard to look past No. 3 Auburn Hills Oakland Christian. The Lancers, last season’s champions, bring back three of their top four from the 2011 Final, including two who finished among the top eight individually. Oakland Christian won last season’s championship by 11 strokes.
Other contenders: Nouvel does return two of its top three from last season’s Final, and shot a strong 311 at its Regional. Lake Leelanau St. Mary nearly matched with a 314 and has three of its scorers back from the team that finished 10th last spring. Ann Arbor Greenhills no longer has individual champion Henry Do – but does return four others who competed (two taking a round each in the fifth spot) for the team that finished second to Oakland Christian last season at The Meadows.
Medalist mix: Do might not be in the field, but seven of last season’s top 11 are led by reigning runner-up Ted Rider, a junior at Kalamazoo Hackett. Manistee Catholic Central junior Zack Bialik was a stroke behind him and Oakland Christian senior Zach Preuss was three back in finishing fourth among the individuals. Kalamazoo Christian senior Bailey Matheison, Saginaw Nouvel senior Dave Buko, Oakland Christian senior Tyler Coyne and Greenhills senior Travis Hindle all also finished among the top 10. Lake Leelanau freshman Joel Sneed looks like he might join that group after firing a 74 at his Regional.
PHOTO: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep's Aaron Knutson (left) and Grand Rapids West Catholic's Sam Weatherhead played in a tie-breaker for the Division 3 individiual championship in 2011.