1st-Day Leader Hackett Finishes Title Run

June 8, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

ALLENDALE – Aiden Gillig didn’t want to leave Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep without accomplishing a goal that had eluded him in previous tries.

Gillig’s soccer teams had fallen short twice in pursuit of Division 4 titles, but it turns out a smaller white ball did just the trick.

Hackett won its first MHSAA Finals since 2013 on Saturday, shooting the second round of a two-day 652 that bested runner-up Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett by 11 strokes at The Meadows at Grand Valley State.

“This is my first state title, and I’ve been chasing one for the last four years,” said Gillig, the lone senior on Hackett’s team. “It’s been tough to get runner-up twice for soccer, so this means a lot to get this one.

“I thought we came in underrated, and we showed the state we were the best team. And these young guys have the potential to win two more, and hopefully they do.”

The Irish had a pair of golfers finish among the top 10. Junior Will Verduzco tied for fifth with a 156, and sophomore Tommy Keyte was seventh at 157.

Also contributing were sophomores Ryan Chafty (162) and Ben Bridenstine (177).

“We’ve been there all year, and we have three guys that can shoot in the 70s and Aidan and Ben are in the low 80s,” Verduzco said. “That’s what you need to compete in this tournament, and this is something we’ve thought about all year and worked toward.

“I think some people didn’t see it coming, outside of the team, but it feels good to get it done.”

Last season’s Division 4 champion NorthPointe Christian moved to Division 3 this spring. But Hackett, after coming in fourth in 2018, returned its top four players from last season and won its Regional two weeks ago by a whopping 45 strokes.

“I think they knew a little more of what to do this year, and it was definitely an advantage for them to play in the Finals last year,” Irish coach Jim Holton said. “The Meadows is a tough course, and you have to keep it out of the tall grass. We played pretty good yesterday, and I’m pretty happy overall with how they played. It was a total team effort today.”

The Irish led by 14 strokes entering the final round after a first-day total of 323. Leland, Clarkston Everest Collegiate and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett all were tied for second at 337 after the first round.  

“This is a tough course to come from behind,” Holton said. “As long as we played smart and didn’t give up strokes, I knew it would be tough for a team to come from behind.”

Clarkston Everest Collegiate senior Mitch Lowney, meanwhile, captured the individual title by shooting a 147 to win by a single stroke over two other players.

Lowney outlasted Clinton’s Austin Fauser and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Michael Zanoni. They both shot 148.

“Being a senior, I wanted to end on a good note,” Lowney said. “Obviously, I wanted the team win, but a goal of mine was to win the individual state title and I knew I could do it. It was pretty intense out there at the end.”

Lowney carded a first-day 73 and then followed it up with a 2-over-par 74. He finished his round with eight consecutive pars.

“I played very smart,” Lowney said. “I hit driver a total of two times over the past two days, and I just played this course smart. I took my medicine when I did and played good overall.”

Ironically, Lowney placed runner-up to Fauser as a sophomore. Lowney was fifth a year ago.

“I’ve been in the mix a lot, and it feels good to actually get one,” Lowney said.

The Knights, which recorded their best Finals’ finish since 2015, posted the lowest team total of Saturday (326).

“For very difficult conditions and a tough course, we played great,” Liggett coach Dan Sullivan said. “They had the best round of the day, and we made up some ground on the first-place team by three strokes so I was very proud of them for that. And my three players that carried me at the end were two freshmen and a sophomore.”

Junior Colin Degnore fired a final-round 76 for the Knights and finished tied for eighth at 157.

Sullivan said he believed Hackett was the team to beat.

“I thought Hackett was the best team in the state when I looked at scores of various tournaments,” he said. “I thought they were head-and-shoulders above everybody else, and they would have to have a rough tournament for anyone else to have a chance. I thought we would be fighting with those other teams for second place.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hackett’s Will Verduzco watches one of his shots during Saturday’s second-round play at The Meadows. (Middle) Clarkston Everest Collegiate’s Mitch Lowney hits an approach during his run to the individual championship. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Saline's Williams-Hoak Named National Coach of the Year by LPGA Professionals

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 20, 2022

The LPGA Professionals have named Saline High School golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak as its national Coach of the Year.

Williams-Hoak was among national award winners who were selected by the LPGA Professionals’ executive committee from a pool of Section Award winners, which were voted on by officers of those regional sections.

More on the award from LPGA Professionals:

The LPGA Professionals Coach of the Year Award was established in 1980 and is awarded annually to an LPGA Professionals member who is actively engaged in teaching and/or coaching golf at the collegiate or high school level.

LPGA Professionals Class A member Debbie Williams-Hoak knows what it takes to compete at the highest levels. She is a former LPGA Tour Player and track & field athlete who represented U.S. Track & Field in Russia and West Germany. She is a four-time Big Ten Champion, a member of the Ohio Track & Field Hall of Fame, University of Michigan Women’s Track Hall of Fame member and a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame as a player, coach and teaching professional. This year, she is being inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor.

Having been a multi-sport athlete accustomed to competing at the highest level, Williams-Hoak brings something unique to her coaching style. She has successfully coached boys and girls golf for the past 16 years at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan, and currently is serving as the first female president of the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association. Williams-Hoak feels proud that every girl on her team shot career lows while maintaining 100-percent academic eligibility this season, while her boys team placed second in the conference championship and qualified for its second-straight state Finals appearance.

She is dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of the game while empowering students through golf and hopes her example will pave the way for other women coaches to lead as well.

Williams-Hoak received the 2017 Sandy LaBauve Spirit Award, the most coveted honor bestowed by LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, for her continued dedication and passion for empowering girls through golf.  She was honored with the Midwest Youth Leader of the Year and Goldie Bateson Award two times, in addition to numerous recognitions as Coach of the Year from Saline High School.

She is deeply involved with the LPGA Professionals organization, which she currently serves as the LPGA Midwest Secretary since 2021. She has been site director for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf of Greater Washtenaw Country since 2015 and acted as an advisor for the Site Director Certification program in 2021. From 2018-2021, she worked as an expert committee member for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf.  She also coached at the LPGA Leadership Academies in Michigan over the last two years.

"I am extremely humbled by this award, as there are so many outstanding LPGA coaches in our association. What an honor to represent the LPGA, the state of Michigan and the game of golf as a coach,” said Williams-Hoak. “It is a privilege to work with so many wonderful players who make coaching so rewarding. I am also fortunate to have such great fellow coaches in Michigan and throughout the LPGA. Thank you so much for this very special recognition."

PHOTO: Saline golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak, far left, stands for the trophy shot with her girls team after the Hornets won the 2016 Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship. (MHSAA file photo)