ALLENDALE – The beginning of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final wasn’t ideal for the Grand Rapids Catholic Central boys golf team.
The conclusion, however, turned out just fine and resulted in a history-making performance.
The Cougars won the program’s first Finals championship Saturday after shooting a two-day total of 612 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State.
Cheboygan sophomore PJ Maybank won the individual title and set a new LP Division 3 Finals scoring record carding a 135.
Catholic Central finished 28 strokes ahead of runner-up Big Rapids, which tied Hanover-Horton, but won on a fifth-score tiebreaker.
“They actually started out a little bit shaky,” longtime Catholic Central coach Kim Napieralski said. “I wasn’t sure which team I brought (Friday) morning, but then they righted the ship. I think they were a little bit nervous, especially with a young team. The senior leadership was there, but there were some nerves the first few holes. They were fine after that and finished strong.”
The championship capped off a highly successful sports season for Catholic Central, which won football and boys basketball Finals titles in the fall and winter, respectively.
The Cougars, who hadn’t been to the Finals in boys golf since 2015, were led by freshmen Will Preston and Matthew Sokorai, who shot matching 155s to tie for 13th. Senior Andrew Armock was next at 157, and junior John Harmon carded a 160. Junior Luke Preston and senior Thomas Grile combined to shoot a 162 over the weekend.
“They are young, but they are talented and focused so I thought they could do it this year,” Napieralski said. “We don’t have a weak link at all. Anybody could flip for anybody, and it’s been that way all season.”
Catholic Central shot a stellar 306 on Friday to gain control with a 14-stroke lead. The top four golfers shot in the 70s.
“The best teams in sports are the ones that are close with each other and can rely on each other,” Armock said. “We have good chemistry and we all get along, and for our coach to win Regionals and state at the same time for the first time ever is really special.”
Grile, who’s been on varsity all four years, tied his personal low with a final-round 78.
“It’s one thing to shoot 78 with my friends, but this was with tough competition and all eyes on you,” he said. “It was pretty cool to shoot that score and tie my record, and we were always just trying to make it to the state finals. To win it is amazing.”
Grile said the freshmen were welcomed additions.
“They are great kids and they score well, but they are fun to be around, too.” Grile said. “It’s a pleasure to have them on our team, and just having them help us win a state championship is great.”
Maybank, in his Finals debut, shot a scorching 6-under 66 in the first round and then followed it with a 69 on Saturday.
He broke the record previously held by Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Sam Weatherhead, who shot a 136 in 2012.
“I hit it great on Friday, and I did everything really, really solid,” Maybank said. “Today wasn’t as good as yesterday, but it was another good day. I started out a little shaky, but I started to hit it really good after the seventh or eighth hole and then made some nice putts.”
Maybank, who won his first junior golf tournament when he was 7, was one stroke from tying the all-time Finals’ record of 134, held by Hamilton’s Nick Carlson (2015).
“My approach shots were really solid, and I think I hit the most greens I’ve ever hit in a tournament and that really helped,” Maybank said. “This was definitely one of my goals, to win Regionals and win state, so to do both and play this well is definitely all I could ask for.”
Big Rapids experienced another heartbreaking near-miss finishing second for the fourth season in a row.
Junior Luke Welch led the Cardinals with a 154, placing 11th individually.
“We didn’t have too many kids with state finals experience, and we sent our seniors out with four straight runner-up finishes and we had a third,” Big Rapids coach Mark Posey said. “You won’t find too many programs in the state that have that in the last five years. We’re proud of that, and these boys work hard, they listen to their coaches and they know what it takes to play well.”
PHOTOS: (Top) A Grand Rapids Catholic Central golfer hits an approach during Friday’s first round at The Meadows. (Middle) Cheboygan’s PJ Maybank holds up his champions sign after shooting one of the lowest rounds in Finals history. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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)