By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
ALLENDALE – The return of three players from last year’s MHSAA championship squad produced similar expectations this season for the Lansing Catholic boys golf team.
The Cougars were able to duplicate last year’s feat, winning the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final on Saturday at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.
Lansing Catholic made it back-to-back titles by firing a 633 total. Runner-up Jackson Lumen Christi finished eight shots back and shot a 641, while Kalkaska was third at 645.
“The mindset going into the season with the players we had back was to repeat,” Cougars coach Charlie Furney said. “From the very beginning, that was our goal, and I think the key to this year compared to last year was they all lowered their stroke averages.
“We averaged 10 strokes better this year for every 18 holes we played, and we did that because of depth. All five of our kids could score in the 70s anytime they wanted.”
Ironically, it was a player who didn’t compete in last year’s Finals that set the tone for Lansing Catholic.
Junior Patrick Gillespie, the team’s No. 5 player, led the Cougars and tied for fourth individually after shooting a 152 with rounds of 77 and 75.
“It’s been an awesome couple of days,” Gillespie said. “I didn’t get to play in the state finals last year, and that’s what pushed me to get there this year. I hit it straight the last two days, and my drives were really good.”
Furney was impressed by Gillespie’s play, which made the coach reconsider his all-state nominees.
“He carried us, and he had a mission,” Furney said. “He told me at the beginning of the tournament, ‘if I shoot a couple scores in the 70s do you think you can put me up for all-state?’ because he was our fifth guy and I was thinking about putting four up. So he obviously convinced me that I’m going to have to put him up.”
Lansing Catholic’s lone senior, Brent Marshall, placed eighth overall at 156 and carded rounds of 75 and 81, while junior Niko Voutsaras shot 160 (75-85) and sophomore Owen Rush had a 164 (85-79).
“Knowing that we pretty much had our entire team coming back, we knew we had a good chance of winning a state championship and that was the goal all year,” Marshall said. “That’s how we prepared in each tournament. Just go out there and win, and we did that pretty consistently.”
Marshall said improved depth was a major factor in the team’s success. It was the program’s sixth Finals title.
“That’s been a major theme the entire year,” he said. “Knowing you have great players who are going to back you up takes a lot of the pressure off, especially when you know you’re not playing your best.”
The Cougars fired an impressive 313 in the first round to open up an eight-stroke gap. They shot 320 on Saturday, and the lead proved too much for their competitors to overcome.
“(Friday) was very important,” Marshall said. “We knew we had to jump out to an early lead, and that’s what Coach was telling us the entire week.”
Jackson Lumen Christi began the final round in fourth place, but jumped to second after recording a tournament-low 317.
It was the Titans’ second straight runner-up finish after winning four straight Finals from 2009-2012.
Junior Henry Hitt shot a 150 (74-76) and placed runner-up to individual champion Scott Sparks of Macomb Lutheran North.
Junior Tyler Moser carded a 161 (81-80), while senior Patrick Campbell (85-79) and senior Jacob Anuszkiewicz (86-82) also contributed.
“We’re really pleased with how everything turned out,” Lumen Christi coach Charles Saines said. “At the beginning of the year we returned some experience, but not a lot of experience. We had two that had been to the state finals, so to finish second is remarkable for our squad. They showed a lot of heart and set the low round of the day.”
Sparks, a sophomore, shot a stellar 5-under 67 on Friday and carded a 76 on Saturday to cruise to his first title.
He finished with a 1-under 143 total and was the only golfer to shoot under par.
“Amazing, and I’ve been dreaming about this,” Sparks said. “My brother came in second here, and I always wanted to beat him. To win a state championship is unreal, and it really hasn’t set in yet. I’m sure when I go to a tournament down in Kentucky (on Sunday) that it will set in a little bit.”
Sparks was 5-under on the back Friday to gain control. He led by six shots entering Saturday.
“I just wanted to play steady and play my game,” Sparks said. “I got a little mad at myself when I had a bogey or two, but I came back with a birdie and played steady.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Lansing Catholic stands at The Meadows scoreboard after winning its second straight Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship. (Middle) A competitor lines up a putt during Saturday’s second round. (Click to see more at HighSchoolsSportsScene.com.)
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)