Northville Rises from Low-Scoring Pack to Finish with 1st Finals Victory

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 10, 2023

ALLENDALE – A mere six shots separated the top three teams at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Boys Golf Final.

Out of the competitive tussle emerged a first-time champion.

Northville captured the program’s first Finals title after fending off its two closest competitors.

The Mustangs shot a two-day total of 605 to clip runner-up Rochester Adams (607) and third-place Brighton (609).

Adams’ junior Peter Roehl won the individual title after closing with a final-round 68.

“This program has never won a team state title in golf so this team, yesterday and today, just battled and battled and battled,” Mustangs coach Matt Lewicki said. “It’s been one of the toughest state finals we’ve ever seen from a competition standpoint top to bottom, so for these guys to prevail, it's incredible.”

Four seniors catapulted Northville to the win, led by Mason Sokolowski with a third-place finish.

Adams’ Peter Roehl tracks a shot during his medalist weekend.Sokolowski fired a 144 (70-74), while teammate Greg Braun shot a pair of 74s and finished 11th overall.

“This is crazy, our first boys golf championship,” Sokolowski said. “Everyone had each other’s back, and we were having fun out there in our last high school tournament.

“We’ve been going back and forth all year (with Brighton), and today was about smart golf. No big numbers and not getting ahead of ourselves. We just battled on a really tough course.”

The unsung hero for Northville was senior Thomas Forsythe, who hadn’t competed during the last two weeks due to the team’s talent and depth and had to go through qualifying for the opportunity to play. 

“He wasn’t expecting to play in this tournament and he came out and really contributed and really helped the team,” Lewicki said. “He came in and had a counting score yesterday and nailed it down today. He came through a gauntlet of qualifying to get in this tournament, and it was incredible for him and the rest of our seniors.”

Forsythe shot a 156 (77-79), while senior Ryan Gallagher added a 157 (79-78).

“I’m overwhelmed,” said an emotional Forsythe. “I had to qualify to get into this, and now we’re state champions. We have some good players on this team, and I’m happy that I could help and get this done.

“We just took it one shot at a time and managed to pull through. I’m happy for all the seniors, and this is the first one in school history. It’s a big deal and means a lot.”

Northville and Brighton entered the final round knotted at 300.

“The mindset today was to have fun, and the reason they were here was because they worked their butts off to get here,” Lewicki said. “Just stay calm and stay confident. Don’t get too high or too low.” 

Adams trailed by nine strokes entering Saturday, but posted the best final-round score (298) to jump into second place.

Senior Justin Oviatt finished eighth overall with a 147 (74-73).

“These kids had a great year, and I think we had 10 first or second-place finishes,” Highlanders coach Matt Zavadil said. “Overall they had a great year, and to finish it off with runner-up is pretty good.”

East Lansing’s Drew Miller follows one of his approaches.Roehl shot a 72 on the first day, but stormed to the top of the leaderboard with stellar play and finished Saturday with a tournament-low 3-under-par round.

He bested runner-up Drew Miller of East Lansing, who shot a 143 (74-69).

“I was just trying to make par on every hole,” Roehl said. “I knew scores might be a little lower, but I didn’t really look at the leaderboard and just played the golf course hole by hole. It worked out in the end.”

Roehl drained a 20-foot eagle putt on the fourth hole.

“That kickstarted my round,” he said. “I cooled off a little bit but finished strong. It feels good to win, but it stings to come up short as a team.”

Two Brighton players, seniors Winston Lerch and Andrew Daily, finished among the top 10 individuals.

Click for full results.   

PHOTOS (Top) Mason Sokolowski putts during Northville’s title-clinching round Saturday. (Middle) Adams’ Peter Roehl tracks a shot during his medalist weekend. (Below) East Lansing’s Drew Miller follows one of his approaches. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)