Preview: Champs, Now Challengers Again

June 4, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Last season’s Lower Peninsula Boys Golf Finals ended up among the most predictable in recent memory – Battle Creek Lakeview, Lansing Catholic and Kalamazoo Hackett all entered ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions, and all emerged as champions.

Will this weekend’s MHSAA Finals end up similarly as expected? Those reigning champions all are ranked again among the top three, but with plenty of competition looking to spoil their repeat attempts.

Below are some expected team and individual favorites at each Final. First-round play tees off at 9 a.m. Friday, with the final round beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday. Click for a full list of Finals qualifiers and Regional results

DIVISION 1 at Forest Akers East

Top ranked: No. 1 Detroit Catholic Central, No. 2 Rockford, No. 3 Battle Creek Lakeview.

Battle Creek Lakeview: Last season’s champion and the runner-up in 2012 returns only two golfers from a year ago, but they were key contributors – junior Matt Alderink tied for 10th individually and sophomore Andrew Walker finished only three shots outside the top 10 at the Final. Freshman James Staab was the low scorer at the Regional at El Dorado, tying for fifth, as the Spartans finished second to Rockford. Depth is a strength of this lineup – the top four at the District finished within six shots of each other, while all five scored within eight strokes of their teammates at the Regional.

Detroit Catholic Central: The 2010 champion tied for third a year ago and was one of four teams in LP Division 1 to break 300 at Regionals, and also shot in the 290s at its District. The Shamrocks’ second and third-lowest scorers from last year’s Final are back – junior Glenn Piot and senior Domenic Mancinelli, They tied for fifth individually at the Mystic Creek Regional, although DCC finished second to White Lake Lakeland despite shooting 297 as a team. Freshman James Piot led the way at the Regional, tying for second with a 73. Glenn Piot and senior Dan Ault finished first and tied for fifth, respectively, as the team won its District at Tanglewood with a 294.

Rockford: The Rams are seeking their first MHSAA boys golf championship after finishing 12th last year. Rockford has only one senior – but he could lead a championship effort. A.J. Varekois finished third individually at the 2013 Final, finished third at his District and won his Regional last month. Junior Joel Pietila tied for fifth at the Regional, and along with juniors Michael Cooper and Josh Stephan and sophomore Kevin Kamis, also played in last season’s championship tournament. Rockford, like DCC, was one of four teams to break 300 at Regionals, shooting 298.

Other individuals of note: Four more top-10 finishers from last season’s Final join Varekois and Alderink; White Lake Lakeland senior Alex Kleckner initially tied for first place in 2013 and finished runner-up after a three-hole playoff, while Saline senior Ian Martin, Canton junior Donnie Trosper and Plymouth senior John Tatti all tied for sixth. Trosper is back as an individual qualifier. Playing as his team’s lone representative as well is Ann Arbor Huron freshman Brandon Petzak – he won his District and finished fourth at his Regional. A number of others shot in the low 70s at Regionals – but Lakeland senior Jake Kneen is someone to keep an eye on after he carded a 68.

DIVISION 2 at Forest Akers West

Top ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, 2. DeWitt, 3. East Lansing.

Cranbrook-Kingswood: The 2012 champion hopes to win its second MHSAA Final in three seasons and was one of five teams in this division to shoot 301-305 at Regionals. Three of the Cranes’ top four scorers from last season’s third-place Finals finisher are back. Juniors Dylan Deogun and Todd Fridline and senior Robbie Van Voorhis all three finished among the top eight at the District, and all five in the lineup finished among the top 13 at the Regional – which was won by freshman Devin Deogun.

DeWitt: The Panthers were the low scorers at Regionals of all Division 2 teams, shooting a 301, and will be looking for a big comeback this weekend after trying for seventh a year ago (they won LP Division 2 in 2010 and 2011). Junior Owen Beyer tied for 10th at last season’s Final and for third at a strong Regional at Prairiewood as DeWitt edged host Otsego and East Lansing by three strokes to finish first as a team. All five golfers shot within 11 strokes of each other, with senior Cody White taking fifth. He and junior Mike Coscarelli also were part of the 2013 Finals lineup.

East Lansing: The Trojans are seeking their first MHSAA title since 2000 without a senior in the lineup this weekend – but with two of the top three back from last season’s fourth-place finish and after shooting 304 to finish just behind DeWitt at their Regional. Junior Joe Croom is one the pair returning from last season, and he finished third individually at the Regional. Junior Matt Rogerson also is back after shooting the team’s low Finals score in 2013.

Other individuals of note:  All but the champion from last season’s top 10 are back in the field, led by Hamilton junior Nick Carlson who finished second in 2013 and shot a 69 at his Regional. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern sophomore Spencer Schab (third), Grand Rapids Christian senior Ben Van Scoyk and Croswell-Lexington senior Austin Carter (tied for fourth), Detroit Country Day senior Rishi Patel (sixth), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior Jack Zohoury and Otsego junior Logan Haight (tied for seventh), New Boston Huron senior Tyler Olsen (eighth) and Grand Rapids Christian senior Tommy Reitema (tied for 10th) join Beyer in pursuit of individual contention. Remember as well Richland Gull Lake senior Tyler Van Dermolen, who missed the top 10 last season but shot a 68 at his Regional.

DIVISION 3 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University

Top ranked: 1. Lansing Catholic, 2. Jackson Lumen Christi, 3. Hanover-Horton.

Hanover-Horton: The Comets also bring back three players after finishing fourth last season, and junior Kenzie Brockie tied for eighth individually in 2012 when the team finished runner-up. He and junior Brock Spink just missed the individual top 10 last season, and junior Fred Vann also played; those three and junior Kyle Clark and freshman Dakota Fleming give the Comets a lineup capable for making a run not just this season but next. Spink won the Regional ahead of three Lumen Christi players.

Jackson Lumen Christi: The Titans saw a four-year championship run end in 2013, but return loaded for another run with three back after falling to second place. Seniors Jacob Anuszkiewicz and Patrick Campbell and junior Henry Hitt all shot 77s to tie for second at the Regional as all five Lumen Chrisit players finished among the top 12. All five finished among the top 11 at the District on their home course, Cascades, as Lumen Christi edged Hanover-Horton by two strokes.

Lansing Catholic: Last season’s champion returns three of its top five from that day including reigning individual runner-up Brent Marshall, now a senior. Juniors Niko Voutsaras and Adam Elias also were part of the championship lineup. Sophomore Owen Rush took Marshall to a playoff for first at the District this spring, and Rush and junior Patrick Gillespie joined champion Marshall among the top five at the Regional. Coach Charlie Furney has led the Cougars to four championships and two runner-up finishes over the last 12 seasons.

Other individuals of note: Unlike Divisions 1 and 2, Division 3 appears wide open from an individual standpoint with Almont junior Gavin DePauw (tied for fifth) joining Marshall as the only top-10 finishers back from last season. Flint Powers Catholic freshman Blaise Vanitvelt is a name to watch, and Grand Rapids South Christian senior Nick Vander Horst and Williamston senior Parker Ottarson are a few others that could jump up from a balanced field.

DIVISION 4 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley

Top ranked: 1. Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2. North Muskegon, 3. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central.

Oakland Christian: The Lancers’ 328 was the second-lowest Regional score in LP Division 4 and should be a good indication that the 2011 champions are ready to make a big jump from last season’s tie for seventh. Four of last season’s five Finals golfers return, and all four are seniors – John Van Noord, Aaron Kostich, Spencer Haupert and Austin Miller; Van Noord also played as a freshman on the MHSAA championship team. He, Haupert and junior Jimmy Kern all finished among the top five at the Regional at Westwynd, their home course.

Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central: The reigning champion has an entirely new lineup from the one that placed three among the top 10 individuals in claiming the team title in 2013. But the Fighting Irish won their District by 23 strokes with senior Evan Brennan finishing first among individuals, and then claimed the Regional title by eight with freshman Nick Jasiak taking first after defeating two others in a playoff.  

Lincoln Alcona: The Tigers are ranked fifth and posted the lowest Regional score in LP Division 4, 324, with a lineup of five seniors. Four of the five also played on the team that finished 10th at last season’s MHSAA Final. Alcona won its District by 16 with Lucas Weichel taking the individual honor, then won the Regional by nine with Walker Kelly, Weichel and Josh Mead all finishing between fourth and sixth in the individual standings.

Other individuals of note: Leland junior Joel Sneed finished 11th at last season’s Final and is the highest-placing individual back for this weekend. He also shot a 68 at his Regional to go low for all of LP Division 4 and make himself the favorite. Pentwater junior Sam Wagner tied for 12th last season and also could be in the mix. Suttons Bay junior Devin Capron wasn’t far behind those two at the 2013 Final and shot a 70 last month to finish second to Sneed at their Regional at Spruce Run.

PHOTO: The rest of the top-10 placers at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 Boys Golf Final clap for champion Ryan Bayer of Comstock Park. All but Bayer will return for this weekend’s championship tournament. (Click to see more at

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.)