Preview: Get to Know These Contenders

June 8, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A sense of familiarity surrounds all four of this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Golf Finals.

In Division 1, Detroit Catholic Central is the reigning champion and again looks incredibly strong, while in Division 3 Lansing Catholic has won three straight and will play to become the 12th team to win four consecutive titles.

The familiarity at Divisions 2 and 4 is more about teams knowing each other well; in Division 2, the top three ranked teams also played in the same Regional last week, while in Division 4 two of the top three hail from the Muskegon area.

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 9 a.m. Saturday. Click for a full list of Finals qualifiers and Regional results

LP Division 1 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University

Top-ranked: 1. Detroit Catholic Central, 2. Grosse Pointe South, 3. Grand Blanc.

Detroit Catholic Central ran away with last year’s title at Ferris State but might be even more unstoppable this weekend. Another sub-300 performance would seem to put the Shamrocks out front, but there’s a strong field ready to pounce if presented the opportunity; nine other finalists shot 308-316 at their Regionals, and Plymouth put up a 283 at its District at Fox Hills.

Detroit Catholic Central: Three Shamrocks finished among the top eight individually at the 2015 Final as DCC won the team title by 31 strokes, and all three are back – senior Max Palmer (tied for eighth) and juniors James Piot (tied for eighth) and Ben Smith (third). They shot a 283 to win their District at Chemung Hills in Howell and a 295 to win the Regional at Hartland, taking at least three of the top four individual places at both.

Grosse Pointe South: The Blue Devils shot a 290 to win their District at St. Clair Shores Golf Club and a solid 310 to finish second to Warren DeLaSalle at the Regional at The Orchards in Washington Township. Sophomores Evan Theros and Patrick Sullivan tied for third at the Regional and played rounds for last season’s team that finished sixth at the Division 1 Final. Juniors Jon Teddy Schoof and David Scupholm and senior Jon Theros also played in last year’s Final, giving South one of the most veteran lineups this weekend.

Grand Blanc: The Bobcats didn’t even make last season’s Final, but have stormed back and traded shots with No. 6 Midland the last two rounds, finishing second to the Chemics in the District but beating them by five strokes to win their Regional at Boulder Pointe in Oxford. Sophomore Zach Hopkins tied for individual runner-up at the Regional as three players finished among the top nine (with ties). The two players who didn’t break the top 10 were among the top eight (with ties) at the District.

Other individuals of note: Reigning champion Andrew Walker of Battle Creek Lakeview returns to lead a group including six of last season’s top 10 and two of the top three. The Spartans senior won his District at El Dorado in Mason with a 72 and shot the same score to win the Regional at Cedar Springs’ Cedar Chase. Flushing senior Joe Montpas tied with Smith for third last year, only three strokes back, and he won his District at Grand Traverse Resort with a 73 and his Regional at Boulder Pointe with a 69. Northville’s Jimmy Dales was 10th individually in 2015 as only a freshman, and Plymouth junior Jack Boczar made headlines last month with a winning 64 at his District.

LP Division 2 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley

The three top-ranked teams finished the Regional within four strokes of each other at Pohlcat in Mount Pleasant (Forest Hills Eastern at 312, Forest Hills Northern at 314 and St. Johns at 316). But Forest Hills Northern was the only one to play as a team at last year’s Final, although Forest Hills Eastern was runner-up only two seasons ago.

Top-ranked: 1. Ada Forest Hills Eastern, 2. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 3. St. Johns.

Ada Forest Hills Eastern: The Hawks actually had to bounce back to win the Regional after finishing second to Forest Hills Northern at their District at Thornapple Pointe in Grand Rapids. Senior Zach Robbins tied for third at the District and then second at the Regional, where he was joined by sixth-place senior Marc Gerst in the top 10 against a strong field. Both played on the 2014 Finals runner-up team, and Robbins tied for fourth individually that year and sixth last season when he qualified alone.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies finished third last season, nine strokes back of champion DeWitt, and return a number of veterans. Senior Spencer Schab tied for 10th individually in 2015 and has finished among the top 20 at both the District and Regional, with senior Phil Lodzinski standing out most by winning the Regional and finishing second at the District. Seniors Brian McHale and Chase Lebster also both played at last season’s Final, and Lebster was third at the District two weeks ago. Forest Hills Northern is seeking its first Finals title since 1983.

St. Johns: The Redwings are playing for their first championship, and first top-two finish since 1961 – and might have a two-year window with four juniors and a sophomore in the starting lineup. Junior Eric Nunn missed the top 10 at last year’s Final by four strokes playing as an individual qualifier, and he was one of three placing among the top six (plus ties) at the Regional. Junior Zach Rosendale tied for second at the Regional and won his District at Pine River in Alma, where four St. Johns players finished among the top six (with ties).

Other individuals of note: Robbins and Schab are joined by two others who finished among the top 10 a year ago – Otsego junior Tyler Rayman, who tied for fourth, and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood junior Devin Deogun, who also tied for sixth. Deogun shot a 67 at his Regional to finish low among four who broke 70 in all of Division 2. Pontiac Notre Dame junior Jackson Stowe (68), East Lansing senior Ian Carroll (68) and Trojans junior Tony Fuentes (69) were the others.

LP Division 3 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East

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

Lansing Catholic has won the last three Division 3 championships, after Jackson Lumen Christi won four straight from 2009-12. Lumen Christi also finished runner-up in 2013 and 2014. So it’s easy to understand why those two are the favorites again – although there are a few more that definitely have shown the ability to impact this tournament.

Lansing Catholic: The Cougars’ winning 305 at its Regional at Twin Brooks in Chesaning was 13 strokes lower than any other Regional score in Division 3 and 17 strokes better than a field that included No. 4 Tawas and No. 13 Freeland. Lansing Catholic’s 309 to win the District at Glebrier in Perry beat the field by 42 strokes. Senior Owen Rush was third at the 2015 Final and won last week’s Regional with a 69 and the District with a 72; sophomore Ethan O’Farrell and senior Viani Magaswaran both posted top–seven finishes at both preliminary levels as well, and junior Peter Kramer tied for second at the District.

Jackson Lumen Christi: The Titans finished third last season without putting a player among the individual top 10; only senior Will Double is back from last season’s starting five, and he’s joined by another group of solid players capable of making a move. All five finished among the top six at the District, led by junior and champion Luke Girodat, and Double was runner-up at the Regional as all five tied for 16th or higher.

Frankenmuth: The Eagles went from unranked to contender status after shooting a 318 – the second-lowest of any Division 3 team at Regionals – to win by 14 at Atlas Valley in Grand Blanc. Frankenmuth put two among the top 10 at their District but three among the top four at their Regional – junior Chase Singer was runner-up and senior Sam Struble and junior Daniel Wagner tied for fourth.

Other individuals of note: Only four of last season’s top 10 are back, including Lansing Catholic’s Rush. But that group also includes Macomb Lutheran North senior and individual qualifier Scott Sparks, who won the Division 3 individual title as a sophomore in 2014 before tying for sixth a year ago. Freeland senior Ben Balen also is back after tying for sixth, and Portland senior Rhet Schrauben was fourth last season and third as a sophomore.

LP Division 4 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West

Top-ranked: 1. North Muskegon, 2. Kalamazoo Christian, 3. Muskegon Catholic Central.

After finishing only two strokes behind Suttons Bay last season, North Muskegon is top-ranked heading into the weekend and seeking its first championship since 1997. But Muskegon Catholic Central has joined the conversation by finishing only 11 strokes back of North Muskegon at their District and two back at the Regional. Kalamazoo Christian has never won an MHSAA title in this sport and was eighth a year ago among a tightly-packed field, but won its District by 15 and its Regional by 30 over the last two weeks.

North Muskegon: The Norsemen tied for second last season despite its low scorer, now-senior Will Mierz, coming in only ninth. That consistency among the group has continued to pay off with four of last season’s top five back and three of the four finishing tied for seventh or better at the Regional at The Emerald in St. Johns. Junior Brendan Harris was runner-up at the Regional with a 70, while junior Gannon Moss led four among the top eight (with ties) with a third-place 75 at the District at Stonegate in Muskegon.

Kalamazoo Christian: Four of the top five from last season’s eighth-place finisher are back this weekend, including sophomores Colin Sikkenga and John Cramer. Sikkenga tied for seventh at last season’s Final and won the Regional last week at Thornapple Creek with Cramer coming in eighth and seniors Taylor Resh and Jared Wenke placing sixth and seventh, respectively. All five Kalamazoo Christian players finished among the top 13 (with ties) at a District at Milham Park in Kalamazoo against a field that also included No. 7 Kalamazoo Hackett and No. 10 Concord.

Muskegon Catholic Central: Like Frankenmuth in Division 3, MCC also went from unranked to contender with a strong postseason so far. The Crusaders did finish just two strokes back of North Muskegon at the Regional with junior Collin Powers finishing first overall and two others coming in among the top seven, and Powers also took first at the District. He was fifth at the 2015 Final and this time will be one of four current players who were in the lineup as MCC finished ninth as a team.

Other individuals of note: Seven of last season’s top 10 are back, with Jackson Christian senior individual qualifier Noah Schneider the highest returning placer after coming in third and four strokes off the lead. East Jordan junior individual qualifier Logan Smith tied with Powers for fifth last season, with Concord now-senior Jacob Butterfield seventh and Clarkston Everest Collegiate now-senior Tyler Rozwadowski 10th. Schneider and Rozwadowski shot 73s to tie for the third-lowest Regional score in Division 4 last week, behind only Powers’ 68 and Harris’ 70.

NOTE: West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy will play its Division 4 rounds Thursday and Friday. 

PHOTO: Lansing Catholic’s Owen Rush watches a shot during the first day of the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final last season; he ended up third overall as the Cougars won their third straight team title. (Click to see more from

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.)