Preview: Last Year's Second-Best Seeking to Take Final Championship Step

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 8, 2022

The 2021 runners-up very well could be the story of this weekend’s 2022 Lower Peninsula Boys Golf Finals.

Detroit Catholic Central in Division 1, Flint Powers Catholic in Division 2, Big Rapids in Division 3 and Lansing Christian in Division 4 all finished second last season but return among favorites this weekend. Three individual champions from last year moved on, but the runners-up in those divisions are expected to be among the strongest contenders this time as well.

But no one is sleeping on the returning champions. Ann Arbor Skyline entered the postseason top-ranked in Division 1, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice and Grand Rapids Catholic Central shot the best Regional scores last week in Divisions 2 and 3, respectively, and Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep is a top-five ranked team in Division 4 once again. And the one 2021 individual champion returning this weekend – Clarkston Everest Collegiate’s Remy Stalcup – also shot the Regional low among individuals in all divisions to qualify this time.

See below for more on a number of teams and individuals who could be in contention, and check out the MHSAA Website for full lineups and more. (Rankings are via iWanamaker at the end of the regular season.)

Division 1 at Ferris State’s Katke Golf Course

Top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Skyline, 2. Muskegon Mona Shores, 3. Traverse City Central

Nine teams shot Regional scores of 310 or lower, which could indicate a strong, close competition this weekend. No. 5 Detroit Catholic Central (289) and No. 7 Northville (298) led the way, finishing first and second, respectively, at Salem Hills in Northville. They were followed by No. 6 Brighton at Salem Hills, with No. 4 Novi missing qualification on a tie-break. Ann Arbor Skyline is coming off its first Finals championship and entered the postseason ranked No. 1 again. Mona Shores didn’t qualify as a team last season but has returned seeking its first team title since 2005, and a Traverse City Central championship would be that program’s first since 1996 and before Traverse City West opened.

Ann Arbor Skyline: The Eagles return three of their top five from last year, and the top four at this season’s Regional were a sophomore and three juniors. That sophomore, Ieuan Jones, tied for second individually at last season’s Finals and was the individual Regional champ last week at Cascades in Jackson. Skyline shot 300 overall to win the Regional team title by 22 strokes, with junior Mitchell Strickland individual runner-up and junior Hank Roebuck seventh.

Detroit Catholic Central: The Shamrocks’ winning Regional score included performances from the first and second-place (tied) individuals, senior Peter Stassinopoulos and sophomore Julian Menser, respectively. All five golfers placed among the top 14 individuals, with senior Liam Casey next in 10th. DCC was the Finals runner-up last season and brings back four of its top six players from that team this weekend.

Muskegon Mona Shores: The Sailors shot a 309 to finish runner-up by a stroke to No. 8 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern at last week’s Regional at Stonegate in Muskegon. But Mona was led by junior Nicholas Taylor, who tied for first individually (but finished second after a tie-breaker) and was that individual Finals qualifier last year. Senior Chase Knowlton also was a top-10 Regional finisher, placing seventh.

Other individuals of note: Jones is joined by only two others from last season’s Finals top 10 – Forest Hills Northern senior Jack Zubkus, who also tied for second, and Rochester Adams sophomore Peter Roehl, who tied for sixth. Stassinopoulos (69), Lake Orion freshman Connor Fox (69) and Troy senior Benjamin Wu (69) broke 70 with their Regional rounds last week. Fox defeated Wu in a tie-breaker and Portage Central junior Ethan Tiller defeated Shores’ Taylor in theirs, and Fox and Tiller with Stassinopoulos and Jones were joined among Regional champions by Grosse Pointe North senior Niko Karoutsos and Oxford senior Chase Maier.

Division 2 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State

Top-ranked: 1. South Lyon East, 2. Richland Gull Lake, 3. Chelsea

Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice won last season’s championship by 28 strokes and was the only Division 2 team last week to break 300 at Regionals, shooting a 289. Last season’s Finals runner-up, Flint Powers Catholic, posted the second-lowest Regional score last week at 303. Powers last won a Finals in 2018. South Lyon East, Gull Lake and Chelsea all are seeking first Finals championships, with Chelsea coming in fifth and Gull Lake ninth last spring.

Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice: Last year’s Warriors were paced by three top-seven individual Finals finishers, Two are back this weekend and were part of all five golfers placing among the top eight at the Regional at Huron Meadows in Brighton. Junior Lorenzo Pinili – second at last year’s Final – won last week’s Regional, and senior Matt Baer – who tied for seventh at that Final – finished fourth at the Regional. They were joined at the Regional by freshman Leandro Pinili tied for second, junior Marcus Lee in fifth and senior Kyle Gruley tied for eighth. Brother Rice entered the postseason ranked No. 14 and was followed at the Regional by No. 7 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Flint Powers Catholic: The No. 4 Chargers edged No. 13 DeWitt by four strokes at the Regional at The Emerald at St. Johns, with junior Robert Burns the medalist and senior Luke Cramer tied for sixth. Burns tied for fifth at last year’s Final. He, Cramer, junior Kyle Barbour and senior Chris Jones were the top four scorers from last season’s runner-up team finish.

South Lyon East: The Cougars will travel to the Finals as a team after sending an individual last year. East finished second at the Lakes of Taylor Regional to Chelsea, two strokes back, but with all five golfers among the top 14 individual finishers. That individual Finals qualifier from 2021, now-sophomore Ryan Kruschka, finished third at the Regional last week, with freshman Kameron Knox tied for fourth and senior Chase Temple ninth.

Other individuals of note: Although the 2021 champion graduated, six of the top 10 finishers from last season’s Final are back led by Lorenzo Pinili and Spring Lake senior Evan McDermott (third). They, Burns and Baer are joined by Grand Rapids Northview senior Colin Beckett (tied for seventh) and Williamston senior Sam Havey (tied for ninth). Pinili (69), Burns (69) and McDermott (69) all broke 70 at their Regionals last week and were joined as Regional champions by Dearborn Divine Child senior Adam Hammoud, Richland Gull Lake senior Bryce Wheeler and Hamilton junior Eli Timmerman, who defeated Hudsonville Unity Christian sophomore Colin Nieuwenhuis in a tie-breaker.

Division 3 at The Fortress in Frankenmuth

Top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Greenhills, 2. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 3. Traverse City St. Francis

Six teams have won the Division 3 championship over the last six seasons, with the lone constant Big Rapids as the runner-up the last four seasons (not counting COVID-canceled 2020). Grand Rapids Catholic Central won last year’s title by 17 strokes and was ranked No. 6 at the start of this postseason, while Big Rapids entered the postseason outside the top 15 but has advanced to this weekend. GRCC had the lowest Division 3 Regional score last week at 308, with Greenhills next at 319.

Ann Arbor Greenhills: Seniors Beau Brewer and Cale Piedmonte-Lang played in last season’s Final as individual qualifiers and are back among leaders of this year’s team. The Gryphons shot a 319 at the Regional at Grosse Ile’s West Shore to edge No. 7 Grosse Ile by two strokes. Brewer was the medalist, sophomore Max Shulman was third and Piedmonte-Lang tied four fourth.

Big Rapids: Despite not making the top 15 at the end of the regular season, Big Rapids has earned this conversation – and especially after winning its Regional at Houghton Lake’s Quest two strokes ahead of St. Francis and 11 ahead of No. 13 Boyne City. Now-senior Luke Welch finished 11th at last year’s Final and was third at last week’s Regional, with junior Kyle Schroeder and sophomore Preston Younge tied for eighth at Quest.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central: The Cougars won last year’s Final without a top-10 individual but with four between 12th and 25th – and four players who golfed at least one round are set to be back this weekend. GRCC won the Regional last week at Montague’s Old Channel Trail by 18 strokes, with sophomore Will Preston the medalist, senior Luke Preston tied for third, sophomore Matthew Sokorai fifth and senior John Harmon tied for seventh.

Other individuals of note: Grosse Ile senior Anthony Naso was Regional runner-up to Greenhills’ Brewer last week, and tied for second at last year’s Final. The only other returnees from last season’s top 10 are Saginaw Swan Valley junior Ashton DiBlasi, who tied for fifth, and Belding senior Mason Anderson, who tied for eighth. Joining Will Preston and Brewer among Regional champs were Millington freshman Bryce Martin, Bath senior Ethan Swenson, Traverse City St. Francis senior Tommy Puetz and Quincy junior Sam Sawyer. Puetz defeated Boyne City senior Kolton Stadt in a tie-breaker for that medalist honor.

Division 4 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West

Top-ranked: 1. Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 2. Lansing Christian, 3. Maple City Glen Lake

Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep has won the last two Division 4 titles (in 2021 and 2019), last season by six strokes, and entered this postseason ranked No. 5 despite graduating four of last season’s top five golfers. Everest Collegiate is another regular with titles in 2016 and 2017 and the runner-up finish in 2018. The Mountaineers had the lowest Regional score in the division last week at 306, followed by Lansing Christian at 314 and Glen Lake at 323. Lansing Christian and Glen Lake are playing for their first title.

Clarkston Everest Collegiate: Although Everest missed the Finals as a team last season, Remy Stalcup was the individual champion by seven strokes, and he shot the lowest Regional score in any division last week – a 65 at Fountains in Clarkston to lead the Mountaineers to a 40-stroke team victory. Stalcup was joined in the top 10 at the Regional by freshman Parker Stalcup (fourth), senior Johnny Nedwick (tied for sixth) and freshman Will Pennanen (10th).

Lansing Christian: The Pilgrims had a similarly-dominating Regional performance at Calderone in Jackson, finishing 19 strokes ahead of a field that included No. 10 Hillsdale Academy and No. 15 Hudson. All five golfers finished among the top 15 individuals, and the four scorers were among the top six – senior medalist Davis Garrett, junior Baylor Brogan tied for second, senior William Combs in fifth and senior Caden Kinnas in sixth. Senior Isaac Haley was that 15th-place finisher, and those five were the same who took the Pilgrims to a team runner-up Finals finish in 2021. Garrett was third individually and Combs eighth at last season’s Final.

Maple City Glen Lake: The Lakers cut 21 strokes from their first to second rounds at last year’s Final to finish fourth, and two golfers from that lineup return with a talented freshman added to the mix. Now-junior Blake O’Connor tied for ninth at that Final and was second at last week’s Regional at Antrim Hills in Charlevoix as all five Glen Lake golfers placed seventh or higher. Freshman Michael Houtteman was the medalist, senior Jackson Zywicki was fifth, and junior Garrett Moss and senior Billy Rosa tied for seventh. As a team, Glen Lake finished 16 strokes ahead of runner-up and No. 6-ranked Charlevoix.

Other individuals of note: As noted above, Remy Stalcup, Garrett, Combs and O’Connor are back from last season’s top 10, joined by Saginaw Nouvel Catholic senior Luke LeBourdais (tied for fourth) and Royal Oak Shrine Catholic senior Jeffrey Andrus (tied for ninth). Joining Stalcup, Garrett and Houtteman as Regional champs were LeBourdais, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian freshman Davis Formsma and Grandville Calvin Christian senior Matthew Turcotte. Andrus shot a 72 to finish Regional runner-up to Stalcup.

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.)