Successful Shamrocks Shine Once More

June 10, 2017

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – For the past three seasons, the biggest drama with Detroit Catholic Central’s boys golf team hasn’t been whether or not it would win tournaments it competed in.

Instead, it was a matter of how much the Shamrocks would win by and which player in its loaded lineup would be the medalist.

It’s been a constant battle of bragging rights for a Catholic Central team which entered this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West having won all of its tournaments the past two years and with each starter finishing as medalist at least once during the run.

“That’s what we strive for,” senior Sean Niles said.

On Saturday, Niles ended up getting the final bragging rights at the finale for a senior class that couldn’t have been much more decorated.

Niles won the individual Division 1 title, shooting a two-day score of 139 to prevail by one shot over Plymouth senior Justin Kapke (70-70).

Grosse Pointe South sophomore Coalter Smith was third with a 144 (71-73).

Catholic Central had two more golfers finish among the top five individually – seniors James Piot and Ben Smith.

Piot was fourth at 146 (72-74), and Smith was fifth at 148 (71-77).

Needless to say, all that firepower helped Catholic Central do what was expected all season, which was win a third straight team championship.

The Shamrocks finished with a total of 581 strokes, ahead of runner-up Grosse Pointe South’s 597.

Plymouth took third with a 610, Clarkston was fourth with a 619 while Rockford rounded out the top five with a 622.

It was the definition of a bittersweet moment for Catholic Central coach Mike Anderson, who while celebrating another Finals title with his players also had to come to grips that it was the last time he got to coach a senior class that graduated with three MHSAA championships and a runner-up finish.

Catholic Central will send three of those golfers to Division I college programs with Piot going to Michigan State, Smith to Georgia Tech and Niles to Oakland University.

Senior Sean Sooch will play at Grand Valley State.  

“They are my friends and my family, and we will be in touch with them for the rest of their lives,” Anderson said. “It’s a special group.”

Anderson said it was actually the finish three years ago when these seniors were freshmen that proved to be the driving force behind their success.

In 2014, Catholic Central finished one shot behind champion Swartz Creek, a painful memory the Shamrocks didn’t forget.

“That was a tough pill to swallow, and they responded,” Anderson said. “They looked toward that as something they didn’t want to happen again, and it didn’t.”

Niles led the charge for the Shamrocks this weekend, following up a 2-under par 70 on Friday with a 3-under par 69 at a difficult Forest Akers West course.

“It is a strategy course,” Niles said. “You are basically doing all you can to keep it in the fairway. It’s a placement course. That is all it is.”

Kapke had a chance to tie Niles on the final hole and force a playoff, but couldn’t connect on what was roughly a 20-foot putt.

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PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central, including medalist Sean Niles holding the trophy, stands together a final time after winning a Division 1 title. (Middle) Birmingham Brother Rice’s Brendan O’Rourke punches out of a bunker. (Click to see more from

Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings

By Tom Lang
Special for

May 26, 2023

When the Michigan seasons shift from winter to spring, some high school golf teams are a little more eager than others for the hockey season to officially end.

This is especially true for the school golf programs in Brighton, Hartland and Muskegon Mona Shores – examples of boys teams that love having hockey players transition from the indoor frozen ice to play golf outdoors on the lush green grass.

“I would take a golf team full of hockey players any day,” said Hartland golf coach Nathan Oake. “I love them.”

We can tell, because his program is full of them.

Hartland and Brighton each have eight hockey players on their 16-golfer varsity and JV rosters.

Mona Shores has three hockey players this year, but usually has more. In 2023 it’s Oliver MacDonald (all-state honorable mention in hockey), Nathan McNarland and Nicholas Taylor, who was voted Division 1 all-state golf last spring, then leading his team to fifth place at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.

Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. Brighton golfer Winston Lerch was also Division 1 all-state last year in golf and an assistant captain on the hockey team this winter that finished Division 1 runner-up to Detroit Catholic Central. Here in 2023, he shot a 65 to open the season at Oakland University for medalist and has committed to Grand Valley State for golf with his 72-stroke average.

Joining Lerch in the Bulldogs boys golf program are hockey players like Levi Pennala, winner of hockey’s Wall Award sponsored by State Champs as the top high school goalie. Pennala – who recently shot 72 at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship tournament, his career low for high school golf – finished in the top 30 last year at the LPD1 Final. Then early this spring when he was away at a high-level junior hockey tournament, freshman hockey player Adam Forcier stepped in and shot a school record 18-hole round for a freshman at 73. Jacob Daavetilla also works into the starting lineup at times.

Forcier tied the record of Davis Codd – who, as a pro hockey player on leave from the Saginaw Spirit OHL hockey team when COVID-19 shut down the league, won the LPD1 Final in 2021 for Brighton.

Brighton golf coach Jimmy Dewling said Codd was one of the earliest to prove to others you can play both hockey and golf and excel. In fact, that June in 2021, Codd went to an NHL scouting camp in Pennsylvania before the Golf Finals, drove overnight back to Forest Akers to play the two championship rounds, won the title, then immediately returned to Pennsylvania to resume the hockey camp.

“On our team, we believe, and TBone (Codd) was a perfect example of it, if there’s any time you have the opportunity to be competitive, it is going to make you a more well-rounded competitor and therefore better at your particular sport,” Dewling said.

“We like hockey players. In the winter, they have to think to where the puck is going, be smart enough to react, and understand how that emotion is going to carry over from one play to the next. When it’s your shift you have to forget about the last shift, or take something from the last shift and put it into the next shift, to have consistent play.

“It’s the same on the golf course,” Dewling continued. “It’s one hole to the next, one shot at a time, being tough, and that’s only going to come from competition reps. We love the athletic ability more so than anything; the toughness and competitiveness all year.”

In addition to Lerch and Pennala starting on varsity golf, they are joined by traditional golfers Matt Doyle, Riley Morton and Andrew Daily, who is committed to Wayne State and finished LPD1 runner-up last spring.

Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. Going into the 2023 golf postseason, Brighton is ranked No. 2 in Division 1. The Bulldogs have won the Next Tee Invite at Oakland Hills, the North Star Invite at Plum Hollow and the KLAA Conference Championship – earning Brighton’s first conference title since 2007. The Bulldogs also were runners-up at The Meadows Invite at Grand Valley State University. The team is averaging 297 for 18 holes.

Oake admitted this is a rebuilding year for Hartland’s golf program. The varsity lineup has only two returning players with varsity golf experience – Keller King and Brady Betteley.

“So, we opted to keep a group of tough competitors with a solid combination of speed and strength – and who are not concerned about the cold conditions that we play in,” Oake quipped.

Five others rotate into the Eagles’ golf starting lineup with King and Betteley: Isaac Frantti is an all-state hockey defensemen playing his first season of golf but shot a career-low 79 at American Dunes recently. He just signed a United State Premier Hockey League tender to play in Connecticut next year. Ian Kastamo scored the winning goal in Hartland’s Division 2 hockey championship victory in 2022, and LJ Sabala is a varsity hockey player as well.

Then there are two non-hockey freshmen getting shots to start occasionally – Dallas Korponic, who finished third at his weight at the Individual Wrestling Finals, and Michael Maurin. Five more sophomores and juniors are hockey players on the JV golf team.

We hope to be competitive with (Brighton) again soon, but they have the talent to make a big splash this year,” Oake said. “I also play golf at the same club as many Brighton players, so I see them quite a bit and we are friendly. When the Brighton team walked by our team on a recent Monday and all said hello to me and our guys, one of my players looked at me and said that this was the biggest difference between hockey and golf. In hockey, the small talk would be (traded) for the ice, and it would not be very nice out there.

“Either way, I believe both sports are filled with fierce competitors and respect, but when the game is over a handshake and a golf hat tip are offered to the victor.”

This story was updated and reposted with permission of

PHOTOS (Top) Brighton takes a team photo after finishing third at last season’s LPD1 Final, and all five golfers are back this season including hockey players Levi Pennala (second from left) and Winston Lerch (second from right.) (Middle) Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. (Below) Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. (Photos courtesy of High School Sports Scene, Sapshots Photography and Mona Shores’ athletic department, respectively.)