In 2nd Season, Martians Golf Takes Off

October 14, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

GOODRICH — The team to beat in this year's regional had been the runner-up in the MHSAA Division 3 girls golf tournament the last three seasons.

Another contender had five championships and 25 top-10 finishes at the MHSAA Finals on its resumé.

And Goodrich?

Well, a year ago, while Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and Flint Powers Catholic already had early-season tournaments under their belts as they prepared for another run to the finals, all Goodrich's program had was a single piece of paper sitting in the school office. Goodrich never had a girls golf team, but had two talented sisters in the school who hoped there was enough interest to form a club team in 2014.

"We just put a sign-up sheet in the office," Goodrich junior Sydni Harding said. "They made daily announcements. Finally, we had six. Once I saw that, it was like, 'Sweet, we've got a team.'"

Time was of the essence, because school had already started and the highly compressed girls golf season had already been going for several weeks. Before Jason Bescoe was hired as coach, sisters Sydni and Taylor Harding took their new teammates out to the Flint Elks Club to introduce them to a sport that most of them had never played.

"We were like, 'OK, just get hitting, we'll work on the swing mechanics later,'" Sydni said. "We needed to get ready and be prepared. We practiced like that for a few weeks. (Bescoe) brought in a couple of swing pros and really worked with us. They just practiced. Practice makes you better. They got the rhythm down and everything."

By season's end, Goodrich finished a respectable fifth of 14 teams in the MHSAA Regional at The Emerald in St. Johns, with Taylor Harding qualifying individually for the finals.

It was a great start for a team that didn't exist when the season started.

But there would be much more in store for the Martians in 2015.

In its first full season, Goodrich entered the postseason ranked No. 7 in Lower Peninsula Division 3 and qualified for this weekend’s MHSAA Final in East Lansing by placing second in a tough regional tournament at Holly Meadows Golf Course in Capac.

Goodrich finished only two shots behind third-ranked Cranbrook Kingswood, the Division 3 runner-up the last three years, and 29 shots ahead of ninth-ranked Powers, which failed to qualify for only the third time in the last 25 years.

"Going from nowhere to top 10 in the state is phenomenal," Sydni said. "We have a tough division. It's smaller, but you've got a lot of good girls who can compete. When we saw that we were ranked, we said, 'This is something special. Let's take advantage of it.'"

The Martians have exceeded all reasonable expectations for such a fledgling program, but they aren't settling for just showing up at Forest Akers West Golf Course.

"I think it's awesome we're going as a team," senior Taylor said. "We have one of the best teams. I'm so excited. I want to win so badly. I think we could definitely win; I really do believe that. If everyone's on their game and everyone puts in enough time and effort, we really could."

The Harding sisters led Goodrich to the finals, tying for first place with 78s in the regional before Taylor won a one-hole playoff.

"I definitely wanted to win," Taylor said. "If I had to come in second to anybody, I would gladly have it be her — and vice versa."

"At first, it was nerve-racking," Sydni said. "Then we got up to the first tee and we were like, 'Whatever happens, happens. I'm happy if I win; I'm happy if you win. So let's just go out and play, pretend it's just us messing around.'"

Having two outstanding golfers at the top of the lineup certainly helps, but the Martians wouldn't be going to Forest Akers West as a team this weekend without massive improvement by girls who had little to no golf experience before last fall.

"The reason for our success this year isn't because of Sydni and Taylor; they've always been good," Bescoe said. "It's the work ethic of the rest of the team, the way they strove to bring themselves to what Sydni and Taylor are. They're close. Sydni and Taylor improved by a few strokes, but the other ones improved by dozens of strokes. I'm so proud of them."

The most notable success story is senior Megan Reimel. Reimel shot in the 140s last year, but worked on her game and shot 83 to finish 11th in the regional and third on Goodrich's team. Senior Aaron Monroe shot 91 to place 17th in the regional. Freshman Elizabeth Gibbs' 94 didn't count in the team score, but she was still in the top half of the field, placing 24th out of 54 players.

"We started last year, and we were just happy to have five players, to be totally honest," Taylor said. "This year, I'm so happy that our third and fourth golfers have really picked it up. Really, everyone's improved. We're the only ones who played golf. We recruited softball players and volleyball players."

The only Goodrich player with high school golf experience before the formation of the team was Taylor Harding, who spent her freshman and sophomore years on the boys golf team. She made the Martians' varsity lineup for districts and regionals as a sophomore.

"I was younger and the boys were definitely intimidating," she said. "The distance helped me coming to the girls team. I think I'm better with the rules. That was a big thing for boys season."

Taylor Harding is also the only Goodrich player with experience in the MHSAA Finals. She finished eighth individually last year, rebounding from a first-round 86 to close with a 78.

"I was very nervous, but it ended up being really well worth it," Taylor said. "I learned a lot about myself and my golf game. I definitely improved. Just being there with all the girls who are your skill level is extremely helpful. It's always better when you play with someone better than yourself. I really wasn't expecting anything out of it. I just wanted to play the best I could, go out there and play."

Bescoe isn't concerned that his other four golfers have no experience in finals.

"I don't think it matters," he said. "They're fearless. I think the other schools who haven't been there may be at a disadvantage, but our girls have the head for it. They're fearless. They go get it."

Perhaps Goodrich's rapid rise shouldn't be such a surprise. Goodrich is a golfing community, with a public course and country club within the school district's borders. Boys golf has been a strong sport at the school for years, as the Martians won the 1977 MHSAA Class C championship and have finished in the top 10 on 24 occasions.

As an athletic program, Goodrich has won seven MHSAA championships across three girls sports since the start of the 2002-03 school year.

The goal for Bescoe is to keep the program growing after the Harding sisters graduate. Goodrich has 10 players on its team.

"It's always a goal to build and grow," he said. "Our objective this year is to grow the program. We have to get younger kids involved in order to keep this success going. Our going to the state tournament will hopefully inspire some of the other kids to jump on board."

Regardless of how the Martians perform this weekend, Bescoe has reasons to be proud of his players beyond their talent on the golf course.

"My favorite part about the girls is how nice and polite they are," he said. "After every tournament, as a group they go up and thank the other coach, thank the staff in the pro shop. That really is what makes me most proud of them. They realize that every golf course they play on, someone is letting them play on it for free. I'm glad they realize that."

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTO: Goodrich’s players stand together in front of the scoreboard after last week’s MHSAA Regional, from left – junior Sydni Harding, senior Megan Reimel, senior Taylor Harding, senior Aaron Monroe and freshman Elizabeth Gibbs. (Photo courtesy of Renae Reimel.)

3 Receive National Honors from NHSACA, Coaching Pair Named to Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

July 11, 2024

One of the longest-serving members of the MHSAA Representative Council and two longtime Michigan high school coaches have received highest honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Brighton athletic director John Thompson was named Athletic Director of the Year during the NHSACA’s annual conference June 26 in Bismarck, N.D. He has supervised the Bulldogs’ highly-accomplished athletic program for two decades and served on the Representative Council the last 14 years, including currently as vice president.

Thompson also this year received the Thomas Rashid Athletic Director of the Year Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Brighton was selected as an MIAAA exemplary athletic program in 2015 and as an ESPN unified champion school in 2018, the latter recognizing its statewide leadership in cultivating unified sport opportunities.

Additionally, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and Livonia Stevenson girls swimming & diving coach Greg Phil were named NHSACA National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Kowalski completed her 46th season coaching Mercy last fall by leading the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. She also in January was named the 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in her sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Hall of Fame this year for both golf and bowling.

Phil has coached girls swimming & diving since 1976, including at Stevenson since 1985. After winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, the most recent of several league championships under his leadership, Stevenson finished 16th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and previously had placed Finals runner-up twice. Phil was named to the MHSCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All three honorees were nominated for the national recognition by the MHSCA. Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff, now-retired Leland volleyball coach Laurie Glass, Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis coach Eric Gajar and Lowell wrestling coach R.J. Boudro also were National Coach of the Year finalists.

Additionally, longtime softball coaches Kay Johnson of Morenci and Kris Hubbard from Ottawa Lake Whiteford were inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. Johnson went over 1,000 career wins this spring and has led her program since 1993, including to Class C championships in 1985 and 1986. Hubbard retired after the 2019 season with an 865-380-3 record since taking over in 1974, with Class D titles in 1984, 1985 and 1987.