4 Years of Work Paying Off as Senior-Led Linden Heads to Finals

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

October 13, 2021

Ask any member of the Linden girls golf team if she thought three years ago that the current level of success the team is enjoying was possible, and they quickly say no.

It’s tough to blame them. In 2018, the varsity team was made up of five freshmen and two sophomores, and the Eagles were struggling to be competitive, shooting a 467 in the Regional and coming in 10th out of 10 teams.

But that didn’t stop them from buying all the way in, and now the Eagles – led by those five freshmen who are now seniors – are headed to the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals with all of their season goals already accomplished.

“I would tell them then, ‘Three years from now, if you keep working, maybe you might have a chance to do something,’” Linden coach Jon Hamilton said. “I was talking to their parents about this, but how many kids will keep going when you tell them that if they work for something for three years, that maybe you’ll accomplish something? They did.”

Linden placed third in this year’s Region 10 tournament, shooting a 364 to qualify for the Finals, which will be played Friday and Saturday at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek. All four scorers for the Eagles – Ella LaMothe, Cate Draper, Kaitlyn Straub and Emma Lurvey – are seniors, as is Brooke Goll, who was the No. 5 on that day. All five were on the team in 2018.

“During freshman year, I wouldn’t have seen myself going to states,” LaMothe said. “I would have seen us as a team being a lot better, and maybe having a chance in the Metro League and the Regionals. But it’s taken a lot of hard work – four years of practicing every day in the fall and on our own during the summer. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Linden golfIt’s the first time in the nine years Hamilton has been coaching that he will take a team to the Finals, and that wasn’t the only first for the program under his guidance this season.

The Eagles won the Flint Metro League title, edging rivals Fenton and Goodrich in the league tournament. They also earned a head-to-head victory against Fenton.

After that win, Hamilton dug into his archives to pull out the scores from the 2018 showdown between the programs. Back then, Fenton won 179-257. This year, Fenton was again at 179, but Linden shot a school-record 165.

“After beating Fenton it was like, ‘Wow, we’re actually at the top of our league at the moment,’” Straub said. “It just feels amazing that we were able, as a team, to get better. It wasn’t just one singular girl getting better, it was all five of us from the beginning of freshman year to now getting better.”

LaMothe, Straub and Draper – who missed most of her freshman year with an eye injury – had played some golf before they joined the varsity squad. Lurvey said she had been on a course “a few times” but that freshman year was truly when she started. Goll was basically brand new.

“I was friends with the girls, so I figured why not try?” she said. “I had some kids clubs that I used to use to just hit some whiffle balls in my hard. I had to get a new set and everything, because those were really small.”

Linden golfWhile they’ve made up the majority of the scoring for Linden during each of the past four years, they haven’t been completely alone. Hanna Baldwin and Cassie Most were the sophomores on that 2018 team, and Emma Most has contributed this season.

But the core has been the Class of 2022, which believed enough in itself, even when times were tough, to work toward bigger goals.

“I think that it’s super amazing,” Lurvey said. “We all didn’t really expect this at all, and this year we really just kicked it in. It’s a big accomplishment for all of us.”

The season isn’t over, of course, with the trip to Bedford Valley still to come. But while there are some admitted nerves heading into the biggest tournament of their careers, the Eagles are rolling into Battle Creek without any pressure as they’ve already accomplished all they had set out to do this season – and much more than anyone believed they were capable of just a few years ago.

“I’d say it’s probably icing on the cake,” Draper said. “We want to go in and compete, shoot a low score and place. But we’re going to go and have fun and work together as a team. I don’t really feel pressure to be the best in the state in our division. I think we’re just going in to have fun.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at paulcostanzo3@gmail.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Linden’s Ella LaMothe, Emma Lurvey and Kaitlyn Straub convene during the Flint Metro League Tournament, won by the Eagles. (Middle) The team’s five seniors, including also Cate Draper and Brooke Goll, have played varsity together since they were freshmen in 2018. (Below) The five seniors stand together during one last Regional, from left: Lurvey, Draper, Straub, Goll and LaMothe. (Photos courtesy of the Linden girls golf program.)

After Back-to-Back Top-10 Finals Finishes, Rockford Aims To Join Title Contenders

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

September 22, 2022

ROCKFORD – The Rockford girls golf team witnessed first-hand at last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final the type of scores it would take to compete for top honors in the state. 

West MichiganThe Rams finished a laudable eighth at last year’s championship tournament, but their two-day total of 697 (338-359) put them well behind champion Northville, which posted team scores of 307 and 308 to claim a fourth-straight Finals title by 12 strokes.

Rockford entered this season with aspirations to close the gap, and it has done just that with a talented quartet of experienced golfers.

“Our top four are better than we've had in the past,” Rams girls golf coach Scott Kruisenga said. “Maybe we’re not quite as deep, but the potential for all four of these girls to be in the 70s is pretty exciting.

“We’ve been seeing those scores by Northville, and Rochester Adams and Saline, and that's some darn good golf.

“The girls last year saw some of the scores that needed to take place in order to have a shot at a state championship, and they really took it serious over the summer. They played a lot of tournament golf, and they want it and they believe they can do it.”

The extra preparation and enhanced desire has been evident with low scores and first-place finishes.

The Rams have rolled through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red thus far with the league tournament looming next week.

A new school record was established as well when Rockford won the Kent County Classic with an impressive 306. 

“We’ve played well, and it’s been fun getting to know everyone the last three years,” said junior Jessica Jolly, the team’s No. 1 golfer.

Aubrey Wilson putts off the rough during the Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. “Everyone is capable of shooting low, so when we can do our best on the same day it’s fun, and we’ve broken the school record multiple times in the past few years.”

Jolly is joined in the top four by seniors Mackenzie Davidson and Bridget Parlmer and junior Aubrey Wilson.

In addition to the Kent Country Classic, Rockford also won the O-K Red Midseason Tournament, the Sydney Carfine Memorial Tournament and the Greenville Invitational.

The Rams took second behind state powerhouse Brighton at the 36-hole Lober Classic at Crystal Mountain to open the season.

“They have really been playing up to their ability and been playing lights out,” Kruisenga said. “They’ve put a lot of hard work in, and I’ve had all four since they were freshmen so it’s been fun to see how they’ve been improving year by year.

“That has been the most exciting thing, seeing the improvement and dedication they are putting into get better.”

While the team had high expectations entering the season, Kruisenga said they have already exceeded his.

“I was thinking even if we stay the same as last year we would be a good team,” he said, “but everyone is playing better.” 

Jolly has been the catalyst and broke her own school record earlier this season with a superb 67 at Quail Ridge Golf Course.

She tied for ninth at the LPD1 Final as a freshman, when Rockford finished fifth as a team, and just missed the individual top 10 last season.

“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve played, and I’ve definitely seen my average drop to the lowest it’s been since I’ve been in high school.” Jolly said. “Most of my rounds have been under par, and it’s been fun to make some birdies and get a chance at shooting pretty low.”

After struggling on the second day of last year’s Final, Kruisenga said the success his team had at the 36-hole event earlier this season should bode well for the future. 

“We did that intentionally to try and get used to that back-to-back,” he said. “The girls fared really well. We lost by three or four strokes to Brighton, and we were tied going into the second day. They kept a good mental game and limited their mistakes.”

The Rams are anxious for the postseason, but refuse to take anything for granted. They want to finish the conference season strong before setting their sights on a Finals berth.

“Our first goal would be to win the postseason tournament, and then we hope to do well at Regionals and qualify for state,” Jolly said. “If we do, then we’re looking to perform well there and give ourselves a chance.”

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at dream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Jessica Jolly powers through a drive during last season’s LPD1 Final. (Middle) Aubrey Wilson putts off the rough during the Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)