HARRIS TOWNSHIP — The Menominee girls had been the frontrunners in the Great Northern Conference throughout this golf season.
They came in first again Thursday, retaining their Upper Peninsula Division 1 title with 373 strokes at Sage Run Golf Course, followed by Ishpeming Westwood with 424 and Marquette with 436.
“We have five real good athletes,” said Menominee coach Tony Hofer, who also coached the Maroons to the 2019 championship before last season was canceled due to COVID-19. “They had to figure out the short game at first. Although when you play every day for a month, you get better. The girls were a little worried going into this course, but they made the course very playable for the kids. This is a very nice course.”
Menominee senior Josie Hofer was medalist at 81, including 39 on the back nine on a partly sunny and warm day.
“I started off with an eight and six on the front nine,” said Hofer, who will be playing at Wisconsin-Oshkosh next season. “I just needed to get the ball on the green. My chipping hadn’t been that good, although it went pretty well today. My driver was a little off, but it’s different every day. That was my best nine-hole score in an 18-hole tournament.
“I’ll probably do some weight training and work on my game this summer. I really need to work on my short game.”
Hofer’s best score in a nine-hole tourney (38) took place early this season at Riverside Country Club in Menominee.
Negaunee sophomore Rachel Niskanen was runner-up at 84, including 38 on the back nine.
“I think my short game was probably a little better on the back nine,” said Niskanen, who birdied on No. 15 and 16. “The front nine may have been a little more challenging, although we weren’t warmed up yet. Once I started to par some holes, I became more confident. There were a lot of hills out there, and I got a little tired going up the hills. It was a nice course, though. I’m happy with my score. I’ve been working on my game a lot. Everything is going okay, but there’s room for improvement all the way around.”
Niskanen, the two-time reigning Marquette County Junior Golf Association champion, was followed by Menominee junior Maddy Derusha with an 86 and senior Jenna Nolde at 97.
“I just played it safe everywhere,” said Derusha. “I had to stay focused and not worry about other scores. My short game went real well, and my driver was pretty good, too.
“I think this is even a little better than winning two years ago. I’m happy for the seniors. It was nice to send them off with a U.P. Championship.”
Nolde, also a Wisconsin-Oshkosh tennis recruit, said her game wasn’t quite as good as usual, but she was happy to place fourth and go out on a U.P. championship team.
“I had a couple rough holes,” she added. “It was a tough course. The fairways were long. Although, my drives and putting were pretty good. It feels really good to win as a team and end my career as U.P. champions.”
Marquette’s Morgan Rhodes and Houghton’s Keegan Leonard shared fifth place at 98.
PHOTOS: (Top) Menominee’s Josie Hofer lines up a putt during Thursday’s UPD1 Final. (Middle) Rachel Niskanen finds her line on the green. (Photos by Justin St. Ours.)
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.
The 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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)