By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – Bedford Valley Golf Course doesn’t leave a lot of room for mistakes.
Fortunately for the girls golf team from Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, it hasn’t made all that many this season.
The Huskies secured their first MHSAA championship since 1982 with a two-day total of 656, turning in a round of 329 on Saturday after entering the second round of the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final with a seven-stroke lead. Bloomfield Hills Marian shot up from fifth to runner-up with 668 strokes.
Led by freshman Lilia Henkel’s 79-77-156 (eighth individually), FHN was able to finish strong with big contributions from the entire lineup. Junior Kay Zubkus carded 160 (78-82) for a tie for 10th place individually. Maddie Goodrich, a senior captain, fired an 81 on Saturday for a total of 168, and senior captain Chloe Johnson recorded rounds of 83 and 89 for a 172. Anna Fay shot 93 on Friday and Gabby Mas finished with a 95 on Saturday.
“We had a seven-shot lead going into today and felt very good,” Forest Hills Northern coach Kent Graves said. “That was a good cushion to have. It allowed us to play maybe a little more conservative than we would have if we were behind. Our girls responded. We shot two shots higher than we did yesterday, but it was enough to win and we feel really good about it.
“You don’t win state tournaments at the (Nos.) 1 and 2 spots; you win them at the 3, 4 and even 5 spots. You have to have solid scores there. Our 3, 4 and 5 were exceptionally good this year.”
A key for the Huskies, who finished sixth in Division 2 in 2016, was managing Bedford Valley’s slew of elevated greens, which were even more difficult at times as the leaves fell relentlessly.
Goodrich and Johnson, who played their final prep rounds, did just that. Goodrich pointed to the 391-yard par-5 fifth hole, where she birdied, as the catalyst to her round. She also birdied the par-4 15th hole as part of a strong finish.
“It was like no time passed while I was playing,” Goodrich said of the surreal feeling of going out as a Finals champion. “It just flew by. (Friday) I had a few rough holes and some first-day nerves. Coming into today, I knew I could shoot the score I wanted to if I just went one shot at a time.”
Added Johnson: “It feels amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. I’ve always dreamed of being a state champion, and I never thought I was going to be able to do it. But here we are.”
Individually, it was Marian freshman Shannon Kennedy who devoured the 5,422-yard layout with a 2-under par 70 in the final round for a medalist total of 146. In her championship debut, Kennedy penciled in five birdies — three in her final eight holes — to finish ahead of Midland Dow senior Alexis Carras (74-75-149). Kennedy posted a round of 76 on Friday.
With 10 years of hockey experience, Kennedy’s trademark early on in her career is her length off the tee. Saturday she was able to convert distance to scoring with her effort on the greens.
“Pressure doesn’t seem to bother her,” Marian co-coach Cathie Fritz said of Kennedy. “The hardest thing was it was a slow round, so there was a lot of standing around before they’d tee off. We had her walk to a tree or walk somewhere else so she wasn’t just standing there staring at it. She just has a great attitude, and she’s truly one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever been around. She made the clutch putts that she needed to make, whether they were for birdie or for par.”
Marian shot 16 strokes better Saturday. Senior Alexandra Robb posted an 81 for a three-stroke improvement from Round 1, freshman Lauren Sass’ 85 was seven shots better than Friday’s round, sophomore Marlo Hudson was steady with 90-90 and junior Kate Zink trimmed nine shots from her first-round score to finish with a 90 on Saturday.
“For being as young as Shannon and Lauren are, it’s really fun to see them so calm under pressure,” Fritz said.
Kennedy birdied two of her first seven holes with three pars in the mix. Two of those birdies were on par-5s, and she also managed to birdie the tricky par-3 12th hole.
“It was a crazy day,” she said. “It was long, it was hot and it was tiring. I knew I had to pull it together and fire a good number on the back nine, and I did.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Northern’s Chloe Johnson rolls a putt during Saturday’s second round. (Middle) Marian’s Shannon Kennedy watches one of her drives on the way to claiming the medalist honor. (Photos by Wes Morgan.)
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.)