Divine Child Completes 4-Year Drive for 1st Championship

October 16, 2021

BATTLE CREEK – Dearborn Divine Child’s first steps toward Saturday began in 2018 when three freshmen helped the girls golf team return to the MHSAA Finals and finish 13th in Lower Peninsula Division 3.

A year later, that trio helped the Falcons move up to ninth. Then came last season, and plenty of adjustments, including a move to Division 2 – but Divine Child kept moving up the leaderboard, tying for fifth with Zeinab Saad, Julia Lizak and Madina Saad again leading the way.

All of that set the stage for this weekend at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley, and especially the final round. Those three seniors, along with junior Mary Ronayne – who joined the Finals lineup in 2020 – posted the best score of Saturday to overtake first-round leader South Lyon and lock up the first girls golf championship in program history.

Divine Child’s 344 made up for a six-stroke deficit after Friday and kept the Falcons ahead of eventual runner-up Byron Center with a two-day 691, good for a nine-stroke win.  

“It’s kinda unbelievable, but my team worked so hard for this and it’s been our goal since freshman year – and it feels good to finally complete our goal,” Lizak said. “We’ve been doing so good this year as a team, and we just had a feeling – especially last week talking about it. We came in thinking we could place really well.

“They’re my best friends, and I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else. I love them all.”

Lizak cut five strokes from her first-round score to finish with a two-day 157, good for seventh individually, and Zeinab Saad shot matching 82s to tie for ninth. Leila Saad was three strokes better Saturday to finish with a 173, and Ronayne carded a 197.

Zeinab Saad and Lizak had missed the top-10 individual list in 2020 by two and three strokes, respectively, when the Finals were just one round because of COVID-19 precautions.

South Lyon golf“After last year, when we tied for fifth, I knew all we needed was just a little bit more,” Divine Child coach Dan Berry said, “and with the possibility that if it all came together and they played the way I knew they could play, we could get there. And they did, and we pulled through."

A year ago it was South Lyon celebrating its first team Finals title, and the Lions finished a solid third this time with a lineup of two seniors and three juniors – including a standout who picked up her second individual championship.

Junior Gabriella Tapp shot a two-round 144 to finish four strokes ahead of runner-up KT Leinwand of Portage Northern and add to the individual title she won as a freshman. Tapp tied for sixth a year ago.

“When I came here I was hoping our team would be able to win, and I was just rooting for them all day. Myself was a secondary thought,” Tapp said. “We have a lot of strong players on our team, and I think next year we’ll definitely have a shot too.”

Following Leinwand, a sophomore, in the individual standings was Byron Center sophomore Macie Elzinga, who cut two strokes from her Friday score to finish the weekend at 152. Her team was tied for fourth after the first day and cut eight strokes during the second to finish at 700.

Byron Center will graduate only one from its Finals lineup.

“At the start of the season, no one on our team thought we’d even make it here. I played really well and a lot of people on our team played well, so we’re really happy about it,” Elzinga said. “I’m not going to stop working hard at this. I want this one bad. There’s all the best players in the state here, and to be able to compete against them is pretty cool. I learned a lot about my game and how I can handle pressure, and I’m proud of how I played.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Dearborn Divine Child’s Julia Lizak powers through a drive during Friday’s first round at Bedford Valley. (Middle) South Lyon’s Gabriella Tapp putts Friday; she finished the weekend with her second individual championship. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)