East Kentwood Ace Ready to Build on Dazzling Debut

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

August 26, 2021

KENTWOOD – Elise Fennell wished that there were the traditional two days of play at last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.

The East Kentwood sophomore golfer shot a 74 to tie for fourth in the event that was reduced to only one day of competition due to COVID-19 protocols.

“It was a little disappointing because I always play better the second round,” Fennell said. “I really wish there was another day.”

Fennel finished four strokes behind individual champion Katie Brody of Grand Blanc. However, her performance capped off a stellar freshman season and shared a glimpse of her potential.

Fennell was the top golfer in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red, sporting a nine-hole average of 35 while winning the midseason and postseason tournaments. She also received all-region and all-state honors.

So what will she do for an encore?

East Kentwood head coach Mike Ketelaar thinks the sky’s the limit for his No. 1 player.

“It will be tough to top what she did last year because she’s already built those accolades, and she had some really great rounds,” Ketelaar said. “I’m excited to see all aspects of her game click together.”

Fennell didn’t come out of nowhere. 

She picked up her first club when she was 6, and started competing competitively three years later.

Fennell won the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Junior Stroke Play Championship when she was 13, and repeated the feat earlier this month at Forest Akers East Golf Course.

“It was nice to win after a long time because I’ve struggled the last couple years with my game,”  she said. “I’ve been all over the place, so I was happy to play well.”

Playing against the best has helped shape Fennell’s game, and fuel her competitive drive.

“I just like competing and playing against the best in the state and the country, and winning is fun, too,” Fennell said. “It was a little rough when I started competing, but then it got easier.”

Ketelaar knew of Fennell’s golf prowess for a while and was anticipating her arrival to high school.

“I knew about her in my first year coaching,” he said. “She lives on our home course, and she was literally on the range for all of my practices the last few years. I knew about her pedigree when she was in sixth grade.”

Fennell admittingly doesn’t enjoy the grind of practice, but understands the benefits that come with it.

East Kentwood golf“I hate practicing, but I know I have to if I want to get better and improve,” she said. “I try to come out every day and work on something.”

While Fennell is shy off the course, she has a steely demeanor on it. It’s a part of her game that sets her apart, according to Ketelaar.

“She is such a focused competitor who plays a lot of summer tournaments and has had an array of competitive experiences,” he said. “She’s very stoic, composed and a brilliant student of the game. She is mature beyond her years in terms of her course management and her understanding of effective practice techniques, and just how she approaches the game is kind of baffling to me.”

Fennell has the unique ability of visualizing each shot.

“I just see where I want to hit the ball in my mind and hit it there,” Fennell said. “And then I go from there to my next shot. I focus on what I can do.”

Ketelaar said she shows little fear, no matter the difficulty of the course.

“She doesn’t see trouble when she plays,” he said. “She’s very confident in her visualization and lines and she doesn’t fear out-of-bounds or water. She doesn't see them, and all she sees is what she’s trying to execute. She’s very good at putting on blinders and focusing on what she needs to do. Negative outcomes don’t come into her mind.” 

Fennell, who tied for second at last week’s Jenison Invitational carding a 70, has also stepped into a leadership role.

The Falcons are an inexperienced group, and Fennell shares her vast knowledge of the game with her teammates.

“I've tried to make them feel more confident being on the course and around the greens,” Fennell said. “I help them with their swings so they feel more comfortable, and I love to help people because golf is my favorite sport and what I enjoy.”

Despite her young age, Ketelaar has appreciated Fennell’s willingness to help.

“She’s really been hands-on with the other girls, which is cool as only a sophomore,” he said. “She’s taken on a leadership role and realizes being a part of a team means helping the other players improve. She’s been giving back a lot more this year.”

Fennell continues to have high aspirations for this season.

“I want to win Regionals and win state while going as low as I can,” she said.

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four 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 [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS: (Top) East Kentwood’s Elise Fennell follows a drive. (Middle) Fennell, hitting out of the sand, is looking to build on last season’s fourth-place finish in LP Division 1. (Photos by Josh Fennell and Jim Swoboda, respectively.)

Pederson Wins Memorably, Ontonagon Ascends Again in 'Phenomenal' Fashion

By Jason Juno
Special for MHSAA.com

May 30, 2024

ESCANABA – Big Bay de Noc’s Camryn Pederson carded an 89 on Thursday to win the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Final individual champion and become the first U.P. champion to clear 90 since 2019.

“It feels really good,” she said. “I tried my best to golf as good as I could today, and I’m really glad that it came out the way it was. It’s a good way to end my senior year.”

She said she liked the open course that was low on hazards at the Escanaba Country Club. And she did most things well during her round Thursday.

“I think I minimized my putts. I only one or two-putt most of the holes,” Pederson said. “And my drives were really good.”

She became the second golfer from Big Bay de Noc to win a U.P. Finals individual golf title. Samantha Guertin won Division 3 in 2006 with a 90.

Pederson’s team was seeking its first title since 2005 after finishing runner-up last year, but finished second to a school where girls golf has pretty much always been strong – Ontonagon.

Ontonagon celebrates its latest girls golf Finals championship.When the MHSAA first separated the U.P. Finals into separate classes, Ontonagon won the first 10 Class C-D championships, from 1978 to 1987. When Class D got its own U.P. championship tournament, the Gladiators girls won the first four, part of a five-year run of titles from 1994 to 1998. When classifications changed again in 2001, and the name of the smallest group of schools changed from Class D to Division 3, Ontonagon didn’t stop winning, racking up seven more Finals championships.

On Thursday, the Gladiators made it eight wins in Division 3 and 23 overall.

Two of their golfers finished under 100 – runner-up Madyson Pantti carded a 94, and Sam Bailey had a 98. All five finished among the top 10 individuals. Summer Stites’ 100 was good for a fourth-place tie, and Olivia Lockhart and Shayna Stites tied for 10th with 108s.

It was the first U.P. Finals golf championship for all of them, including coach Jim Jessup. The Gladiators’ last team wins came with back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.

Ontonagon repeated as Copper Mountain Conference champion this year. The Gladiators had finished third last season at the U.P. Division 3 Final and outshot Big Bay de Noc on Thursday by eight strokes, 400-408. Ontonagon shot 36 strokes better than at last season’s Final, and every golfer shot under 110, which Jessup called “phenomenal.”

“I think the girls just worked really hard to better themselves,” he said. “Their stroke play was better, their consistency was better.”

Pantti improved her score by eight strokes from last year’s Final. The junior will have another shot at an individual championships in 2025, but she had a lot to be proud of this time with her runner-up finish that led the Gladiators to a team title.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It was something that we’d been looking forward to all season. We’ve done good in a lot of our meets, and I thought this was a really good year for us.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Big Bay de Noc's Camryn Pederson follows her drive on No. 4 on Thursday at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Ontonagon celebrates its latest girls golf Finals championship. (Photos by Jason Juno.)