By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – Tough weather conditions are a golfer’s worst enemy. That’s particularly the case when the pressure is at its peak – like at the MHSAA Finals.
But thanks to a great first day of golf Friday, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern didn’t have to worry about the conditions, as the Huskies relied on their 1-2-3 punch of Kay Zubkus, Lilia Henkel and Anna Fay to cruise to their second consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship Saturday afternoon on the Forest Akers West course at Michigan State University.
Coach Kent Graves’ Huskies shot a two-day total of 656, beating out regional rival Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (680) by 24 strokes. Zubkus topped Northern with a score of 151. The senior beat out Okemos freshman Allison Cui on the first playoff hole to win the individual title. Both players overcame a four-stroke deficit after the first day, with each shooting a 73 to force their playoff.
“Obviously you want everyone chasing you; it takes a lot of the pressure off, maybe allows us to not press as much as maybe we would be coming from behind,” said Graves, whose team beat out Birmingham Marian for the title a year ago. “So to have that big lead after the first day, it’s tough to beat that.”
Northern fired a team score of 332 Friday afternoon, building a 17-shot advantage over Reeths-Puffer. A week earlier, the Rockets defeated Northern in Regional play, firing a state-best score of 310. But this weekend, the Huskies were just too good.
“Northern played really well (Friday). They came to play,” Reeths-Puffer assistant coach Brennan Hallberg said. “It was windy, not quite like it was today, but their top four girls all had good rounds and unfortunately our top four girls had their worst rounds of the season. We had high hopes for this weekend, but (overcoming) a 17-shot deficit is a tall order.”
Reeths-Puffer entered the tournament ranked No. 1 and was on a roll after winning the Regional title. Despite falling a little short, the Rockets by no means had a bad tournament. Senior Karina VanDuinen shot a 161, good for eighth place for the weekend. Her younger sister, Karlie, had a 168, with senior Avery Howard (172) and junior Abby Fansler (179) also scoring for the team.
Still, it was not enough to prevent the Huskies from winning their second straight – and third overall – Finals title. Henkel fired a 153, which tied for third overall with reigning individual champion Shannon Kennedy of Marian. Fay’s 162 was good for a top-10 finish.
“We won last year, and we graduated five seniors,” Graves said. “Kay, Lilia and Anna were my returners. Those three were the heart and soul of our team this year. We had five girls off the JV team come up, and they taught them how to play. They taught them how to win.”
For Zubkus, the day was extra special. The senior, who finished tied for 10th a year ago, rallied on Saturday to force the playoff with Cui. It was the third time Zubkus had played in a playoff. The first two times did not go so well. The third time was the charm.
“Last year, my good friend (Kennedy) was four shots back going into the second day, and she text me last night and said, ‘Four back’s the number. It’s a good place to be.’
“Today I was just out there trying to put up a score that I was proud of because in past state championships I haven’t really done that. It was pretty miserable out there, but I made the best of it.”
Like all the golfers, Zubkus was able to overcome the weather elements, which at times included sub-40 degree weather, hail and sleet. Twice the golfers were called off the course due to lightning and unplayable course conditions.
Finishing behind Zubkus, Cui, Kennedy and Henkel was Fenton senior Charlotte Cunaud, who shot a 156 to finish fifth overall. Rounding out the top 10 were Cailey Rooker of St. Joseph (158), Mia Sooch of Farmington Hills Mercy (159), VanDuinen, Fay and Hailey Roovers of Birmingham Seaholm (166).
Cui’s runner-up finish helped her Chiefs place third overall at 697. Mercy was fourth (724) and Marian fifth (730). Rounding out the top 10 were Fenton (731), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (733), South Lyon (743), St. Joseph (765) and Petoskey (767).
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern holds up its championship trophy after a long Saturday in Division 2. (Middle) Okemos’ Allison Cui hits an approach during Friday’s first round. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)