By Tom Lang
Special for Second Half
Montague pulled off an amazing feat Saturday at Forest Akers West by winning its first MHSAA Finals team championship in just the fifth year of the program’s existence.
The Wildcats scored 343 at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 tournament to set a new school record, besting Lansing Catholic at 370. All five Montague players finished among the top 16 individuals, with junior Orianna Bylsma leading with a top-five finish at 81, and senior Megan Brown coming in 8th with 84.
“My mind is racing,” said head coach Phil Kerr. “I’m just so happy for the girls. They earned this. We thought we could do this; we brought four players back from last year. We wanted to win a county championship, win the Regionals, and then just see what happened at states. It’s unbelievable.”
The team finished fourth at the Final last year in its first-ever two-round tournament. Kerr said in 2019 the Wildcats played much better on the second day, which elevated the team into the top five. So, there was some nervousness coming into the tournament this year knowing it would be reduced to one 18-hole round, not the traditional 36 holes over two days. The cutback was due to COVID-19 protocols for distancing and to allow teams to make one day trip instead of needing to stay overnight.
“It’s definitely different, and there’s more urgency for sure,” Kerr said about the reduction to 18 holes. “Getting off to a good start is huge. There’s no time to make up for it. We really focused on, how do we come out, where do we stand after the first three or four holes, and make sure we take care of that.”
Jump out they did.
The Wildcats were ahead by as many as 15-20 strokes very early in the day before sealing the win by the large margin over Lansing Catholic, Michigan Center (371) and 2019 champ Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (372).
“On the front nine you never know, something can always happen,” Kerr said about building the original lead. “I think we got comfortable toward the back of the front nine and we relaxed a little bit, but we still shot an amazing score.
“I’m really happy for our seniors, Megan Brown and Katie Unger (tied for 12th). Megan’s been on varsity since she was a freshman. I think she shot 145 at the Regionals that first year, and just shot 84 today to help set our school record and (win) a state championship. Just a credit to hard work. Special kids who love grinding and working hard. I hope they see the rest of their lives if they put their heart and soul into something, they’ll see the results like this.”
Junior Kamryn Shannon of Michigan Center was medalist at 2-over 74, just ahead of Jacquelyn O’Neill of Harbor Springs at 75. Shannon had a troubling day at Regionals scoring an 87, but turned it around for the Final. She admitted the 87 rattled her a little heading into the season’s final event.
“I’ve been working on my driver a lot recently, and today I was hitting almost every fairway, and if not I was just off on the edge,” Shannon said after accepting her first-place medal. “My putting was pretty good today also.”
Shannon said she finished outside the top 30 last year as a sophomore with scores in the 90s.
“I got new clubs and immediately my average started dropping,” she said about getting properly fitted. “I’m super proud all of my hard work paid off in the long run.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Montague’s Orianna Bylsma sends an approach from the 16th fairway during Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final. (Middle) Michigan Center’s Kamryn Shannon holds up her first-place medal. (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.)