BATTLE CREEK — While clutching the championship trophy that had eluded her during her first three high school golf seasons, Lansing Catholic’s Sophie Hauser was open to suggestions on how to celebrate.
What if, it was suggested, each member of the Cougars got to have the trophy in their possession for a day, like NHL hockey players whose team wins the Stanley Cup?
“I like that idea,” she said, her smile getting even brighter.
If that’s the case, the Cougars’ MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship trophy will be out of sight for a while.
The reason: Lansing Catholic has 20 golfers on its roster, all competing for playing spots.
“We have 16 players who want to compete,” Cougars coach Kim Johnson said. “From freshmen to seniors. It keeps everyone sharp when you have 20 people competing, and it’s a team thing because the younger ones are pushing the older ones because if they don't (compete), they’re going to lose their spot, and it’s worked out well.”
It was the Cougars’ first title since 2010, which was the last of three consecutive titles won by the Cougars at that time. They finished third last year after second-place finishes the previous two seasons.
Lansing Catholic got off to a blazing start, ending Friday’s first round with a 15-stroke lead and adding to it Saturday, finishing with a 705 score that was 24 strokes better than second-place Kalamazoo Christian.
“We got out front early and stayed out,” Johnson said. “Everyone knew that we were 15 strokes up, and we knew we had to keep the pedal on the metal because there were all these great teams behind us. We didn’t want to lose it, so we knew we had to keep working hard.”
The Cougars came out Saturday determined not to let the moment, or the weather, get to them.
Hauser led Lansing Catholic by shooting 74 on Saturday and 150 for the weekend, both personal bests.
“I struggled on the front nine,” she said, “but I pulled it together on the back nine, and I thought to myself that I have to play my game and not think about anyone else.”
Johnson said assistant Mary Fineis plays a key role in the Cougars’ mental approach.
“She works on skills with them, and she helps them keep their minds sharp,” Johnson said.
Mia Melendez of Ann Arbor Greenhills became the seventh girl in state history to three-peat as a Finals individual champion, firing a 69 to edge Brooklyn Columbia Central’s Logan Bentley by two strokes.
“I made a lot of pars and three great birdies,” she said. “It was a really steady round overall.”
Melendez, a junior, hopes to make it four-for-four in state titles next year. That would make her the first to do so in the Lower Peninsula and first statewide since Paxton Johnson of Escanaba won four consecutive titles in UP Finals from 2016-19.
The weather was a factor both days, forcing the contestants off the course for a time Friday due to heavy rain. Saturday saw drizzle and occasional showers.
“Conditions were really tough for playing golf today,” Melendez said. “There was a lot of rain, the ground was wet, and it was super cold. But I’m glad I have some experience playing in tough weather.”
Meanwhile, Hauser and her teammate were savoring their team title.
“I don't think it’s really hit me yet,” said Hauser, who finished third overall as an individual. “It feels like a dream. And it’s finally come true.”
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its first Finals team championship since 2010 on Saturday. (Middle) Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Mia Melendez sends an approach on the way to winning her third individual championship. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
Join Elizabeth Coon as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals.