At a certain point, the competition catches up. And that’s where the Sturgis High School varsity girls golf program — the winningest team at the school over the last decade — finds itself in 2022.
A young squad without a senior on the roster is slugging it out this fall in a Wolverine Conference that now boasts plenty of parity. But with five league titles over the last eight years, the Trojans also can appreciate being in pursuit of the crown instead of being chased.
“We know that we’re kind of on a two-year plan here to get some good things done,” Sturgis coach Ken Schau said. “Trust me, when I say two-year plan, there’s no such thing as ‘We’ll be back next year.’ No way. It’s about right now.”
When Schau took over 11 years ago, winning a conference championship wasn’t even on the first page of the to-do list. The program had stalled out and numbers were down to the point when filling out a junior varsity roster was one of the biggest chores.
Teaching at Sturgis Middle School, Schau began evangelizing for the game. Numbers improved. Scores went from respectable to impressive. The Trojans started winning league titles, claimed a Regional championship and earned MHSAA Finals berths — four over the past 10 years. Golfers like Courtney O’Brien (Spring Arbor University) and Rachel Webb (Olivet College) furthered their careers at the college level.
A tradition was formed, and today’s crop of players at Sturgis hold dear their roles in continuing that legacy.
“As far as where we are now, you can’t even compare it to Year 1,” Schau said. “We’re trying to maintain what we’re doing and go from there. It’s all a numbers game in my mind. Who’s coming up in the eighth grade? I’ve always got my eye on talent coming in. Build numbers first and have that quality get a little bit better. That’s what happened. The motivation is different after that. Now you have girls that are motivated to keep things going.”
Schau’s middle school students learn about the Trojans’ success on the course whether they want to or not. Banners are hung in the classroom, and Schau is happy to talk golf whenever there’s an opening to do so.
“There have been girls that have come through the program that the only reason they played was because I was fortunate enough to have them in class and I talked them into it,” he said. “I started talking to Courtney O’Brien in my media class, and she ends up playing. Rachel Webb was kind of the same. It wasn’t until eighth grade that she started showing some interest. I do my best to recognize golfers out there.”
This fall, it starts with captains Maddy Webb (sophomore) and Citori Kosmerick (junior), who continue to chip away at their nine-hole averages, which included a 46 for Webb and a 48 for Kosmerick at the fifth conference jamboree at Sauganash Golf Club in Three Rivers. Sturgis ended the day with a team score of 195, which was good for third place behind Plainwell (188) and Vicksburg (189).
“For (Webb and Kosmerick), their course management is starting to get a lot better,” Schau said. “You have to bulletproof your game. If you’re a girl around the 40s, make your bad round a 48 instead of a 55. They have done a really good job of understanding the strengths of their game. They understand when it’s go time, when we have to go for this flag here and we can’t mess around and lay up. They are just getting better and better.”
“I had a lot of lessons,” Webb said of her offseason work. “I bumped up to first seed, which puts a lot of pressure on me, but I feel like I do good with pressure. My teammates definitely help me a lot. I want to shoot in the high 30s. I feel like I can get there.”
For Kosmerick, she climbed ahead of some upperclassmen last year and now finds herself in a leadership role.
“It made me a lot better because there was a lot more pressure than being the sixth seed (where she started last season),” Kosmerick said. “Our biggest goal is to take the pressure off (the underclassmen) in harder matches because we know how it was our first years.”
Otsego, Plainwell and Vicksburg have been tough to beat this season in the Wolverine, and the three squads have all shared the lead thus far. Sturgis continues to hover around fourth place, within striking distance if it can keep things rolling in the right direction.
“This is the best the Wolverine Conference has been,” Schau said. “It has been a lot of fun. The goal as we progress into the postseason is more consistency and better decision making,” Schau said. Course management is huge. Even though we have some juniors, we still make some kid mistakes, so to speak. This is when we really start gearing up.”
A league outing Sept. 12 at Lake Cora in Paw Paw could be a good indication of the kind of production Sturgis is capable of down the stretch. The Trojans carded a score of 180, finishing second by a stroke to Vicksburg. It was the fifth-best score in school history with four players finishing in the 40s, including Webb’s career-best 41.
In the third spot is junior Aspen Hyska, who fired a career-best 44 at Lake Cora. Classmate Hannah Falkenstein plays as the fourth seed. Mia Martinez (sophomore) competes in the fifth slot, and freshman Piper Sterling is the Trojans’ six seed.
“Aspen Hyska worked very hard in the summertime, going from a mid-50s player to around 50,” Schau said. “Falkenstein is our little robot of the group. She hits the ball 150 yards of the tee and does it again and again. She chips and putts and throws up a 52 every time she steps on the course. Mia Martinez is another girl who did a great job over the summertime. There’s an athlete coming out in Mia. I did not know what was going to happen at the six seed and knew it was going to be an open competition. Our freshman (Sterling), a lefty, stepped up. She’s a nice surprise.”
The Trojans also claimed a victory at their inaugural Team Choice Invitational at Klinger Lake Country Club, beating out runner-up Portage Central by 14 strokes. Webb was medalist with a 94, and Kosmerick placed second one stroke back.
“It was nice for the girls to win their own Invitational,” Schau said. “Klinger Lake is always a tough course to play with very thick rough and fast greens. We like it though as we feel it makes us better later in the season."
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Sturgis’ Maddy Webb finds her putting line. (Middle) Citori Kosmerick sends an approach from the fairway. (Below) The Sturgis girls golf team, from left: Hannah Falkenstein, Piper Sterling, Mia Martinez, Aspen Hyska, Kosmerick and Webb. (Photos courtesy of the Sturgis girls golf program.)
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.)