Negaunee's Niskanen, Escanaba Pull Through to Celebrate Close Victories

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 1, 2022

HARRIS — It took all 18 holes to determine an individual champion at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Girls Golf Final here Wednesday.

Negaunee junior Rachel Niskanen came through with a 25-foot birdie putt on the No. 18 hole, becoming medalist for the first time with 82 strokes.

Menominee senior Madison Derusha, who narrowly missed an eagle putt on the last hole, settled for birdie and the runner-up honor at 83 on a sunny and mild day at Sweetgrass Golf Club.

“I started with par on the back nine, then I double-bogeyed the next three holes,” said Niskanen, who led by six strokes at one point on the back nine. “Both of us had bogeys. She was five down going into 11. It was really intense. I just tried to take it one stroke at a time and reminded myself that I couldn’t change the past. I just had to focus on the future.”

Escanaba was crowned team champion for the first time in four years with a 411. The Eskymos were followed by Negaunee at 417, Marquette at 422, Ishpeming Westwood with 431 and two-time reigning champion Menominee at 440.

“The girls really came through,” said Escanaba assistant coach Jake Berlinski. “Last year they were playing for the first time. This year was a little bit different. The girls made it a sport they really cared about.

“We ask a lot of these girls. They miss a lot of school, which is stressful for them. We’ve been asking them to miss two days a week for the last five weeks.”

Derusha, who plans to play golf at Michigan State University, said it was kind of a bittersweet ending to her high school career.

“It would have been nice to get the eagle, but it was still nice to get a birdie on my last high school hole,” she added. “Both of us were as nervous as could be. I have to stay as positive as I can and be proud of the way I finished.

Escanaba golf“I will be doing club golf in my first year (at MSU), then I’ll play varsity golf as a sophomore. It will be a big learning curve.”

Westwood senior Jillian Koski, who sank a hole-in-one on No. 12 during Tuesday’s practice round, placed third with at 89 on Wednesday.

“On the front nine I had a 40,” said Koski, who will also attend MSU this fall to major in business management. “My putting was going real well, then they weren’t falling anymore on the back nine. I was nervous. I wanted to do as well as I did on the front nine.”

Escanaba junior Cierra Scott moved up two places from a year ago, taking fourth this time at 90. Iron Mountain’s Redeit Husing placed fifth with a 93.

“I’ve become more consistent with my long game,” said Scott. “My drives were pretty good today, but putting is something I need to work on. My putts weren’t very good. You’re never going to have a perfect round; you can come close, but it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get that perfect round.

“I wasn’t playing my best golf in the beginning of the season and was getting down on myself. Then, I kind of changed my mentality. Going into the season, winning the team title was top priority. Our team has improved so much.”

Berlinski often refers to Scott as “Captain.”

“Last year, we weren’t sure if we’d have a full team,” he said. “Cierra earned that name. She recruited some players and brought them along with her. She had some early-season struggles and shot scores that were uncharacteristic for her, but good players find a way to get through that stuff and Cierra played her best golf in the end.

“This is a nice feather in her hat for somebody who’s aspiring to be a college golfer. She’ll play somewhere. She’ll find a home.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Negaunee's Rachel Niskanen tees off on No. 16 at Sweetgrass Golf Club during Wednesday’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Escanaba girls golf team holds up its team championship trophy. From left: Sophia Derkos, Peyton Wellman, Annika Wangrud, Cierra Scott and Maddie Wilson. (Photos by Justin St. Ours.)

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