Northville Taking Aim at Record Streak

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 2, 2020

As we collectively cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, individually we search for some semblance of normalcy.

For athletes like Katelyn Tokarz of Northville, participating in athletics has allowed, if only temporarily, for a bit of respite from the uncertainty of living in the midst of a pandemic.

Tokarz enters her fourth season as a member of Northville’s girls varsity golf team. She is relieved as well as thankful to have the opportunity to compete once again, knowing many of her classmates, and thousands of other students statewide, are not so fortunate.

“I was concerned (that) we wouldn’t play,” Tokarz said. “We were stressed out that (the season) wouldn’t happen. I’m just grateful to have a season. Anything is better than nothing.”

Tokarz has been one of coach Chris Cronin’s top players from day one, and this season she and her teammates have the opportunity to accomplish something special.

Northville won its first MHSAA Finals title two years ago by 31 strokes, and the Mustangs were dominant again in capturing their second consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship in 2019. Should Northville make it a three-peat, it would join Grand Blanc (Division 1, 2004-06) and Kalamazoo Central (Class A, 1994-96) as the only programs to win three consecutive titles in the MHSAA’s top division/classification.

Northville won last year by 32 strokes ahead of second-place Grosse Pointe South, and Cronin returns five of his top seven golfers. Tokarz, junior Megha Vallabhaneni and sophomore Samantha Coleman all are back after being named to the Division 1 all-state first team by the coaches association.

Cronin is in his fifth season as head coach; he’s also coached the boys program for the past five. But he’s hardly new to the program and athletics, in general, at Northville. He coached cross country for 23 seasons before switching to golf. He also served as an assistant golf coach and was part of the program when Wes Gates captured in the LPD1 individual title in 2009.

In Cronin’s second season with the girls golf program, the Mustangs placed fourth at the 2017 Final – giving us a glimpse of what was to come.

“The first year (2018) we won it, we seemed to consistently win tournaments throughout that season,” Cronin said. “I’m big on statistics, and our margin of victory was 15 strokes.

“We knew we had the talent. We just didn’t want to get in our own way. We had a lot of depth, which is unusual for most programs. We had girls who didn’t play who could have played for other programs.

“I got a little lucky last year. I had two seniors who hadn’t played well during the regular season. But they continued to improve, and by the time the (MHSAA) tournament came around they hit their stride.”

Those two players were Sedona Shipka, who tied for ninth individually at the 2019 Final with a 158 (79-79) and Sufna Gill, who was second on her team scoring 161.

As good as Northville was the past two seasons, Cronin said this year’s team, while not as deep, could be better. Even if this is true, Cronin said winning the title this year will be more challenging that during the past two.

“There are a number of teams that are better than they were a year ago,” he said. “Rochester Adams (seventh last season) has a lot back, and they’ve already shot 299 in a tournament. (Coach) Dan Young at Plymouth (third last season) has a solid team. When all is said and done, there are about five teams who are equal.”

Northville is off to a good start, having won two invitational tournaments (Highest Honor Invitational at Huron Meadows Metro Park and the Sentech Invitational at Kensington) with identical 306 totals.

In this undeniably unique season, Cronin said coaches must adapt and be more creative due to COVID-19 restrictions. One limitation is the number of players teams are allowed to enter in a tournament. In the past coaches could enter five, counting the top four scores. Teams are now limited to four players. Northville team dinners, a time when players bonded, are a thing of the past. And awards ceremonies have been all but eliminated to limit individual contact.

“As a coach I have a mask on all of the time,” Cronin said. “The new players have only seen my face on FaceTime.

“So many things we’ve done in the past was predicated on working closely with one another. The girls looked forward to the awards ceremonies. Now you don’t have that. They play and go home. Sometimes it takes seven hours or so before they get the results.

“That said, I feel from my heart we are fortunate to be out here. When they’re playing, that’s when they’re the most normal. They’re not thinking about COVID when they’re walking the fairways. I’ll live with the restrictions.”

Players like Tokarz are likely the least affected. Experienced players at her level compete in tournaments during the summer sponsored by the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) and others outside of school. It’s the younger players who are missing out the most.   

“We work in small groups now, and we keep the groups the same every day,” Cronin said. “In the past I’d mix up the players so the younger players could be around the older girls to watch, to see how they line up putts, for example, and just watch the way they go through their routine. Not now.”

That said, the challenges are the same for everyone. Players and coaches alike must adapt and be more creative. Northville again is well on its way.

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Northville junior Megha Vallabhaneni keeps her eyes on an approach. (Middle) Senior Katelyn Tokarz sends a putt toward the hole. (Below) Sophomore Samantha Coleman follows an iron shot. (Photos by Debbie Stein.)

Pederson Wins Memorably, Ontonagon Ascends Again in 'Phenomenal' Fashion

By Jason Juno
Special for

May 30, 2024

ESCANABA – Big Bay de Noc’s Camryn Pederson carded an 89 on Thursday to win the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Final individual champion and become the first U.P. champion to clear 90 since 2019.

“It feels really good,” she said. “I tried my best to golf as good as I could today, and I’m really glad that it came out the way it was. It’s a good way to end my senior year.”

She said she liked the open course that was low on hazards at the Escanaba Country Club. And she did most things well during her round Thursday.

“I think I minimized my putts. I only one or two-putt most of the holes,” Pederson said. “And my drives were really good.”

She became the second golfer from Big Bay de Noc to win a U.P. Finals individual golf title. Samantha Guertin won Division 3 in 2006 with a 90.

Pederson’s team was seeking its first title since 2005 after finishing runner-up last year, but finished second to a school where girls golf has pretty much always been strong – Ontonagon.

Ontonagon celebrates its latest girls golf Finals championship.When the MHSAA first separated the U.P. Finals into separate classes, Ontonagon won the first 10 Class C-D championships, from 1978 to 1987. When Class D got its own U.P. championship tournament, the Gladiators girls won the first four, part of a five-year run of titles from 1994 to 1998. When classifications changed again in 2001, and the name of the smallest group of schools changed from Class D to Division 3, Ontonagon didn’t stop winning, racking up seven more Finals championships.

On Thursday, the Gladiators made it eight wins in Division 3 and 23 overall.

Two of their golfers finished under 100 – runner-up Madyson Pantti carded a 94, and Sam Bailey had a 98. All five finished among the top 10 individuals. Summer Stites’ 100 was good for a fourth-place tie, and Olivia Lockhart and Shayna Stites tied for 10th with 108s.

It was the first U.P. Finals golf championship for all of them, including coach Jim Jessup. The Gladiators’ last team wins came with back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.

Ontonagon repeated as Copper Mountain Conference champion this year. The Gladiators had finished third last season at the U.P. Division 3 Final and outshot Big Bay de Noc on Thursday by eight strokes, 400-408. Ontonagon shot 36 strokes better than at last season’s Final, and every golfer shot under 110, which Jessup called “phenomenal.”

“I think the girls just worked really hard to better themselves,” he said. “Their stroke play was better, their consistency was better.”

Pantti improved her score by eight strokes from last year’s Final. The junior will have another shot at an individual championships in 2025, but she had a lot to be proud of this time with her runner-up finish that led the Gladiators to a team title.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It was something that we’d been looking forward to all season. We’ve done good in a lot of our meets, and I thought this was a really good year for us.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Big Bay de Noc's Camryn Pederson follows her drive on No. 4 on Thursday at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Ontonagon celebrates its latest girls golf Finals championship. (Photos by Jason Juno.)