Portage Northern's Leinwand Driving to Contend Again, Lead Huskies' Rise

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

August 23, 2022

PORTAGE — When she was 4 years old, KT Leinwand’s parents joined the Kalamazoo Country Club, she said, to give their children something to do during the summer months.

Southwest CorridorSpecial events for children included “fun things around the (golf) course with little kids and little putt-putt matches,” Leinwand recalled this week. “They just wanted to keep me busy.”

Little did she realize that those “fun things” would lead to a passion for golf that has catapulted Leinwand into becoming one of the top high school golfers in the state.

Last fall, as a Portage Northern sophomore, she finished second at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final.

What is more unusual is that no one in her family — her parents, three siblings or grandparents — plays golf.

By age 8, she was learning the finer points of the sport by attending clinics.

“I would come and play with my friends,” Leinwand said. “We met (KCC assistant pro at the time, now head pro) Kyle Horton, and I decided I wanted private lessons with him when I was 9.

“Kyle gave me the love of golf, and then I kept going. Then I went with another coach, Abby Pearson, and she made me love it even more. I just kept getting out there every day and playing. Been with her ever since.”

Northern girls golf coach Chris Andrews also led the school’s baseball team to a Division 1 title in 2019. Leinwand, who turned 16 two weeks ago, is the top golfer for the Huskies.

“We have obviously a really good No. 1 golfer in KT, which offsets a lot of scoring because she’s consistently in the low- to mid-70s,” Portage Northern coach Chris Andrews said. “So that gives us a little bit of a buffer for our fourth and fifth golfers.

“This year, we really have a good No. 2 and 3 golfer. We have a handful of girls trying to get us that fourth score we need. I’m looking at if we can get 100 or less out of that fourth scorer, we could be a state qualifier.”

The No. 2 golfer is senior Zoey Quinn.

“She’s gotten to the point where she’s actually a really, really good softball player, but she’s switching her passion to golf and wants to play in college,” Andrews said. “She shoots in the 80s consistently.”

No. 3 is freshman Brooke Randall.

“She has had two good rounds so far,” Andrews said. “I see her scoring in the 80s consistently this year.

“If she gets out here the next couple weeks and plays more with KT and Zoey and just picks up some of the course management, she’s going to be a really, really good golfer as well.”

Others on the young varsity team are sophomores Lizzy Rzepka, Jenna Vliestra, Lauren Shaman and Addison Munn plus freshman Lilly Ray.

If the team does qualify for the MHSAA Finals, that would be a bonus for Leinwand, who was an individual qualifier the last two years.

Last fall, her two-day total of 148 at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek was just four strokes behind champ Gabriella Tapp of South Lyon.

If Leinwand qualifies again this year, “Gabriella will be a senior, and she’ll still be around so I’ll see her,” she laughed.

As a freshman, Leinwand finished 23rd individually in LPD2 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West, the site of this year’s LPD2 Final.

Leinwand awaits her turn to putt during practice.Jumping from 23rd to second in a year took a lot of work and practice, she said.

“I worked in the winter a bunch at the Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft. I was out there all the time working on my swing,” Leinwand said. “In the summer and spring when it was finally nice out with no snow, I was playing every day.”

With no others golfers in her family, Leinwand relies on her coach and friends to hit the links.

Sometimes she will go out by herself or join up with another group, which can cause some surprises.

“You don’t see a lot of young girls that good,” Andrews said, adding that Leinwand’s drives average 260 yards.

Andrews makes his point.

“I had a friend here and we played golf with my son,” he said. “KT joined us for one hole before she had to leave.

“My friend’s a scratch golfer. He was disappointed she left because he enjoyed watching her play. That’s a common reaction when people see her play.”

Leinwand credits her coach with helping her keep focus on the course.

Andrews teaches health, personal finance and International Baccalaureate sports exercise health science at Northern, and also is a mental performance trainer.

As the Huskies baseball coach, he credits mental performance as part of the success that propelled his 2019 team to the Division 1 championship.

He also works with other teams and individual athletes in the area.

“I use a lot of mental strategies from my coach,” Leinwand said. “After a bad shot, I have to erase it and go to the next shot and totally clean slate and totally forget about that bad shot.”

However, her strength is her power off the tee, she said.

“I can hit it a good amount farther than a lot of the girls. When we’re playing short courses, I don’t always need to hit my driver off the tee, so I hit something like an iron or a wood that can be more consistent and straighter.”

Andrews looks to his junior as a role model for others on the team.

“KT brings a quiet confidence that I think the other girls can look at her and not just admire her physical ability, but her presence on the course and her presence around the course,” he said.

“She’s always in good spirits, and she doesn’t have too highs or too lows. She’s steady. Her mental game is probably her strength. She’s a good role model to the other girls to work hard and stay steady with the mental side.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Portage Northern’s KT Leinwand is aiming to take the next step after finishing runner-up in Lower Peninsula Division 2 last season. (Middle) Northern girls golf coach Chris Andrews also led the school’s baseball team to a Division 1 title in 2019. (Below) Leinwand awaits her turn to putt during practice. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1