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 pamkzoo@aol.com 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.)

After Back-to-Back Top-10 Finals Finishes, Rockford Aims To Join Title Contenders

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

September 22, 2022

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. 

West MichiganThe 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.

Aubrey Wilson putts off the rough during the Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. “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 dream100@comcast.net 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.)