By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
No doubt, this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals will provide unforgettable moments for everyone who takes part.
But there also are a number of storylines heading in that could prove memorable in statewide lore for seasons to come.
At least three reigning champions appear in the hunt to repeat – Traverse City West in Division 1, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in Division 2 and Harbor Springs in Division 4. But West must fend off Northville – arguably the most impressive team this regular season in any division – while Forest Hills Northern just finished second at its Regional to Muskegon Reeths-Puffer and Harbor Springs faces a Division 4 field that includes reigning Division 3 champion Macomb Lutheran North.
For sure, we’ll say good-bye to two of the most accomplished individuals in state girls golf history. West’s Anika Dy and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Danielle Staskowski will attempt to finish their high school careers with fourth MHSAA Finals individual championships – they’ve both won titles the last two years after Dy finished runner-up in Division 1 as a freshman and Staskowski began her prep run with a fourth place in Division 3 in 2015.
Only three others have won three Lower Peninsula championships since the first Finals in 1973 – Maple City Glen Lake’s Nichole Cox (2014-16), Okemos’ Elle Nichols (2011-13) and Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Kate Loy (1993-95).
Play begins at 10 a.m. both Friday and Saturday. See below for golfers to watch at all four Finals, and come back Saturday evening for coverage of all four championship tournaments on Second Half. Click for a list of all Finals qualifiers and Regional scores from last week.
LP Division 1 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top-ranked: 1. Northville, 2. Bloomfield Hills, 3. Traverse City West.
The Division 1 field is loaded with talented teams, especially representing the southeastern part of the state – 13 of 18 qualifiers are from Livingston, Oakland, Macomb or Wayne counties. But Traverse City West is the reigning Finals champion – and has won two of the last three seasons.
Northville: The Mustangs are undefeated this season playing many of the best teams in Division 1, with an incredible 291 in August setting a program scoring record. All five starters for this weekend were part of last season’s fourth-place Finals finish. Northville tied Hartland with the lowest Regional score in LPD1 last week, shooting a 326 at Travis Pointe in Saline to finish 21 strokes ahead of runner-up and No. 5-ranked Plymouth. Mariella Simoncini is the only senior among the top five, and she was the Regional individual runner-up.
Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks finished second by two strokes to No. 8 Clarkston at the Regional at Clarkston’s Pine Knob, shooting a 336, and remain No. 2 in the rankings. They won their second straight Oakland County Division 1 championship earlier this fall and bring back this weekend the four scorers from last season’s seventh-place finisher. Senior Mikaela Schulz was fourth individually a year ago and won the Regional title last week with a 74, four strokes ahead of sophomore teammate and runner-up Sanju Swamy.
Traverse City West: Senior Anika Dy will lead the Titans into this weekend seeking a third straight individual championship to go with a third team title. She won last year’s Final by eight strokes, while now-sophomore sister Anci Dy tied for sixth. Senior Jillian Ellul also returns from last year’s top five, and together they finished first, second and third, respectively as West shot a 335 to win last week’s Regional at The Meadows by 23 strokes.
Other individuals of note: Seven of last season’s top 10 are back this weekend. Rochester junior Savannah Haque was last year’s runner-up and also a key contributor when her team won Division 1 in 2016. Utica Eisenhower sophomore Ariel Chang tied Anci Dy for sixth last season, and Brighton senior Annie Pietila came in eighth and will play at the Finals for the fourth time. Ann Arbor Pioneer sophomore Amaya Melendez also had a big debut in 2017, tying for ninth. She joined Anika Dy and Schulz among Regional champs last week, along with Hartland senior Sydney Bradford, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Domitille Chambon and Grosse Pointe South sophomore Audrey Becker. Brighton sophomore Maggie Pietila came in second to Bradford at Hartland Glen, with her 75 one of the lowest Regional scores division-wide as well.
LP Division 2 at Michigan State's Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, 2. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 3. Bloomfield Hills Marian.
Forest Hills Northern won its first championship last fall since 1982 and was ranked No. 1 all this season until Monday. Reeths-Puffer is shooting not only for its first championship, but first top-two finish after missing the latter by just a stroke a year ago. Marian was last season’s runner-up, achieving its first top-two finish, and could take another step this weekend as well.
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer: Karina VanDuinen was third at last year’s Final and Avery Howard was sixth, and they with also-returning senior Emma Veihl and junior Abby Fansler give the Rockets one of the most tournament-tested teams in the field. Scarier yet, freshman Karlie VanDuinen led the way at the Regional with her winning 70 the second-lowest score last week in the entire division as the team shot a 310 to best Forest Hills Northern. Older sister Karina won the Division 2 individual championship as a freshman in 2015, and Howard also placed as a sophomore in 2016.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: Senior Kay Zubkus and sophomores Lilia Henkel and Anna Fay are back from the team that won last season’s championship by 13 strokes – Henkel finishing seventh and Zubkus tying for 10th individually. The Huskies finished seventh strokes back of Reeths-Puffer last week at Grand Rapids’ Thornapple Pointe, with Zubkus second, Henkel third and Fay tied for sixth. Zubkus’ 72 was the third-lowest Regional score division-wide.
Bloomfield Hills Marian: Reigning Finals individual champion Shannon Kennedy leads four players back from last season’s second-place finisher as they look to make program history. She shot a two-round 146 last season as a freshman to clear the field by three strokes, and she was the Regional medalist at Huron Meadows in Brighton last week by two strokes with a 77. Zink, a senior, and Hudson, a junior, took fifth and tied for sixth, respectively, at the Regional, and sophomore Lauren Sass had the second-best score among the team’s returnees at last year’s Final.
More individuals of note: St. Joseph senior Cailey Rooker finished ninth last season and fourth as a sophomore, and won last week’s Regional at Coldwater Golf Course by seven strokes shooting an 80. Okemos freshman Allison Cui is shooting under par for the season and won last week’s Regional at The Emerald in St. Johns with a 69, 13 strokes ahead of the field. Petoskey junior Ashley Lamb and South Lyon senior Julia Vess also earned Regional championships.
LP Division 3 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Flint Powers Catholic, 2. Grand Rapids South Christian, 3. Freeland.
Powers is playing for its first championship since 2008, South Christian for its first since 2009, and Freeland for its first title and first top-two finish ever. Last season’s champion, Macomb Lutheran North, is in Division 4 this fall after finishing three strokes better than the Sailors in 2017. Unranked Spring Lake – third last season but champion for three straight from 2014-16 – shot the division’s lowest Regional score last week, 356.
Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers finished third in 2016 and fifth last season, and return this weekend with four of their top five from a year ago plus a standout freshman. Sophomore Jolie Brochu tied for eighth at last season’s final and junior Maggie Knight missed the individual top 10 by a stroke in 2016. They led Powers to last week’s Regional title at Owosso Country Club, won with a tie-breaker against Freeland. Brochu finished first individually, Knight was third, with senior Gina Canavesio seventh, freshman Allie Sexton ninth and junior Olivia Canaday 10th.
Grand Rapids South Christian: The Sailors are headed to the Finals for the 23rd straight season and just missed another title a year ago as now-senior Natalie Samdal finished fourth individually to lead the way. Junior Maddie Wieringa and senior Ashley Keen also were part of that runner-up Finals effort, and all three finished among the top 10 as South Christian won last week’s Regional at Pigeon Creek in West Olive with a 363.
Freeland: Senior Olivia Pumford took 10th at last season’s Final as an individual qualifier and will be joined this weekend by the rest of the Falcons, who just missed winning the Regional (see above) but still shot what tied for the second-lowest score in the division last week. Pumford took first at the Regional as all five Freeland golfers finished among the top 12; senior Alyssa Argyle was fifth, senior Lily Beyer sixth and sophomore Lydia Beck eighth.
Other individuals of note: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior Danielle Staskowski has won the last two Division 3 championships, by eight strokes last fall and in a playoff hole as a sophomore. She shot a 75 last week at Pontiac Country Club to win her Regional by a stroke over Goodrich senior Elizabeth Gibbs. Senior Hannah Klein tied for sixth at the Final last season in leading Spring Lake to its third-place team finish, and she tied for 10th as a sophomore in 2016. She too was a Regional champion last week, as was Hastings junior Rayna Honsowitz, Marshall junior Karlee Malone and Carleton Airport sophomore Kristen Reed.
LP Division 4 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State
Top-ranked: 1. North Muskegon, 2. Harbor Springs, 3. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
Harbor Springs is coming off last season’s first MHSAA girls golf championship, an 11-stroke victory. North Muskegon and NorthPointe Christian both are playing for their first titles – NorthPointe finished runner-up in 2013, while North Muskegon is seeking to place among the top two for the first time. Macomb Lutheran North is unranked but won in 2016 and then took first in 2017 in Division 3 – with three players from that team coming back this weekend.
North Muskegon: The Norsemen finished sixth in 2015, 11th in 2016 and fourth a year ago, and will go after their first title with all five scorers back from last season’s team. Senior Abby Grevel tied for eighth individually at the 2017 Final, and she’s joined by three more seniors and a sophomore. They won last week’s Regional at The Mines in Grand Rapids with a 344, 11 strokes better than the field, with Grevel second, senior Lindsay Bliss third and sophomore Georgie Kersman seventh.
Harbor Springs: Four of last season’s top five are back seeking a repeat run, with senior Madi Bezilla leading after tying for third individually a year ago. The team’s top four last season all shot within 10 strokes of one another at the Final, and that balance reigns as the Rams shot the division’s lowest Regional score last week, 353, with all four scorers between 80-90. Bezilla was first, junior Evie Garver was second, sophomore Jacque O’Neill was third and senior Callie O’Neill came in eighth.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: The Mustangs are looking to make a jump from 13th last season and third at last week’s Regional, which also included No. 5 Kalamazoo Hackett in the runner-up spot after North Muskegon. Three of last season’s top five lead the way, with sophomore Sabrina Langerak coming in fourth and junior Lauren Slottke fifth at the Regional.
Other individuals of note: Six of last season’s top 10 will be back this weekend, led by reigning champion Alissa Fish of Brooklyn Columbia Central. She won by two strokes last year as a junior, and claimed last week’s Regional title at Concord Hills by eight strokes. Jackson Lumen Christi senior Hillary Ziemba tied for third last year, Shepherd senior Morgan Yates tied for sixth, and Kalamazoo Hackett senior Emily Stull was 10th. All three won Regional titles last week, as did Macomb Lutheran North senior Kaity Rittner – who finished fifth in LPD3 in 2017.
PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West’s Anika Dy unloads a drive during last season’s LPD1 Final. (Middle) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Danielle Staskowski stands at the front of the line of top individual finishers in LPD3 in 2017. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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 email@example.com 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.)